5 Tips to Start (or Continue) Creative Writing in Graduate School

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Whether we like it or not, we’re people who are building our resumes and careers on the written word. However, this work is often confined to the scholarly side of writing and publishing. What about the creative side of scholarly publishing? If you’re a potential short story teller, poet, novelist, creative nonfiction wizard, or just someone who is interested in writing creatively, this post is for you!

I’ve collected some tips for all kinds of creative writers below. So, if you’re looking to begin writing or have been doing it for a long time, take a look and see if anything clicks.

Step 1: Get a Notebook and Take It EVERYWHERE

You need to find some pages to write on. You can get yourself a dollar notebook at Wal-Mart or invest in a very fancy journal at Barnes and Noble. Once upon a time, I had a professor who hand crafted his own journals (which is dope, but definitely not mandatory or practical). Natalie Goldberg, in her work Writing Down the Bones, advises getting the cheapest notebook that you can find. Why? No price, no pressure to produce amazing ideas. I tend to sign on to that philosophy, but do what you will.

Okay, you’ve got your notebook. Now, take it everywhere you go forever and always. We live in a society that takes its spare time scrolling through bullshit on feeds created to keep us docile (Seriously, though, we all know we’ve got instagram envy over Sarita’s food photos). If you’ve got an idea, write it down. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking out of class, in the middle of lunch, or starting your car. Make sure that notebook is there to hold that idea for you. Truth is, that brilliant moment of clarity will disappear by the end of class, lunch, or the drive home. So, preserve it.

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Step 2: Respond to the Work

Every writer will tell you, “read a lot and write a lot”. This is the line in every creative class around the world, in every book produced on writing, and in every interview with writers. Guess what? We do both. It’s our job, duh. Write to the work that you’re reading for class. Respond to authors. Think about plots, characters, descriptions, etc. Think about what is successful and generate ideas out of the narratives that you’re engaging with in your work. Read a lot and write a lot is great advice. Use it to your advantage.

Step 3: Make Time (Yeah, I know that you’re thinking)

This is probably the hardest request of any graduate student. We’re crazy busy. I get it. All I’m saying is five minutes, maybe ten? An hour on the weekend? A half hour during the week? If your creative pursuits are important to you, then this is the most important and most difficult part of the process. Take the time. If it’s important to you, then it matters and it’s worth the struggle.

Step 4: Lean on Your Friends

Editors are god-like beings that help you take the raw material that you produce and turn it into something refined, beautiful, maybe even genius. The great thing about graduate school is that you have highly trained, highly attentive readers ALL around you. Find someone you’re comfortable with and share your work. The great thing about being at Lehigh is the community. Find a friend and ask them to edit your work. Not only will it improve your piece, but it will allow you to have something available when publishing opportunities arise. Which brings me to . . . dun dun dun

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Step 5: Publishing

Let’s just say it. Creative publishing sucks. You’re going to get rejected (a lot), you’re not going to get paid (ever), and the vast majority of people aren’t going to see your work (even if it is published). However, if you’re interested in pursuing creative writing as a side-gig, a full time artistic endeavor, or just a hobby, publishing may end up being your ultimate destination. I’ll throw some resources out at the end of this post, but there are a few go-to destinations for getting your stuff in print.

  • Duotrope.com: I promise they aren’t paying me. Duotrope is an Internet archive of literary and online magazines. You can sort based on genre, length, online or print journal, etc. It also allows you to keep track of what you have submitted and record what pieces you have lined up. Oh, Duotrope is a subscription service. So, yeah. That means . . . money. Sorry.
  • Writer’s Market: If you’re not about that subscription nonsense, pick up a Writer’s Market at Barnes and Noble. These volumes are updated yearly with new markets for every type of writing. You can also get focused Writer’s Market texts such as: Short Story Writers Market and Poet’s Market. One time fee for a collection of just about every literary market out there.

Last, but not least, consider submitting to Foothills Journal (https://arts.cgu.edu/foothill-journal/)!!!!! It is the one literary journal that only publishes graduate student poetry.

Other Resources for Creative Writers:

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