Important Tools and Experiences

Perhaps you’ve seen this picture of E.B. White, who wrote for The New Yorker, at work in his boat house overlooking Allen Cove. No dictionary or thesaurus at his side, not even a stack of books, just the manual typewriter. The picture might suggest that great writing can be accomplished in total isolation. That wasn’t true for past writers, and it isn’t true today.

The first great writing tool that I discovered was Duotrope, an online listing service for publishers. As of January 2018, their database included over 6,000 active journals, plus many more that had recently closed or were on hiatus. I use Duotrope to find journals and to obtain basic information on their requirements. Duotrope also provides a direct link to the publisher’s website.

In the summer of 2017, my wife Kathryn and I attended the Iota Short Prose Conference on Campobello Island, organized by Penny Guisinger, a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program. It was exciting to meet other writers, listen to them read their work, and learn from their experiences. Later in the summer, I also enrolled in an online class in flash creative nonfiction, taught by Penny Guisinger.

I saw a copy of The Writer’s Chronical and joined the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). Each year AWP hosts a Conference & Bookfair with over 2,000 presenters and 12,000 attendees. In the fall of 2017, I applied for their Writer to Writer mentorship program, which matches emerging writers and published authors. Kathryn Aalto, author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011), chose me as her mentee. Our time together gave me a tremendous boost. She reviewed about half a dozen of my essays (some more than once) and provided a list of relevant books I should read to develop my skills.

Late in 2017 I joined Scribophile, an online critiquing group. It has been in operation since 2008 and has thousands of members. You earn ‘Karma Points’ by reviewing posted stories, poems, or essays. It costs five Karma points to upload a short piece (typically less than 3,000 words). Once on the site, other members can provide detailed or general comments as well as line by line editing. As of January 2018, they have had over 144,685 posted works and 853,135 critiques.

Scribophile has some advantages over the face-to-face writer’s groups. It’s less intimidating and not uncommon to receive written comments on a story or essay within several hours of posting. Some Scribophile members are experienced writers and teachers, others are just beginners, so you can get all levels of review. Regardless, the site is valuable and worth joining.

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