Andrew Gudgel

Writer | Translator | Poet

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Two Hobbies
February 13, 2019

I can't remember exactly where or when, but I vaguely remember once being told by an older, wiser writer at a convention, "I have two hobbies: writing and submitting." I remember, too, the shock of realization. My conversational companion was right. Writing and submitting are two entirely different things, with different processes and procedures. Yet both are required to be a published writer.

Submitting has its own rules, based on the genre and the markets themselves, personal preferences, and even the law of averages. This last rule is the simplest and easiest to define. It's this: more submissions means more publications. This isn't an absolute rule, but it's generally true. I can attest to its validity, though--the years in which I've made the most submissions have also been the years in which I've had the most publications. So the more often you submit, the more likely you are to be published.

As for the middle rule, personal preference determines which markets you're going to submit your piece to. All writers have certain magazines and websites that seem to share their sensibilities, and which they enjoy reading. Naturally enough, those magazines should get preferential treatment when submitting.

Personal preference also determines how many and what tier of magazine to submit to. Some writers will only submit to their four or five top-tier markets, and if the piece doesn't sell, into the trunk it goes. Other writers submit until a piece sells, no matter how small the publication. One kind of writer ends up with a short, but more "impressive" bibliography, while the other has a longer list of publications in smaller or possibly less well known venues.

The markets and genre also have an impact on submitting. Submission guidelines are editors' statements of what kind of stories they publish, what they like and dislike, and how (and when) they want you to submit to them. Follow those guidelines. Follow those guidelines even if you're convinced the New Yorker will be so impressed with your sword-and-sandals story that they'll bend their guidelines just this once for you. Editors are busy enough people as it is--don't annoy them with stories that make it obvious you didn't read (or willfully ignored) their guidelines.

If you're a writer who hasn't yet sent out any of your work, think about your favorite magazines and websites and what kind of publishing history you want to have. Then make a list of places to start submitting your work to and begin your new hobby. Good luck!

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What is a Classic?
January 23, 2019

In my last post, I recommended reading classic books. This, of course, raises the question: What is a "classic?"

Naturally, each genre has its own set of classics, so some of what a writer should read depends on what they write. This isn't to say that one should only read in one's own genre, only that a mystery writer, for example, would likely read a slightly different set of classic books than a literary novelist or writer of Westerns. If you're not sure which books are classics in your genre, ask another writer or try that endless font of information, the internet.

The other kind of classic is harder to define, but generally it has two characteristics: age and universality. Classic works are often older works, ones that have survived the winnowing of time. Nothing is better for blowing away the light chaff of books than a few decades. Pick any time period from antiquity to fifty years ago and you'll find many books that are still recognized by name, while a thousand others have passed out of all memory. If the title (or author's name) of an old book still brings a shock of recognition, it's quite possibly a classic.

The other characteristic is universality. A classic book speaks not only to one individual's experience, but to the human condition in general. For example, Homer's Iliad describes events of the Trojan War, and of Achilles' experience in particular. However, it also speaks to the entire human experience of war; of fate and of anger, of revenge and grief. Reading the Iliad twenty-five-hundred-odd years after its creation, I still found myself shocked by its familiarity and nodding in agreement at the echoes of things that happened when I was in the military. And the universality of Shakespeare's works is perhaps the biggest reason why they're considered classics.

So, having talked with others, looked for books that have both age and universality, and come up with a list of potential classics, how do you choose which ones to read? That I can't tell you. It depends on your personal interests and inclinations. Everyone's picks will be different. So choose a few titles that look interesting, or that you've always wanted to read but somehow never got around to reading. And pick a few more you know nothing about for the serendipitous joy and insight they might bring. Then get reading.

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The Writer as Reader
January 10, 2019

A very happy 2019 to everyone! New years bring New Year's resolutions, and one of mine is to read more books. I got an early start and over the holidays finished both Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio," and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." Anderson was one of my always-meant-to-read-someday books, and it had been so many years since I'd read "Fahrenheit 451" that I'd forgotten much of the plot. I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend after a long time apart.

I not only enjoyed both books, I learned a lot from them. "Winesburg" deals mostly with the interior lives of the inhabitants of a small Ohio town, and in reading it I realized that it's possible to write a compelling narrative in which not a lot physically happens. In Bradbury, I came to see how a master writer uses beautiful metaphors and descriptions to hold and move the reader.

At about this point in my blog posts, I usually say something about how I found this or that "useful" and add that you might want to try it in your own writing life. But reading, and reading classics--both inside and outside your field--are so central to learning to be a good writer that this is one of the few times I'll say you must do something. If you wish to be a writer, you must also be a reader.

The careful reading of classics is, in my opinion, even more important than reading "how to write" books. Classics provide everything from inspiration to skeleton plots for your own work to examples of the successful use of just about every writing technique that exists.

So read, read a lot, and read the classics. Use those waste moments in line at the bank or before the movie not to scroll through your phone, but to get another page, another paragraph, another line through your eyes and into your mind. You'll be a better writer for it, I guarantee.

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© 2019 Andrew Gudgel
andrew (at sign)
This page last updated on 20190213.