Want to Submit Your Personal Essay to Modern Love? Read These Insider Tips First

Want to get your personal essay published?
We recommend Amy Paturel’s online personal essay writing course. 

“Like many millennials,” says writer Laura Copeland, “I often romanticize turning a pivotal moment in my life into the next great American essay, as defined by its acceptance into the New York Times Modern Love column.”

Millennial or not, Copeland’s first step in this process was the inevitable: procrastination research. Down the research rabbit hole, she discovered that Modern Love editor, Daniel Jones, is a magical wizard providing an abundance of tips, via social media, on writing personal essays.

Confident other people would benefit from Daniel’s wisdom, Copeland collected all the tips she could find into a Google doc and made it public.

If personal essay is your specialty, you’re going to devour, bookmark and obsess over this doc.

And while I think it’s more than worth reading the entire doc yourself, I’m going to share the tips that resonated with me most. (Also keep in mind, these are amazing all-around tips for writing essays, no matter where you submit.)

How to submit to Modern Love

If you’re ready to submit to Modern Love, you’ll want to read on for tips directly from the editor of the popular column.

On writing: Tell the story

Jones has shared many tips on essay structure, but they can essentially be boiled down into these three categories:

  1. “Don’t underestimate the power of a reader’s curiosity” (this includes the editor — don’t give away the ending in your cover letter).
  2. “A happy ending is when the writer understands something he or she didn’t understand before.”
  3. “It’s more intriguing for us to be dropped into the action than to receive all the background information up front.”

Remember why people read stories: because we want to find out what happens.

When I read this tip I immediately went back into my essay and cut the first two paragraphs, moved my “what happened in the end” to the actual end, and added one sentence of clarification halfway through.

Turns out, we don’t really need all that backstory. Even though you want to draw people in at the beginning, that’s not a free pass to give away the ending.

On patience: Embrace the process of discovery

This is probably the most important, difficult, infuriating and comforting tip in this compilation.

I started writing an essay about a fight I had with my childhood sweetheart. It morphed into a story about emotional abuse. Which then turned into a story about how my first boyfriend is impacting my brand-new marriage.

Writing the first draft of this story was easy. I tied it up in a neat little bow and sent it on its way to my first workshop. I expected showers of praise. What I got was a lot of “I don’t buy it.”

What followed has been a hot mess. I re-write this thing for an hour every damn day and it’s still not close to being done.

I’ve learned that writing for Modern Love isn’t like journalism or writing a blog post. It’s therapy. “Ideally, writing a personal essay is a process of discovery,” Jones says. “You only understand the point of your essay after you’ve spent a lot of time and effort working on it.”

It’s different from how we’re often taught to write. Don’t come up with the pitch or the sound byte first. That’s not the point.

When I read that I actually felt relieved. This incessant editing and reworking is the work. And now, instead of getting frustrated every time I haven’t perfected this thing, it’s actually given me a lot of comfort in the process. My six-months-and-counting essay has been through a memoir class, a re-write, a professional editor, another re-write, two writer friends and now a third re-write.

Jones has emphasized that Modern Love stories are often the most important experiences in a writer’s life. These can’t be whipped up in a weekend. “The editor wants to think this is your best story, not one of 20 essays you’ve dashed off and sent out to dozens of outlets all at once,” Jones says. So take your time.

What if you’ve already submitted and were rejected, or told to rework? Don’t immediately send back a few minor edits. “The editor doesn’t want to see it back so soon, and, fair or not, he’ll think you rushed it and won’t view the revision optimistically,” Jones warns.

On editing: Words to avoid

The more I read Jones’ tips about submitting to Modern Love, the more I realize he’s not actually inundated with bad writers. That said, I love the polishing part of my job, so here are a few tips Jones provides on writing:

  • Remove words like “that,” adverbs, exclamation points and double spaces after periods.
  • Choose adjectives that will work harder for you (not filler adjectives like “amazing” and “terrible”).
  • Avoid overused transitions like “fast forward in time.”
  • Get rid of profanity.

On submitting: Be professional and humble

Before you jump on me for the obviousnessness of this tip, read the document.

I was shocked by some of the emails Jones gets when he turns down an essay. He’s received rejection responses like “your loss” and “lame.”

Just because that particular essay wasn’t right for an editor doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. Don’t let a hot temper screw up a relationship with an editor.

