I have loved writing stories since I was a child. I grew up writing short plays for the neighborhood kids and typing up my dreams and story ideas on my family’s computer. Now I am about to graduate college with a Creative Writing major this spring. Writing is something I have been doing my whole life—it is one of my deepest passions. Despite this, I still sometimes find it difficult to think of something to write.
One of my creative writing professors at EIU, Dr. Daiva Markelis, said something in my first writing class with her that stuck with me. “Write what you know.” This advice sounds simple enough, and maybe even a little boring (because a lot of people like to use writing as a tool to explore new worlds and be someone else for a bit). But writing what you know is one of the best pieces of advice I have been given in college.
Why? Because while maybe I don’t know from personal experience what it is like to see ghosts or have super powers or love someone of the same sex or unravel a murder mystery or be profiled as a minority, I know emotions and human behaviors from experience, interactions, and observation. Arguably, the most important parts of a story are the characters’ emotions and motivations; they give a depth to the characters that sucks readers in. Good, real, human emotions and motivations make your characters and stories believable and entertaining to read.
This is not to say nobody should ever write about topics they don’t personally know about. If that was the case, we would not have captivating fantasy novels like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or thrilling science fiction novels like Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Of course, the writers have never been in the situations they write about or seen these situations played out, but they incorporated knowledge they did know, as well as learned more through research, and were able to create these classic stories we all know today.
So next time you are stuck in a writer’s block, grab hold of that strong emotion you are feeling or think of that interesting person you saw on the street and begin writing with those emotions and motivations in mind. You may be surprised where those ideas can take you, or what better ideas they spark instead.
Bluestem Assistant Editor
Nothing feels better than getting that acceptance email that says “we want to publish you” from one of the many magazines you sent your work out to all those months ago. Being published feels like a validation; others think your writing is good enough that it should be shared with the world (or at least that magazine’s readership). And then seeing your name and your writing in print is the cherry on top.
But many literary magazines and journals are turning to online publication. This means no physical form of your work for you to hold and keep on your bookshelf like a trophy symbolizing your arduous work. Sure, this change makes sense in your head—printing costs are steep and technology and the internet make it easier to publish more and share easier—but seeing your name online still does not feel the same as holding it in your hands.
I recently attended Eastern Illinois University’s Lions in Winter Literary Festival, which was an educational and entertaining experience. The last panel of the day was the Editors’ Panel Discussion, where four editors of four different literary journals (Bluestem, Quiddity, Antilever Press, and Sou’Wester) talked about and answered questions on the topic of publishing. One of the points made during the discussion caught my attention and resonated with me. The editor of Bluestem, Olga Abella, said that while it used to be looked down on to be published online rather than in print, the attitude towards online publication has shifted to a more positive note. Both literary magazines and writers are beginning to see the benefits of online publication, especially in this time when technology and the internet are crucial parts of society. It is now seen by some as on equal level with print publication.
So what are the benefits of online publication? For the literary journal, this cuts down on printing costs, which in turn can result in more work being accepted and more issues being published. This is great for those who are looking to get their work published because it increases their opportunities and chances to be accepted. Online publication also helps the writers by providing a “forever” copy of their work that can be linked and shared across different platforms on the internet. Your work will be able to reach more people than print ever could, which is usually the goal for writers wanting to be published. It is no wonder online publication is being looked at more positively now due to the benefits it provides both writers and literary magazines.
While both print and online publication have their appeals, it is becoming clear to many that online publication deserves to be on equal level with print publication. Bluestem has been publishing online since 2010, and we have been able to publish the work of many writers through these online editions. While we still print annually, the quarterly online editions give talented writers more opportunities to have their work published and allow their work to be preserved online forever.
Bluestem Editorial Assistant