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 publisher listing service. As of January 2018, their database included information on over 6,000 active journals, plus over 10,000 publications that have closed or don’t qualify for inclusion. I use Duotrope to find journals and quickly 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. It was exciting to meet other writers, listen to them read their work, and learn from those with more experience. I took the opportunity to ask one of the instructors, Abigail Thomas, to comment on several of my essays. Later in the summer, we enrolled in an online class in flash creative nonfiction, taught by Penny Guisinger, a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Program and organizer of the Iota Conference.

During the meeting, Penny passed out copies of The Writer’s Chronical, and suggested that everyone should join 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 for a three-month series of modules on topics such as craft, revision, publishing, and the writing life. 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. She also suggested that I increase my online presence with a website and social media.

Late in 2017 we joined Scribophile, an online critiquing group. It has been in operation since 2008 and has several thousand. You earn ‘Karma Points’ by critiquing 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 claim to have had over 144,685 postings and 853,135 critiques. There is a blog, forums, an academy, and many other resources. In my mind, Scribophile has some advantages over the face-to-face writer’s groups. It’s not uncommon to get several thorough written comments, often within hours or days 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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