SESSION 1: Write Every Day
Begin the day with unbridled writing. A New Orleans Writing Marathon will cure your writer’s block as you learn to freewrite with no critical voices or feedback—just pure joy. Correspondents from a live French Quarter writing marathon will check in, bringing us bursts of New Orleans.
Session Leaders: Richard Louth, Susan Martens, Tracy Cunningham
The Writing Marathon protocol is to write together in small groups, share that piece of writing with one another with no comment other than “Thank you,” chat a bit, then repeat the process.
At an in-person writing marathon, small groups move from coffee shops and cafes and bars and galleries, spending an hour or so in one place, ordering food or drinks (tip the wait staff!), writing, sharing, chatting, and repeating before moving on to the next spot.
It’s important to write authentically in the moment, not bring in prepared pieces. Everyone is in it together, writing fresh words and producing raw drafts. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even good.
The genre, topic, and style of writing is up to you, but remember to freewrite without stopping to ponder, without stopping to research anything, without editing or re-reading what you’ve written so far. Just write freely with very little stopping.
Remember on a writing marathon to BE A WRITER. Introduce yourself as a writer. See the world as a writer. Don’t critique or praise one another’s writing. Just say thank you.
Don’t forget to go back later and re-read what you wrote on a writing marathon. Sometimes the writing can feel so in-the-moment that you forget to go back to it and see if it can be turned into a more polished piece or incorporated into something you’ve been working on.
New Orleans Writing Marathon: https://www.writingmarathon.com/
Make your OWN StoryMap: https://storymap.knightlab.com/?_ga=2.145073716.166812692.1674948927-1738264325.1672772686
Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project: https://www.southeastern.edu/acad_research/programs/slwp/about/index.html
The National Writing Project’s “Write Across America” site for info on national virtual writing marathons: https://www.nwp.org/write-across-america
12:05 – 1 PM: Create Successful Habits and an Inspiring Habitat
Peek into the workspaces of successful writers and hear about the strategies, habits, and organizational methods that help them structure their writing and their days. Includes genre-based breakout groups.
Anya asked all of us to share our top 10 things that are essential for our writing habits and habitations. If you haven’t done so, take a moment to write down what you require to do your best work. Answers included certain kinds of light, candles, music (or not), favorite pens, certain types of notebooks, goals, wifi (or not), post-its, snacks, favorite beverages, etc.
The writers shared their very different writing spaces. Lisa prefers a very clean sparse writing space. Alex loves the light from the many windows near their desk. All of them recommended treating yourself to comfortable and ergonomically pleasing desk, chair, mouse, screens, lighting, etc. to make sure you’re not focused on your body’s comfort while you’re writing. Alex Marzano-Lesnevich recommended this chair: Steelcase Gesture, with the headrest, and offered other good options here: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-office-chair/
They also emphasized the intangibles that may help you write, such as ways to invoke the muse, meditation, rituals, objects that remind you of something specific while writing—Alex has a small black sheep nearby while writing their memoir!
As for structure and organizing, the usual suspects were mentioned as ways to externalize what you’re working on and get it outside your notebook or computer: post-it notes, color-coded charts, different notebooks for different projects, printing out pages and taping to the walls, cutting up sections of a piece and physically moving them around on the floor or table, creating spreadsheets in Excel to track plot points and characters, writing a draft and ignoring it to re-write the second draft (not for everyone!), using the Notes app on iphone, and not being afraid to switch to another project if you’re writing a novel. You can set a daily word count or page count as a goal, or focus on time spent on your writing. It’s fine to take a break from it. Alex and Lisa suggested other arts forms, too, like pottery and not be afraid to make bad art!
Some writers mentioned using an app for their computer called Scrivener. People seem to either love it or hate it, and the learning curve can be daunting, but there are tutorials and how-to videos.
Recommendation: read some reviews first and search for discussions on Twitter about Scrivener. More here: https://scrivener.app/
Morning Pages habit – from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/
Her book, The Artist’s Way, is a classic for writers and includes Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery—The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-consciousness, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors.