I was also pleasantly surprised to read about ambivalence towards writers who brag about their accomplishments. Jones says, “I pay little attention to someone’s writing background when I read an essay. I don’t even have time to read a cover note that’s more than two sentences long. My eyes glaze over at lists of books or articles. I judge a submission solely on the writing before me.”

I can’t tell you how much this speaks to my soul. I’m not particularly accomplished, and the fact that Jones doesn’t only want to publish successful writers fills me with hope. But even if I were, or if I did want to spew the few accomplishments I do have, I hate that bragging is the only way to represent the quality of your work.

Plus, is it just me, or is it obnoxious when writers list off every publication they’ve ever written for? I want to smooch Jones for being open and candid about this issue.

Other ways to be professional include immediately letting Jones (or any other editor) know if your piece has sold elsewhere. And don’t pitch a million places at once with the same story. This saves everyone a lot of time.

Right now: Stop your procrastination research

Before you leave to devour this amazing document: Don’t get hung up on every tip.

Read and absorb what you can, but remember to trust yourself and your writing. Copeland said it best: “In hindsight, I should’ve added a disclaimer to the top of the doc: ‘Use your time wisely. Each minute you spend reading writing advice is a minute you won’t spend writing.’”

Editor’s Note: Since this piece was published in 2015, the author of this post submitted her essay to Modern Love. She shares an update: “My Modern Love essay got rejected, however, I did get an essay published in the New York Times Parenting section!

To see all of Jones’ tips as compiled by Copeland, check out this Google doc.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Photo via Vanilllla / Shutterstock 

The post Want to Submit Your Personal Essay to Modern Love? Read These Insider Tips First appeared first on The Write Life.

26 of the Best Books On Writing

What’s the number one thing you can do to improve your writing?

Read. A lot.

Read anything and everything you can find, and you’ll become a better writer.

Read your favorite genre, whether that’s historical fiction, creative non-fiction or personal essays. Read books that are similar to what you like to write. And when you’re in the mood to learn about craft, read books on writing.

The titles below will help you with all aspects of your writing, from learning to write better to finding inspiration to figuring out where to pitch your ideas. We’ve even included some books about how to make money writing.

Here are some of the best books on writing.

Books on becoming a better writer

1. On Writing by Stephen King

Part memoir, part guidebook, Stephen King’s classic will appeal even to those who avoid King’s renowned horror-packed tales. In this book, King discusses how he came to be the writer we know today.

2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird is an essential part of any writer’s toolbox. In this work, Lamott shares herself and her craft with readers, including anecdotes that tie the pieces together into all-around great writing.

3. Writer’s Market edited by Robert Lee Brewer

Writer’s Market helps aspiring writers become published. Its listings contain hundreds of pages of suggested markets for nonfiction writers, as well as those looking to sell short stories, including details for how to pitch your work.

4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

This classic book targets nonfiction writers and includes writing tips, as well as the fundamentals of craft. Zinsser discusses many forms of writing, from interviewing and telling stories about people to writing about travel.

5. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

For years, writing teachers have assigned The Elements of Style to their students. Brushing up on the basics from time to time is critical for continually developing your skills, and this book contains simple truths that every writer needs to know.

6. The Associated Press Stylebook by the Associated Press

AP Style is known by many as the “go-to” writing style for journalists and public relations pros. The Associated Press Stylebook contains more than 3,000 entries detailing rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation and word and numeral usage to help you master news writing.

7. How to Write Bestselling Fiction by Dean Koontz

While many books on this list are aimed at nonfiction writers, this one is for those who dream up their own stories to tell. If anyone is qualified to tell people how to write bestselling fiction, it’s prolific author Dean Koontz, who’s sold more 450 million copies of his books. This book was written in 1981 and is out of print, but has valuable insight for writers who manage to snag a copy (check the library!). It’s one of the best books on writing fiction.

8. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Goldberg’s book examines the craft of writing including how to start brainstorming, the importance of learning how to listen, the vital role verbs play in writing, and even how to find an inspiring place to write.

9. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Aimed at fiction writers, this book tackles everything from models to help with story structure to a variety of techniques to help with crafting great stories from start to finish. You’ll even find tips on creating plotting diagrams. and tools to overcome various plot problems that can arise.

