"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ask the Expert With Editor and Author Kristin Oakley

Thank you for joining us today, Kristin. We appreciate your time, creative input and expertise here at Pen and Prosper.

Thank you for having me! I’m honored to be a part of Pen and Prosper.

Can you tell us a little about who you are and your background?

Certainly – I am Chicago Writers Association board member, the managing editor of The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, the past president and a co-founder of In Print (a professional writers organization in the Rockford, IL area), and a UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor. My debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem Street, was released in 2016.
As managing editor of The Write City Magazine, how many submissions do you review monthly? We receive 8-10 submissions every month, everything from essays and book excerpts to poems and short stories.
Beyond the general guidelines provided at the site, what are you looking for? What increases a writer’s odds of acceptance? For prose, telling a good story. Is there a unique character who’s well developed? Is there a character/story arc? Tension, vivid description, an intriguing voice – all the elements that make a story come alive. For poetry, we look for beautiful imagery and a poem that evokes an emotion or puts a twist on something.

Regarding acceptance, the staff at The Write City Magazine feels that our online magazine should not only be an opportunity for CWA members (and nonmembers) to be published but also a means of encouragement for new writers. With that in mind, if a piece has potential but needs more work, we’ll give feedback, suggest a re-write, and consider the revision for publication. If we do reject a piece, we always give feedback regarding our reasons why we decided not to publish the piece. 
Do you recommend that scribes write everyday? Can you elaborate here? Daily writing makes sense in many ways – it’s an opportunity to practice the craft, generate new ideas, and complete works in progress. But life gets in the way. Instead, I recommend that writers set a schedule that works best for them, whether it’s daily writing or several times a week, and be flexible. If an hour each day isn’t working, then try larger chunks three days a week.

What would it surprise others to know about you? Writing is a lifelong passion for me (I submitted a short story to The Saturday Evening Post when I was 9, I still have the very nice rejection letter), but I’ve only become a professional writer in the the last few years. Instead, I practiced law and ran a law library in Boston and advocated for unschooling as a stay-at-home mom in both Illinois and Belgium.
If you could have one literary “super power” what would it be? Understanding how to use commas – lol! No really, it would be making writing more of a priority—that whole daily writing thing. Like most writers, I use all kinds of excuses to procrastinate it’s just that my excuses are also writing-related – marketing my books, volunteering for CWA and The Write City Magazine, teaching at UW-Madison. I’m working on this anti-procrastinating super power though and feel like it’s getting stronger every day. 
What was the best writing advice you ever received?  I was privileged to see Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove, this year at Printers Row Lit Fest and his advice was to finish the book. As he pointed out, by doing that you’ve accomplished what 99% of writers never accomplish.

Now, can you return the favor by providing your best advice for writers?
My advice goes along with that – view the first draft as a story you write just for yourself – no one else will see it. Don’t worry about it being perfect or waste time with re-writing. You won’t know how the book begins until you finish it so don’t bother trying to polish that first chapter until you’ve written the very last sentence.

What is your view on blogging and social media? Blessing or burden? Let’s just say I’m getting used to it. It can be overwhelming, but I concentrate on only the things I’m interested in doing. For social media that means Facebook (personal and writer pages), Twitter, and Instagram, but only occasionally. I try not to post things specifically about buying my books but about things people might find worthwhile and I always make sure I post positive things – no politics – which, at times, for me is difficult because I can be very opinionated.
Do you have a blog?  No blog yet, but I recently started my bi-weekly newsletter. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback and some wonderful opportunities have come from it so I’m finding it valuable, plus I’m really enjoying it. And it forces me to create something new every two weeks which is terrific writing practice. I know writers who have a newsletter and a blog and I’m considering doing both. I suspect I will have a blog at some point. It took me many years to decide to do the newsletter, so check back with me in a few years and we’ll see if I’m blogging.
I see that you also teach writing. Are courses offered to the general public? How can writers today benefit from taking creative classes, particularly with the plethora of information available on the Internet? The courses I offer are through UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies and are offered to the general public. We provide online and in person classes on a huge variety of topics and registration runs throughout the year.

There is a lot of great information on the internet, but just reading the information isn’t enough; feedback is crucial for writers. I recommend writers find a critique group or critique partner to get that valuable feedback and necessary encouragement. I also urge writers to take at least one workshop on craft whether it’s at UW-Madison, at CWA’s Just Write! Conference, CWA workshops offered throughout the year, or at any of the terrific writing classes offered throughout the Chicago area. Even though I’ve published two books and teach writing, I continue to take courses and attend workshops which I will do throughout my career. It’s one of the things I love most about writing – writers never stop learning how to tell a great story.



Kristin Oakley is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the managing editor of The Write City Magazine, the past president and a co-founder of In Print Professional Writers’ Organization, and a UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies writing instructor. Kristin’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem Street, was released in 2016.


To learn more about Chicago Writers Association, please visit the CWA website.


  1. Thank you Jennifer for featuring Kristin. Her advice is spot on. Blogging is fun, and you meet the nicest people.

    1. Hi Linda:

      Yes, the fun part of blogging took me completely by surprise. I'm glad you're enjoying it, too.

      All the best,


  2. Lin,
    You're very welcome. We appreciate your time and feedback here.

  3. It's always fascinating to read other peoples view point. It's clear this is a person a writer should listen to. Her advice on the first draft is the type of advice all of us need to hear.

    Many of us put a lot of effort in the first draft when in fact that effort should be applied later.

    Thank you Jennifer. Kristin's advice and thoughts go a long ways. Writing is a tough gig but this interview softened the blow a bit.

    1. Hi Bryan:

      Yahoo for softening the blow! I'm glad my advice helped make writing that first draft a little less painful. We should definitely take ourselves less seriously when putting those first words down -- just let the imagination flow, ignore that editor inside us, and finish the book.

      Good luck with your writing,


  4. Bryan,

    I couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Jen, thanks so much for hosting Kristin, and providing this great introduction to her. Appreciate you sharing her with us! :)

    It's so nice to meet you! I enjoyed getting to know you through the interview. As a former homeschooling mom, your advocacy for unschooling caught my eye. What a wonderful mission to share. Appreciate hearing about your journey. Wishing you much success!

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks so much for adding to the mix here. Always a pleasure to see you here.

    2. Nice to meet you, too, Karen!

      Yay for homeschooling moms! Beginning novelists are often told to write what they're passionate about because the writing will tend to be better and they'll spend years writing that first book so the passion keeps the interest alive. For me, the passion was creating the unschooling town of Carpe Diem, Illinois (and Leo Townsend). I really wanted to present unschooling to the world. It's led to a lot of interesting book club discussions.

      I wish you lots of success with your writing, too!


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