Final word is a quote from Alex about writing:
“Remember that before we professionalized our writing, this was just something we loved.”
1:30 – 2:50 pm: Get Published
Learn what the editors of literary journals wish writers knew before submitting their work. Plus, get a front row seat to the editorial process, as editors critique the openings of participants’ short stories, creative nonfiction, and poems live. Participants’ work will remain anonymous.
Note that all four of these session leaders are writers!
Top 5 Things I Wish Writers Knew Before Submitting
Meakin’s Top 5:
- Professionalism counts, even when you don’t feel professional. Read the submission guidelines before applying and follow the guidelines. More importantly, read the magazine thoroughly. Send the piece with a short cover letter of three to four sentences with a note of why you think we’re suitable for your story. Mention a previous story from a year back (do this to show you know who we are).
- Understand that when editors say yes, they are taking a risk on you. There’s no risk in saying no, but we are responsible for your work if we say yes. So, respect the process. Wait longer than you’d like to hear from us. Be cooperative and understand that this is a partnership while being edited. But also, when submitting, don’t be stupid: send the piece to other magazines while you’re waiting, even if the magazine explicitly tells you they are against simultaneous submissions (it’s an unfair demand of writers—you’re a professional, not a toady). Just inform everyone immediately when the piece is accepted.
- If you’re rejected, be polite and professional, but submit AGAIN. Don’t be afraid. In my experience, many people were rejected as much as three times before they were accepted. Don’t do multiple submissions, though (sending more than one story at a time to a single magazine—that can confuse the editors who suddenly have four stories by you).
- Become a part of the community. Volunteer. Introduce yourself to editors and writers. Find editors on social media and comment on their posts. Go to readings. Buy the books at the readings. Do other writers favors. Read their stories. Start your own magazine. Do all of this because it’s easy to tell which writers are fully committed lifers and which are just passing through. Committed lifers tend to succeed; daytrippers rely on luck.
- Editors are just people looking to publish stories. We have a quota to meet (a certain number of stories to publish), so we want to like your work (and take that risk mentioned above). If we reject it, though? It could well have been the editor’s mood at the time. Seriously: I’ve seen stories I rejected and had no idea why I rejected them. Worse, I’ve accepted some I’m now hesitant about. Rejections can also come for reasons you can’t control, such as the stories being too similar in subject matter to ones we already published. Also: just a theory, but I think the longer a magazine is in business, the more there’s inertia in the process regarding new writers. In short, it’s a crapshoot. Don’t assume rejection is a comment on your worth as a writer. Just keep writing and submitting.
Siwar’s Top 5:
- Read literary journals–much is available online and through libraries. If you can afford to get a subscription, do it. There are also subscription programs such as Journal of the Month that allow you to receive a different set of literary journals each month. Get a feel for a journal’s stylistic and thematic range before submitting, especially if there is a reading fee associated with the submission. Your experimental prose poems might not be a good fit for a journal with a preference for formal lyric poetry. Read journals that have published authors you admire or authors whose writing resonates with yours and consider submitting your work there.
- Sending submissions can help you see your work anew. Anticipating how readers will engage with your writing can be a fantastic entry into revision. Do not hesitate to revise if you are inclined and inspired! That said, do not expect that editors can read your revision halfway through the submissions process. Every journal has its own workflow and protocol for screening, and journal editors often do not have the capacity to handle requests to consider revisions. Do send a query if the submission guidelines do not address this question. Do not take it personally if editors refuse your request. Trust that you can wait to run your revisions by the editors if your work is accepted for publication. Editors are often underpaid and overworked. Queries and check-ins are welcome, but be cognizant of the fact that editing is often a labor of love, and that editors might be working with a considerable submission volume and tight production schedules. Approaching all your communications with those who work at journals professionally is necessary.