Books on overcoming the struggles of writing

10. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

The author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek shares words of wisdom in this handy book where she discusses the difficulties of writing. She writes about how hard it is to write and how sometimes it is necessary to destroy paragraphs, phrases and words to re-form them as something even better.

11. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

From time to time, every writer suffers from burnout or writer’s block. Julia Cameron’s book focuses on the craft of writing and training yourself to be even more creative.

She offers valuable techniques like starting each morning with a free-writing exercise, and exploring one subject per week that you find fascinating. Her tips for reinvigorating the creative juices could be of help to any kind of writer.

12. Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers

Word Work is packed with practical advice for overcoming procrastination, finding happiness in writing and even conquering writer’s block via useful exercises. It also covers how to handle rejection and success.

13. A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

This book focuses on how to be a happy and successful writer throughout your career. It covers everything from finding joy as a writer to avoiding burnout and the all-important challenge of balancing writing with a busy life. It also discusses how to fine-tune your craft, get in touch with your creative flow, revise your work, find critiques, and learn how to be resilient.

14. War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Published in 2012, this book helps writers and creators of all kinds overcome the biggest obstacle of all: our inner naysayer. The Amazon description says this book is “tough love…for yourself.” If something inside of you is keeping you from your biggest accomplishments, this is the right book to pick up.

Books on writing as an art form

15. The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work edited by Marie Arana

This book contains columns from a decade of The Washington Post’s “Writing Life” column, with contributors as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Joyce Carol Oates and Carl Sagan. Essays are paired along with biographical information about each author, helping readers learn more about these skilled contributors and their ideas on writing.

16. The Paris Review Interviews

The Paris Review offers in-depth interviews with some of the leading names in the literature world, from novelists to playwrights and poets. This series of books features a collection of interviews with past and present writing superstars including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, among many other famous names.

17. Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orlando

This book reflects on the artistic side of being a writer. Making art is no easy feat, and Bayles and Orlando — both artists themselves — explore the challenges of making art and the arious obstacles that can discourage people along the way.

Originally published in 1994, Art & Fear is now an underground classic, dishing out relatable, valuable advice.

18. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker offers a new take on some of the classic writing manuals. Inside The Sense of Style, he analyzes examples modern prose, pointing out fantastic writing and offering tips to spruce up lackluster work.

19. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, put together this book of essays portraying his passion for the craft.

20. The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O’Connor

World-renowned Irish author Frank O’Connor takes on the short story in this favorite book on writing. Short stories are challenging, but O’Connor shares tips and tactics for mastering the art of the short story that can help any writer begin to feel more confident about crafting their own works. This is one of the best books on writing short stories.

Books on making money writing

21. Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing by Helen Sedwick

Attorney and self-published author Helen Sedwick uses her 30+ years of legal experience to help aspiring self-publishers navigate the business side of writing. This first-of-its-kind guidebook covers everything from business set up to spotting scams to help keep writers at their desks and out of court.

22. How to Make a Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn’s How to Make a Living With Your Writing and her companion workbook can help any writer examine their current writing situation and make a plan for the future. Penn discusses her multiple income streams and shares the breakdown of her six-figure writing income, which includes book sales, affiliate marketing commissions, a series of courses she offers and speaking fees.

23. Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success by Kelly James-Enger

Divided into five sections James-Enger discusses everything from when it makes sense to ignore per-word rates, how to ask for more money, how to set goals and even how to fire troublesome clients. This book is a valuable read when working towards a sustainable career as a full-time freelance writer.

24. Earn More Money as a Freelance Writer by Nicole Dieker

The Write Life’s own contributor Nicole Dieker has a book out about writing and money. The book focuses on setting goals for each phase of a writer’s career, including getting rid of lower paying jobs to make way for better work and higher-paying clients.

25. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin

In her new anthology, Martin includes a series of essays from well-known literary icons such as Cheryl Strayed, Jennifer Weiner, and Nick Hornby where they discuss the intersection of writing and money in essays and interviews.

26. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

This content-creation book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, drives home the point that anyone with a web site or social media channels is a writer.

It focuses on how to craft quality writing that boosts business and helps find and retain customers, including writing tips, content help, grammar rules, and more.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via Andrii Kobryn/ Shutterstock

The post 26 of the Best Books On Writing appeared first on The Write Life.