This post was written by Stephen A. Roddewig.
We all know the scenario. You tell a friend that you’re a writer, and they ask: “Oh, have you been published?” Then their demeanor quickly changes to disinterested as they find out you don’t have a full novel already in hardback.
In this post, I’ll discuss the value of various genres and their ability to build your ethos as a writer, in addition to the smug satisfaction of telling your friend you are published. I draw on my own experience as an undergraduate, so what follows may feel like self-promotion, but I link to previous works only to provide examples and prove that I have some insight into what I’m talking about.
To save you time, I would sum up the wisdom of this article with one phrase: diversify your portfolio. Want to know how? Read on!
Given the recent political environment in the United States and longer-term decline in newspapers, journalism often has a negative connotation. However, don’t let the pundits drive you away from the rich opportunities in this genre. Many public schools and colleges maintain student newspapers, and these venues are often seeking new staff on a rolling basis. In addition, letters to the editor and opinion sections allow less research-inclined writers to add their voice.
Overall, news articles build a writer’s reputation as:
These traits may not align with your creative writing goals, but as a fledgling writer, journalistic articles are a great stepping stone to building visibility and, moreover, credibility.
- “Local Help for Global Refugees,” an online news article I wrote about JMU faculty’s efforts to aid the global refugee crisis
- “Security in a World of Insecurity (and Inaccuracy),” a political satire I wrote for the Opinion section of The Breeze, JMU’s student newspaper
Another non-creative writing focused genre, but no less valuable for establishing your expertise and ethos. Academic journals typically highlight scholarship and achievements in their respective universities or across their discipline. Most reputable journals will review essays and works based on quality as opposed to the writer’s status. Often, class projects you have already completed match the subject criteria.
Overall, published essays in academic journals build a writer’s reputation as:
The value of these attributes might not appear immediately, but if you ever dream of writing historical fiction or other research-heavy genres, having past experience to fall back on and show to literary agents can tip the scales in your favor.
- “Carrying the Torch of Colbert,” a trio of satires published in Lexia, my major’s undergraduate journal
- “To Build the Fire of Revolution,” an essay published in James Madison Undergraduate Research Journal that dissected the rhetorical influence of Jack London’s socialist background in his short story “To Build a Fire”
Small Literary Journals
I am never one to doubt ambitions. If I did, none of the previous publications would have come to pass. However, as you make your first forays into the creative writing world, I advise starting small. Build a solid foundation before attempting to market your manuscript or submit to a prestigious magazine. Small literary journals, as the label suggests, have low circulations and less submissions. These traits may sound negative, but this also means they are much more open to new writers and you have less competition for placement. Then turn your eyes to larger venues. Nothing sells your second story/poem/essay quite like your first published work.
Overall, publications in literary journals establish a writer’s reputation as:
This is the real meat of any creative writing career, and I would be a liar if I said publications in literary journals don’t excite me the most. However, all the publications mentioned in the post increase your visibility, allowing readers to discover your literary works more easily.
- “The Artist’s Paradox,” a poem published Volume 20, Issue 1 of Gardy Loo, James Madison’s literary journal
- “The Traveler,” a poem published in ArtAscent, an international art magazine
(This section deserves its own article, but for the sake of comparison, I included this summary.)
I would be remiss as a guest blogger if I didn’t address the multitude of supplementary and alternative online publications. As the Information Age takes shape, we will see more completely web-based newspapers and journals, in addition to thousands more blogs. If none of the previously discussed venues catch your fancy, the Internet provides many alternative paths to showcase your writing.
Legal Note: Many journals and publishers consider works available online published, even if they are only on personal sites or blogs. Which is to say if you maintain a blog, congratulations, you’re already published! However, be selective if you plan to submit works to other venues in the future.
Overall, online articles and works build a writer’s reputation as:
An active blog can make the perfect complement to your writing career, allowing readers to keep up with your current projects and gain a better sense of the writer. In addition, personal websites allow you to discover and connect with your target audience, as well as collaborate with your writing colleagues.
- The Future Writers of America, my own writing-centered rant soapbox/forum for other fledgling writers to make their voices heard
- ShoutOut! JMU, James Madison’s feminist blog that featured an article I wrote about the incidence of sexual assault on our own campus in the context of national averages
A Final Note
In the Information Age, there are more paths to a successful creative writing career than ever before. The venues listed above are just a sampling, and I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that my path would be much different without these diverse experiences.
Keep your eyes open for opportunities outside of traditional creative writing markets. At the end of the day, all writing is practice.
On that note, keep writing!