- A note about genre writing. There are journals dedicated to genre writing, and if that is what you are focused on, you can target them specifically. But I’d also argue that many journals dedicated to general literary writing might be hospitable to your work, including the Schooner. We have published stories that use elements of genre writing such as folktales, sci-fi, and mystery, for example.
- Advice for poets: as you prepare poems for submission packets assume that editors might not be familiar with your work at all. If you are submitting poems that are meant to be read individually, consider if the selection highlights what you think is most exciting about your work (shared motif or theme, a sense of voice, formal experiments, etc). If your poems are meant to be read together as part of a larger project or a series/sequence, consider how your selection and arrangement process might offer context for and avenues into appreciating the poems both individually and as part of a larger project. In other words, do consider the reading experience of the packet as a whole.
- When working with an editor on revisions, consider your response to their requests, and be respectful of their labor and expertise. You will want to strike a balance between being receptive to an editor’ comments and revisiting your own inclinations (if they run counter to the feedback). For emerging BIPOC and international authors, receiving feedback from a generous editor who possesses the cultural literacy to engage with your work on its own terms can be a rare gift. This is something you might take into account when you draw up a list of journals to submit to. That said, some journals work extensively with authors on edits, whereas others only accept work that they believe needs minimal or no editing.
Aube’s Top 5:
- Familiarize yourself with the magazine’s contents, columns, style, and specific submission guidelines before submitting your work.
- Reading periods and response time can be quite slow— following up after two weeks is often too soon, please know we are doing our best to work through submissions and respond but it unfortunately does take quite a while, though we do our best to respond within two months!
- For a magazine like OA, the work you submit is often the foundation for an extensive editorial process— where we collaborate to fine tune the piece into the best it can be. If you expect the piece to appear as-is besides a few copy edits, that is often unlikely to be the case!
- It’s OK to withdraw and resubmit if you feel like you need to work on the piece you sent in a bit more— if we haven’t yet responded, we have likely yet to discuss the piece, so it’s not disruptive to withdraw and resubmit!
- If you receive an invitation to revise and resubmit, with personalized feedback, this is a great sign— we do end up publishing a good number of R&Rs! Just make sure that if the notes align with your vision, the draft does undergo significant revision. A difference between an acceptance and R&R is often that we feel like the writer could do substantial reshaping of the piece on their own before we take it on— but we see the underlying potential!
What goes in the cover letter?
- Keep it short and to the point.
- Feel free to say you’ve never been published, if that’s the case. Editors love to be the reason a debut writer gets their first publication!
- If you’re going to mention a particular piece from their magazine that resonated with you, don’t make it from the most recent one.
Social media – required?
You don’t have to have a huge social media following, but agents and editors need a place to find you if you do get published. However, a newer litmag may be attracted to writers with more followers. Think of social media as a way to connect to the literary community, not as a place where you have to “perform”—thanks, Siwar, for that comment!
- Simultaneous vs Multiple submissions – most litmags accept submissions of pieces that you are also sending to other litmags, but hardly anyone accepts multiple pieces from you all at once. Pick one piece to send.
- 2 – 3 months is a reasonable amount of time to wait before inquiring about your submission.
- Submit again if you’re rejected. It could just mean that piece was not right at that moment.
- Tiered rejections – You may get a form rejection that is completely impersonal. Or you may get a more personalized rejection that mentions something specific about your piece and why they didn’t accept it. You may get a rejection with some helpful comments on how you could improve the piece or encouragement to submit again sometime. Pay attention to your rejections so you don’t miss out on an editor who likes your work but just couldn’t publish the piece you submitted. If you submit something else, be sure to mention those comments in your cover letter.
How to find places to submit your writing:
- Anthologies – Best American Fiction, Best American Poetry, etc. Where did the pieces in these anthologies get published before being selected for these anthologies?
- Wherever writers you admire have been published.
- Also, see links below for submission platforms and resources.
