Regular Writing and Literary Magazines

Try Writers Digest, Poetry, or Tin House

What to make of this writing game? I would be very surprised to meet a blogger who was writing a project aside from their blog, who did not use a book, or perhaps a magazine which contained seemingly useful writing advice. I use writing books myself from time to time, e.g “The Writers portable mentor” or “Self editing for Fiction Writers” but try not to get bogged down in too many, for fear of expecting the books to do the writing for me. At some point, you just need to get down, and get on with the writing. Those books sure are useful, but they are also feature of a different post.

Instead I wish to highlight some magazine format literature. Originally I had the idea of writing this as a back up post, one of those posts for if I was struggling for ideas. However a couple of days ago I posted a poem called “Familiarity“, which was part of a run of several poems I did in an hour one afternoon. At the time the idea was to sit and attempt to write a poem, something I had not done for a few weeks. For the first few minutes, nothing was flowing. So I picked up “Poetry”, the one pictured above, and had a quick flick through. Suddenly several ideas popped into my head and an hour later, I had four poems.

What I’m getting at here is that the magazine I picked up had something about it. It is one of those publications that you can look at to admire work. You may look at it and think, I can never be as good as these writers, You may think it contains something that touches your soul. You may take performance anxiety and decide you are not at that level. Or you may find it something to aspire to. You may love the works, or find them nothing of interest. But it is all those different aspects that make the “something about it”. They contain works of art that if they connect, touch the core of being human, what some might call the soul. Here are two publications that I buy, which I believe, and only recently realised, have this power, and one which is also powerful in a slightly different way:

Poetry

It makes sense to begin with this publication as I found it quite the inspiration. Poetry magazine was founded in1912 and claims to be the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English speaking world. This one is a somewhat ironic inspiration for me. In an early post on this blog I explained how myself and poetry do not get on. With that in mind, I decided to see if I could change that. I proceeded to have a go at some, starting with Haiku (inspired as explained below), then moving onto larger poems. It was a challenge I figured was worth a go. I enjoyed it, Haiku is a regular Monday post, larger poems are frequent posts, I learnt, and have had mixed, and somewhat fun results. But “I aint that bad either”. I gained a respect for Poetry, and started purchasing this magazine, which truth be told is more like a small book. It retails for $3.75 in the US and £3.00 in the UK, with cheaper subscriptions available. It contains poetry (naturally), but also pictures of painted artworks, essays, and other prose. It is a nice mix for the price and there is good work in it. In the current edition I enjoyed works by Tony Hoagland and Mark Levine amongst others. Actually I pinched a title from Mark as a prompt. Check out the Poetry magazine website here. With a new appreciation of Poetry, I gain a lot from this publication, a lot more than just something to read.

Tin House

Tin house magazine, also more like a book, is like a writers secret. I don’t know anybody who buys this other than me. I only discovered it myself a couple of years ago, but it is a great read. It features short fiction, poetry, essays, and other art works. Slightly similar to Poetry, but with more emphasise on the fiction. Plus most issues have a focus around a set subject, e.g. “The Mysterious”, check out back issues here. It only publishes four issues a year, and retails around the $12.95 mark (sorry I think it is US / Canada only, unless subscribed). However cheaper subscriptions are available. It is one of those publications that both scares and inspires in seemingly equal measure, but also has a lot to admire. It is a good quarterly read. Plus I do not know why, but I do like the title.

Writers Digest

Lets us first clarify that technically this is not a literary magazine, it is a magazine about writing, contain articles and tips which focus on a different aspect of writing, e.g. writing good characters. Myself I used to buy “The Writer” which is also a good publication, but I only have time for one of two similar magazines, so I went for this one. The style of this one seems a bit smoother to my tastes, and a little more, “get yourself involved”. It publishes a decent weekly email that you can sign up to for free, and has a good website. I can give you a good example of how it inspired me. One regular column is called “Poetic asides“. A few months back it focused on Haiku. I figured that looked easy enough, I could give that a go. So I did, and it now forms a regular part of my monday posts. There are plenty of other useful tips. They also publish “one offs” such as guides to writing fiction, and have regular competitions.

So these are my regular writing “aids”, if you like. I firmly believe writing aids are not just technical advice, but the things that inspire you. The things that can make you doubt yourself, but also challenge you, the things that make you consider something, or spark ideas. The things that make you say that you have an idea too, and you want to get it out there.

Do you read any of these, are want regular literary publications inspire you?

Lexicon word of the day: waggish.

