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Starting Your Writing Journey

Teo Eve
Wed 19 Aug, 2020

Taking your first steps into the world of writing can be tough, especially if publishing houses seem impenetrable and you don’t know anyone in the business. It’s worth remembering, though, that every writer started somewhere, and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature are here to help you find your feet

Look Out For Small Publishers

Thanks to a renewed interest in poetry and short stories, new publishing houses seem to open every week, meaning there are literally hundreds of potential places ready to feature your best work. While the existence of numerous independent presses means we are spoilt for variety, the sheer volume of publications out there makes it difficult to determine where to send your pieces.

Thankfully, there are a number of handy directories that detail all the essentials, making the process of finding a home for your work a lot less daunting. Don’t just focus on whether or not you’ll be paid, however -- it’s important to get to know a publication before submitting there, because no matter how good your work is, a journal won’t take it on unless it fits in with their style.

While it’s admirable going for the big guns right away (PN Review, Poetry), submitting to small presses is a great way to build up your portfolio while also supporting local businesses. Independent presses foster great communities, and editors of small journals tend to really look out for their writers. While some writers starting out tend to overlook smaller publications, getting your work published in a small-scale magazine can lead to nurturing professional relationships for life.

If you’re planning on performing your work as well as publishing it, it’s always best to seek out local presses, who can help promote your poetry and short stories. Nottingham’s DIY Poets are a grassroots movement publishing several magazines a year, as well as regularly hosting poetry readings.

Showcase Your Work

Nottingham, like many cities in the UK, has a wealth of open mic nights and poetry gigs, the perfect place to get your name out there and test your work.

While it can be intimidating to step up onto a stage and share your work publicly for the first time, it’s worth remembering that every performance poet (or short story writer!) experiences first-gig nerves. Thankfully, open mic audiences are always supportive, and there really is no better feeling than someone coming up to you to tell you they enjoyed your work after your reading!

Moreover, a number of spoken word collectives (like DIY Poets) have accompanying zines or magazines, or offer poets an opportunity to sell their self-published pamphlets during the gig. And even if you don’t fancy sharing your work with the audience, open mic nights are a great way to meet like-minded people with a shared passion for poetry.

Attend Creative Writing Classes and Critical Groups

You don’t need an MA or a BA in Creative Writing to be a good writer, and at the same time creative writing courses (unfortunately!) do not guarantee success or publication. However, writing workshops can be a great place to hone your skills and engage in formal experimentalism under the guidance of an already-established writer with not only years of experience under their belt, but tips and tricks regarding how to break into publishers’ circles.

While a degree in Creative Writing is guaranteed to give you time and space to focus on your craft, there are other (more financially accessible!) courses out there, too. A variety of institutions offer creative writing short courses and one-off workshops, including Nottingham’s own Writers’ Studio. If you are thinking of getting involved in Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s Letters of Solidarity project, it is worth checking out our own upcoming free workshops, led by Panya Banjoko and Ioney Smallhorne, to help you craft your letters in a creative and innovative way.

A longer course can guide you as you develop a long-term project of your own, and introduce you to new ways of writing you hadn’t considered before. If you don’t have the time or the means to join a long-term workshop, critical groups are useful for feedback. Experts’ evaluation of your work should not be taken for granted, and a little help from an established writer goes a long way.

Look Out For Our Competitions

Earlier this year, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature published our Speak Up! anthology, featuring entries in our My Voice competition from writers aged 10 to 25. Right now, we are encouraging young writers to share your experience of lockdown as part of our ‘Letters of Solidarity’ project, and aim to publish an anthology of letters early next year.

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature are proud to champion the voices of our young writers, and encourage you to regularly look out for our competitions and events to see how we can promote your work!

A Final Word...

Most importantly, persevere. Do not be disheartened by rejections -- even famous writers have their manuscripts handed back to them with revisions, while JK Rowling’s pitch for Harry Potter was rejected a dozen times before the best-selling book series of all time was eventually published. Always be courteous in the face of rejection, and do not burn bridges with publications and presses. The majority of presses are happy to hear from you again even if a piece you have sent in has been rejected, so if you have your heart set on being published by your favourite journal, don’t give up hope! At the same time, remember that usually pieces are rejected because they don’t fit in with a journal’s vision, rather than based on their quality -- so even if your favourite poem is turned away from one publishing house or magazine, there will be dozens of others out there willing to take it.

Take every opportunity to learn and grow. Becoming a better writer is a never ending process, and even the best authors continue to experiment throughout their careers. The road to publication is long, but worth taking in and of itself. Ultimately, success as a writer doesn’t depend on how many books you sell, but achieving personal satisfaction with the work you produce.

Good luck in your journey!


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