Poets & Writers – Founded in 1970, Poets & Writers is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers. The bimonthly magazine publishes essays on the literary life, profiles of contemporary authors, and the most comprehensive listing of literary grants and awards, deadlines, and prize winners available in print. Their website includes the Directory of Poets & Writers with contact information, publication credits, and biographical information for more than 9,300 authors; databases of literary magazines and journals, small and independent presses, literary agents, MFA programs, writing contests, and literary places; a national literary events calendar; and select content from Poets & Writers Magazine. https://www.pw.org/
Journal of the Month – Get a new print literary magazine in your mailbox on a regular basis. Which one? What you receive changes month-to-month, but every participating magazine is a highly-regarded actor in the contemporary literary scene that publishes exciting fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from new and established voices. Not only will you get to read the best writing being published today, but over time, you’ll get a terrific overview of the vibrant “little magazine” scene. https://www.journalofthemonth.com/
Submittable – a software used by thousands of organizations to build customized online submission and application forms, as well as to review submissions and communicate with submitters. It is also a submission management system used by writers to find places to submit and to keep track of their submissions. https://discover.submittable.com/
Duotrope – an online resource that can help you save time finding publishers or literary agents, Updated publication and agent listings, submission trackers, custom searches, deadline calendars, statistical reports, and interviews. https://duotrope.com/
Not mentioned but worth noting:
Clifford Garstang is an author who has spent quite a bit of time studying which literary magazines garner the most award-winning stories, essays, and poems. His rankings are based on the number of Pushcart Prizes and Pushcart Special Mentions the magazines have received over the past ten-year period. They are intended as a guide for determining where writers might submit their work for publication. https://cliffordgarstang.com/2024-literary-magazine-rankings-overview/
Writers Guild of America – for help with the business of writing, publishing, agents, contracts, etc. https://www.wga.org/
3 – 4:20 pm: Find an Agent
Prepare yourself for the spotlight! Find out what you need to know—and do—before seeking representation, and get your questions answered by a panel of literary agents. Watch live as the agents dissect and discuss real query letters from our participants. Participants’ letters will remain anonymous.
Michaela Whatnall, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Michaela’s wishlist https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/michaela-whatnall/
Eloy Bleifuss, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. Eloy’s wishlist https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/eloy-bleifuss/
Nora Gonzalez, The Gernert Company.
Top 5 Things I Wish Writers Knew Before Querying
Michaela’s Top 5:
- Agents are eager to read your work, and are approaching each query with interest and hope that it will be a match!
- Agents are looking for specificity in a query—what makes your work different from others in its category.
- Agents want to understand how you see your work fitting in the market, which is why comps are helpful.
- Publishing is a slow business, and patience is key.
- A good attitude goes a long way—your query letter is essentially a cover letter, and agents want to know that you’re someone who will be pleasant to work with.
Eloy’s Top 5:
- Go for established agencies with a track record but include a mix of younger and more established agents within those companies.
- Know your genre.
- Think hard about comps (comparative titles).
- Keep the query letter short and sweet.
- Remember to include a short bio in any query letter.
Nora’s Top 5:
- Follow the submission guidelines
- In the query letter think: What is important? What is critical to set the tone?
- In your bio, include any writing experience, bylines, etc.
- Keep the tone nice and professional
- Find agents online, in places like Poets & Writers (see above), and in the acknowledgements of your favorite authors’ books. Also check out this site where agents and editors can login and update their own wishes. Includes tips for writers, searchable database, etc.
- Veteran agents will have an extensive network/rolodex. But may be more strapped for time. With a younger agent you both can grow together, may be hungrier, could walk you through the stuff if they have the extra bandwidth. Try to include a mix.
- Remember that agents are familiar with rejection, too! And they are so excited when they open the queries they are sent. Is their next client one click away?
- Follow the agency website guidelines, including how long it might be before you get a response.
- Comps – comparable titles that are similar to your book or at least “in conversation” with your book in some way, such as similar themes, similar characters, or something else in common that connects your book to other books. Comps should be recent. A comp that’s old says that you’re not engaged enough with the current literary conversation. Think in these terms: “Where would you put your book on a bookshelf?”
