Tips For Aspiring Writers From Laurel Lathrop

All aspiring writers know that getting your work out into the world is the hardest part of the process. I had the opportunity to talk with my Fiction Technique instructor, Laurel Lathrop, about how she deals with these obstacles in her writing career. She was very honest and open with me and offered wonderful advice for everyone pursuing this career.

Courtesy: Rebecca Ross

Her Campus (HC): What inspired you to pursue writing?

Laurel Lanthrop (LL): I was always an avid reader, and at some very early point in my childhood that turned into "I want to make other people feel the way I feel when I read something." I have very early memories of writing little books for my family and friends. As I grew up and read more and more widely, that initial impulse turned into a more considered, "I have thoughts and feelings and observations that might be meaningful to other people when told in the form of a story."

HC: How do you deal with writer's block?

LL: I go out and experience good art. Nothing is more inspiring to me than art that makes me think and feel new things; it brings me back to the initial impulse of, "I want to create this feeling in others." Reading is, of course, the best method, since noticing specific elements of the author's craft can create a desire to experiment with similar techniques or try for a similar effect, but watching a really beautiful film can also be very inspiring. Watching is dangerous, though, since it's more passive. Listening to an audiobook is another good way to get your brain into a literary mindset without having to confront an empty page.

HC: How did you get published?

LL: I sent a story that I thought matched a particular publication to that publication. Knowing a little bit about the markets you're sending to is very important — you waste both your time and the editors' time if you send them something that has nothing in common with what they typically publish.

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HC: What advice do you have about getting published?

LL: See above, and also: start getting okay with rejection. Even the most famous, most successful authors still have stories rejected. So for young authors who aren't yet known, you should expect rejections in the double digits before you get even one story published. If you are sure a story is finished, and you're sure you are sending it to the right places for its style and subject matter, you should be confident enough to send that story out again as soon as it comes back with a rejection. (Side note: Duotrope is a very helpful website for keeping track of your submissions and looking up different magazines.)

HC: What advice do you have for dealing with getting turned down by publishers?

LL: Despite all I've said above, for me at least, rejection never gets any easier. Every time I have a story rejected, it takes some serious emotional energy to go, "Okay, where do I send this next?" That's why it's so important to be sure that you have a story you are proud of before you try to get it published; you need to be able to trust your own internal validation of "This is the best I can do," because the external validation of being published is extremely rare. Also, make sure you are constantly reading and writing new stuff. You will become a better writer only through practice, and it's possible that in a year or two, you'll look back on the first story you sent out for publication and go, "Oh, that wasn't very good, I have something better now."

HC:  What are some local reading/writing opportunities you know about?

LL: Go to the weekly readings at The Bark, which happen almost every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. during the semester (Fall, Spring, and Summer C). Midtown Reader also has tons of author events, usually several every week; go on their website or sign up for their email newsletter to get their event schedule. In terms of reading, submit to the Midtown Reader monthly story slam for an opportunity to read your work out loud. I also recommend working on The Kudzu Review and/or interning for The Southeast Review.

HC:  Any advice in general for aspiring writers?

LL: Writing isn't solely an act of creative expression; it's an act of connection with a reader. So it makes sense that we all want external signs of connection; we want not only to be published but to be appreciated, to have positive reviews, to win awards. But those things are fickle, can be a matter of luck and privilege and knowing the right people. If you want to be a writer, if you read and write and find your happiness in reading and writing: you are a writer. No external validation can make you one. This is very simple but can be hard to remember when you start the process of trying to get published. So just remember: it's the writing that makes you a writer. If you continue working on your craft, the other stuff will come eventually — but again, you can't depend on any particular validation coming at any particular time. So I guess the other part of the advice is: You'll have to get a day job. So start thinking about what you can see yourself doing all day that will leave you time and energy for writing. If you decide to pursue an MFA, you should only consider fully-funded programs unless you are wealthy. Do not take out student loans for a creative writing degree. FSU has a wonderful MFA and Ph.D. program, but I don't think going to the same school for undergraduate and graduate work is a good idea — take advantage of the graduate program now, by taking workshops from our writers and attending their readings, but then go somewhere else to further your studies, if possible. Your writing will be enriched as your life experiences accumulate, and moving to a new place and experiencing a new campus culture is a major life experience.