Roxane Gay’s “eight questions writers should ask themselves”

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Advice for WritersBEING a writer, just like writing itself, is a process. You zigzag between the opposites tugging at you: ups and downs, acceptances and rejections, patience and impulsiveness, creative bursts and lulls, extreme ego and self-deprecation.

And through this movement (I’d say “progress,” but writing is one of those many journeys without a destination), you hopefully develop skills that will increase your chances at sustained success. In short, you mature — along with your writing.

Where are you at in that process of BEING a writer?

To help you better understand yourself as a writer, Roxane Gay has come up with eight questions for you to answer.

Check out her article on the AWP site to read the full details, but I’ll summarize the questions — and the reasons for asking them — below.

1.Are you a good literary citizen?”

According to Roxane, literary citizenship is “the importance of remembering that no one is alone in the writing world. Conduct yourself as such.”

Don’t burn bridges. Get out of constant self-promo mode. Join a community — and help out.

2. “Are you more invested in the business of publishing than the practice of writing?”

Concentrate on writing first. Publishing, and all the gossip and who’s-who that it involves, should never distract you from producing the best work possible.

3. “Is your writing ready to be submitted? Will you stand behind your work not only today, but well into the future?”

Many writers are embarrassed by their early work.

Don’t be in a rush to publish. Wait a while before submitting your newest piece. Revise the thing until it’s something you’re proud of.

4. “Are you willing to be critiqued and/or edited?”

Good readers can often see your work more clearly than you do. You’re too close to it and need some outside perspective. Open yourself up to the sometimes-painful process of critique. Listen.

5. “How will you deal with failure?”

You will be rejected. Don’t take it too personally. Just get smart about your submissions, send your best work, and hope for good results.

6. “Are you reading diversely?”

Read “beyond your comfort zone,” as Roxane says — both in terms of aesthetics and demographics.

The wider your reading, the more empathetic your writing.

7. “Are you taking risks?”

Experiment. Take some real chances. If you fail, no one has to read it! As poets are fond of saying, “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

8. “Do you believe in your writing?”

As Roxane says, “if you don’t think you’re producing writing worth reading, why are you publishing?”

Doubt might serve you well when writing and revising, but self-deprication is the last thing you want to bring to an encounter with an agent, editor, publisher, or group of readers. You don’t have to be a braggart, but present your work with confidence.

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Roxane goes into much more detail with each one of these points and has some valuable things to share, so be sure to read the full article HERE.

How do you answer these questions for yourself? What other questions are worth asking along the way? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Chris Robley
is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

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