- Use book descriptions you see online as a model for your description: no spoilers, not too many characters mentioned, not too much world-building. Introduce your main character and what’s at stake for them, then provide just enough other details to make them want to keep reading.
- Your tone should be eager and excited about your book but don’t over promise what you think it might become, such as claiming it’s the next big bestseller.
- Make your query letter skimmable because it is likely to be skimmed rather than read slowly and closely. Every word in it must be crucial.
- Don’t query until your book is completely finished and has been through multiple readers and revisions. This doesn’t apply to nonfiction, which is more like a proposal than an already completed manuscript.
4:20 – 5:10 pm: Build a Writing Community
End your day at our virtual happy hour. We’ll share some of our favorite New Orleans cocktail recipes in advance, so you can make one of your own while you network with your new writing friends. And we’ll have advice on how to establish your online presence to make marketing yourself as an author easier.
Annell Lopez. Follow Annell Lopez https://www.instagram.com/annellthebookbabe/
Pre-Order I’ll Give You a Reason by Annell Lopez https://bookshop.org/p/books/i-ll-give-you-a-reason/20234451?ean=9781558613126
Here is a link to the presentation slides from Daphne and Annell: https://tennesseewilliams.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/2024-Virtual-Retreat-Social-Media-Session.pdf
A few takeaways:
- Social media for writers is a tool for connecting to the literary community and it’s where your future readers are.
- You need a place online where you can be found easily.
- A good exercise is to spend some time answering the four questions on slide #7:
- What do you write?
- What kind of artist are you?
- What are and aren’t you comfortable sharing with the public?
- What image of yourself do you want to portray?
- Followers want at least a glimpse into your life: hobbies, what you’re reading, pets, pics of you writing somewhere, etc. But keep as much privacy as you want. Don’t have to share your job, your kids, your partner, or other areas of your life that you don’t want to be public.
- Doomscrolling vs. community building: liking posts does not create much interaction. Comment on other people’s posts, ask questions, and encourage other writers. Create interactions instead of just lurking.
- Social media can be a place for your killed darlings or for short pieces to give followers a taste of your writing. Morgan posts her haiku since she has no plans for trying to publish them!
Social Media Accounts dropped into the Zoom Chat to share with everyone:
- Fiona Chambers: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drfionacatherinechambers/
- Christopher Louis Romaguera: @cromaguerawrite for Instagram and Twitter. Christopher Romaguera on Facebook
- Jacqueline Jones Clowney: jjclowney on IG Jackie Jones Clowney on FB
- Blair Law: My Instagram is @cupid_crossbow
- Wake Lloire: on Insta @curious_and_kind, and Wake Lloire on Substack. Taking a year off, legally changing my name, but will be updating my SubStack daily.
- Cynthia Sibley: Cynthia Sibley on Facebook and bu.sibley on Insta
- Morgan Babst: instagram and x @cmorganbabst and I’m sometimes on facebook too! Website: www.cmorganbabst.com
- Genevieve Litton: Genevieve Rheams Litton on Facebook and @genevieverheams on Instagram. Website: genevieverheams.com
- Nancy Gorman, TWFest social media coordinator: nagorman on IG and na_gorman on twitter. My website is nagorman.com. AND be sure to follow TWFESTNOLA and SASFEST on IG, Facebook, and Twitter and TWFESTNEWORLEANS on TikTok!
- Tracy Cunningham: Tracy Ferrington Cunningham on FB, @tcarol504 on IG and Twitter.
- Kathryn L Nathan PhD LLC on LinkedIn
- Carla Seyler: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Cynthia Klopsteck: email@example.com and FB as Cynthia Klopsteck
- Suzy Jackson: suzyqzwriter.com, FB Suzy Jackson, IG, X, TikTok
Thanks to all of our session leaders, moderators, and attendees for making our retreat so fun and informative! Happy writing, everyone!