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Advice for Writers from Contest Judges

How to Be a Contemporary Writer by Roxane Gay

  1. Read diversely.
  2. Write.
  3. See items 1 and 2.
  4. Accept that there is no one way to make it as a writer and that the definition of making it is fluid and tiered.
  5. Accept that sometimes literary success is political and/or about who you know and that’s not likely to change. Yes, celebrities are going to keep publishing terrible books. Yes, Lisa Rinna’s Starlit is an actual thing. I read the book and… I’m scarred. But. You’re not getting better as a writer, worrying about the system. 

    5a. If you’re a woman, writer of color or queer writer, there are probably more barriers. Know that. Be relentless anyway. Strive for excellence. Learn how to kick the shit out of those barriers. Don’t assume every failure is about your identity because such is not the case. 


Read Roxane’s full list of suggestions here.




Advice for Beginning Writers by Jennifer Militello


The writing of poems requires hunger, drive, a lack that can’t be cured. The best poems attempt to reconcile internal and external worlds--to close that gap, solve that lack, soften that fear. What you do with music, word choice, line breaks is just as important as your original idea. Because the physical body of the poem not only expresses, but creates, what is said. Let the suggestion, the resonance, open up between moments. Don’t tell all. Let mystery exist. Let it thrive. Don’t rely on the words that “name” emotion since by now they are meaningless. If you want to talk about love or pain, use metaphor or imagery. And remember that the work is what matters; be an apprentice. Read voraciously. Don’t seek to publish too early. Stand on the shoulders of poems you have loved. Examine the voices of others to more completely define your own. Look to other poems for what succeeds, then imitate them, then grow past them. Treat writing like a romance that never cools. Let it haunt you and inhabit you. Trust your reader. Court the strange. Surprise is the key to any good poem. Trust your instincts, and write large. Attempt to possess everything. Be ambitious for your poems instead of for yourself.



Advice for Beginning Writers by Daniella Topol


Follow your passion. If you are passionately interested in writing about a particular subject, you should follow that instinct even if it is a subject matter that doesn’t seem immediately interesting to others.  Your passion and commitment can make that subject matter interesting.


Become knowledgeable. It is critical that you know your subject matter and your characters deeply and fully.  Depending on the topic, this might mean that you need to do a great deal of research. Or, you might be basing the setting and the characters on real people that you know so you need to do less research but you do need to have a deep understanding of your characters.


Don't worry about being good. The second you worry about being good, you are automatically not good. The same is true about being funny. Or interesting. Just be honest. Honest is always good and funny and interesting. If this is hard for you, think of the worst play you've ever seen. Realize that no matter what you do, it will probably come out better than that.


Make a list of the last three plays you saw or read that you loved. What elements did they have?  What on that list do you have in your work?  What don't you? And why not? Are you resisting that for some reason?


You are writing a play for your audience. Theater is a collaboration with your audience. You want to think about what you are giving them. Before you put that terrible rape scene on the stage, consider the experience that you are creating. It is easy to think about what you want to see, but you also should consider what your audience wants to see.


Listen to feedback calmly. If you feel defensive, don’t respond.  Breathe, take a moment, and later, when you are calmer, you will figure out why you are defensive and you will probably learn something about yourself and your play. If you are going to be a playwright – you are going to have to figure out how to deal with feedback.


Have fun!  The process of writing and making plays should be joyful.  Enjoy the creative process!

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