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17 comments on “Regular Writing and Literary Magazines

  1. Smaktakula says:

    I had a subscription to “Poetry” years ago. I enjoyed it. I don’t remember most of the poems, except one, which I have on the door to my studio. I’ve occasionally picked up Writer’s Digest. but I never end up reading much of it.

    After college, I read a lot of literary fiction magazines. The ones I remember most clearly were “Story” and “Glimmer Train.” Glimmer Train was pretty good, but “Story” was for high-end literary fiction, at least that’s how the magazine portrayed it. I thought the stories were boring and pointless; often they weren’t stories at all (at least in the traditional sense), but these glimpses into the grey lives of unhappy people. I haven’t read literary short fiction in years because of that experience (with a few exceptions, like Salman Rushdie or Roddy Doyle).

    I’ve heard of “Tin House,” but never read it. It’s been a long time; maybe I’ll give literary short fiction another try.

    • Elliot says:

      I think Poetry has had a slight make over in recent years (according to them), which has increased the amount of readers and allowed it to keep running. How much I do not know as I only recently took the interest.

      I’m not a big fan of snooty publications that consider themselves too high brow. As you point out they often limit themselves too much and end up being a bit boring as though ones enjoyment comes from enjoying the craft, not so much the end product. Poetry is ever so slightly snooty, but not to that extent, thankfully.

      Tin house is much more of a mix, for example, a couple of months back, amongst the fiction, one section looked at the 1972 book “Hot Line: The Letters I Get…And Write! By Burt Reynolds”. Classic.

      What I forgot to mention in the post is that all three publications are usually in Barnes and Noble so are easy to check out.

  2. Thanks for sharing your writing aids and secrets with us 🙂 I find inspiration in sorts of places so I am always happy to be introduced to new ones. I’m completely unfamiliar with Tin House Magazine so I’ll have to check it out.

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks – I forgot to mention that they are all in Barnes & Noble, so you can pop down to browse through if you wish (although I think the new edition could be out soon).

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I subscribe to “The Writer” and I get the weekly e-mail from “Writer’s Digest.” Both are great sources, but I don’t go to the Writer’s Digest website as often as I should. As you alluded to, sometimes one can spend more time reading about writing than actually writing. It’s important to find the balance.

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    I saw a post last week that The Writer is going on hiatus in October and they’re looking for a buyer. If one isn’t found, the journal will likely fold.

    I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and am often inspired by some of the articles to keep at my manuscripts. But honestly, some articles make me wonder if I can really be successful at this—those are the ones about the difficulties of breaking into the traditional publishing industry. (But I have no problem with an e-publisher or going indie if that’s what I need to do.)

    • Elliot says:

      I don’t actually read the articles about breaking into the industry, I have saved them for later. I figure I shall try to have a quality product i.e. novel, first, then go from there.

      That is a shame about the writer. Although I don’t subscribe any more, I do think it is a decent magazine.

  5. I used to buy Writers’ Digest et al but once you get the hang of do’s and don’ts of submission and other basic tips it is no longer useful as we now have the internet to research for genre specific publication each of which have guidelines on their site. It is ironic that a book for writing has become obsolescent as print media evaporates. I usually enter the free poetry contests and seems most people get to be a winner as you pay $60 for your copy of the anthology they produce containing your poem (so it really is a mere money making scam(endeavor) on their part. Still it gives you an “I’ve been published” credit and copies make delightful gifts for family members.

    • Elliot says:

      I know what you mean but I still like the print edition. That said, I might buy an iPad soon and switch to digital.

      I’ve never entered a poetry contest but I am tempted.

  6. I love Writer’s Digest. It always has an article that addresses something I’m struggling with in my writing. I also read The Writer, which is sadly going on hiatus for a while. Poets and Writers is another good resource. There are also the monthly newsletters and magazines put out by national writing organizations like SCBWI, MWA, and RWA.

    • Elliot says:

      I think a mix of tips and things that inspire (fiction, poems, etc) is best for me. Too many tips just gets in the way for me in the sense that I cannot remember one from another. That said, there are several places to get good tips as you mention.

      Also it is a bit sad to hear about the writer.

      • I also get newsletters from writing organizations. It’s a lot of reading but it keeps me up to date on the publishing environment. And I think of it like mini-conferences. 🙂

  7. rtd14 says:

    I have my favorite books and I keep them close to me. I can’t say I get into too many magazines. I read On Writing, a few stylebooks, and others. I learn a lot from other authors’ styles.

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