Practice makes perfect, but for writers it’s not always that easy.
Anyone attempting to break into the writing world knows it can be a scary endeavor. Dealing with a fluctuating industry, it’s the place where you essentially have to try to add your name to the same lists as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
It can be extremely easy to overlook us writers because we spend so much time locked away by ourselves. Yet, there’s actually a thriving literary community on campus that provides vital experience for any person hoping to break into the industry.
Carolyn Smart, a professional writer and the university’s creative writing professor, spoke to The Journal about the steps students can take to getting their work in front of an audience.
“You should take advantage of the campus magazines,” Smart said. The experience you learn there, she went on, “is a key to learning a huge amount of what’s happening in the writing world.”
The advantage to the many student-run publications like the Undergraduate Review or Collective Reflections is that they allow students to easily make the first steps into the world of writing without prior experience. Smart said any kind of participation in these campus publications is beneficial, whether you are independently submitting your work or participating as a member of an editorial board.
If you’re looking to get involved, googling any of these Queen’s campus magazines will take you to their websites, where you can figure out how to get involved and connect with the editors and fellow writers.
“[This type of work] will make it so that the magazines you want to get published in [in the future] will take you far more seriously,” Smart said of this experience.
And the various on-campus publications aren’t the only resources for aspiring writers available at Queen’s. Each year, there’s a writer-in-residence on campus that can be a great support system for anyone looking to get professional advice concerning their work.
This kind of experience showing your work to peers and professionals alike will help you gain greater confidence in your writing. Speaking with a professional writer or submitting your work to student-run publications may seem frightening at first, but it’s bound to pay off.
Smart advises before submitting your work that you “look to see what type of work it’s publishing and whether or not your work would fit in before sending off your work”.
Despite this initial investigation, Smart said, it’s imperative to not strictly cater to these outlets taking submissions — there’s another personal factor that’s important to maintain.
“Only write for yourself because people can tell when you don’t,” she said, “Write what you feel is your best work, otherwise no one will look at it [anyways]”.
But solely having competent writing skills isn’t all it takes.
“One of the toughest things to do is ensuring the cover letter is as good as the work itself,” Smart explained. “You need to show a publication why they should even read your work, let alone publish you.”
Another thing students can look for to break into the writing industry is literary awards. Albeit a daunting task, they get your name out there and cause people to take you more seriously. “It seems like this country is starting to care more and more about awards,” Smart said.
Smart herself even founded an award called the RBC Bronwyn Wallace Award in 1994 that alternates annually between accepting works of fiction and poetry.
Smart pointed to Prism International, Antigonish Review, Poetry Is Dead, Filling Station and female-only publication Room as being favourable examples of off-campus places new writers can send work to.
You should take your writing as seriously as you want other people to. I wouldn’t be writing in the paper if I hadn’t been writing in my bedroom for the past two years, and if I hadn’t submitted a story to the Undergraduate Review. Taking advantage of the resources available here at Queen’s won’t guarantee you a successful career in the writing industry, but it may certainly get you one step closer.
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