Reading about writing

After receiving another rejection today (for my flash fiction piece “Chasing Trains”), I went on a submission spree and hit up like seven different publications (both for that piece and for “The Tenth Time”). While investigating markets to submit to, I stumbled across several great pieces in The Atlantic Monthly about writing. I was going to post excerpts from all of them, but the second one I read was a monster, so I’ll just stop there today and continue with the rest later.

Without further ado…

So You Want to Be a Writer – the first one I found, and sort of a compilation of the rest

It is close and thoughtful reading, she asserts, that is in fact most important to the apprentice writer.

In days gone by, writers-in-training honed their craft not by soliciting advice from successful writers but by simply absorbing the greatness of those who came before them.

Letter to a Young Contributor – written in the mid 1800s, which explains the style (and length…)

No editor can ever afford the rejection of a good thing, and no author the publication of a bad one. The only difficulty lies in drawing the line. Were all offered manuscripts unequivocally good or bad, there would be no great trouble; it is the vast range of mediocrity which perplexes: the majority are too bad for blessing and too good for banning; so that no conceivable reason can be given for either fate…

You are writing for the average eye, and must submit to its verdict.

The first demand made by the public upon every composition is, of course, that it should be attractive. In addressing a miscellaneous audience, whether through eye or ear, it is certain that no man living has a right to be tedious. Every editor is therefore compelled to insist that his contributors should make themselves agreeable, whatever else they may do. To be agreeable, it is not necessary to be amusing; an essay may be thoroughly delightful without a single witticism, while a monotone of jokes soon grows tedious. Charge your style with life, and the public will not ask for conundrums. But the profounder your discourse, the greater must necessarily be the effort to refresh and diversify.

“The greater part of an author’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

… there is no severer test of literary training than in the power to prune out one’s most cherished sentence, when it grows obvious that the sacrifice will help the symmetry or vigor of the whole.

That idea greatly resembles Stephen King’s mantra, “Kill your darlings.”

Do not habitually prop your sentences on crutches, such as Italics and exclamation points, but make them stand without aid; if they cannot emphasize themselves, these devices are commonly but a confession of helplessness. … Reduce yourself to short allowance of parentheses and dashes; if you employ them merely from clumsiness, they will lose all their proper power in your sands.


Do not waste a minute, not a second, in trying to demonstrate to others the merit of your own performance. If your work does not vindicate itself, you cannot vindicate it, but you can labor steadily on to something which needs no advocate but itself.

That’s probably my favorite piece of wisdom/advice from this article.

Do not complacently imagine, because your first literary attempt proved good and successful, that your second will doubtless improve upon it. The very contrary sometimes happens. A man dreams for years over one projected composition, all his reading converges to it, all his experience stands related to it, it is the net result of his existence up to a certain time, it is the cistern into which he pours his accumulated life. Emboldened by success, he mistakes the cistern for a fountain, and instantly taps his brain again. The second production, as compared with the first, costs but half the pains and attains but a quarter part of the merit; a little more of fluency and facility perhaps, —but the vigor, the wealth, the originality, the head of water, in short, are wanting.

There was also an amazing archive of interviews with literary persona, which I will definitely be devouring soon.

Like this:



I have a Ph.D in Horribleness


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  1. angie

    I’m going to want to read Chasing Trains. You know what, after reading this, I actually dug up Pink, that story I wrote way back when and never made your edits. You got me thinking about writing again…

    I always feel “write what you know” to be a good starting point.

  2. I’ll send it to you. I’ve thought about posting it here, but some magazines don’t like that, so I’m holding off.

    Yay, I inspired you to write again!

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