As 2014 came to a close, several Northwestern students received exciting news that didn’t include the end of finals, surprise family Christmas vacations or uncommonly warm winter temperatures. Students across NW’s campus were receiving emails saying that their writing had been chosen for publication.
When Professor Samuel Martin encouraged his Intro to Narrative and Verse class last fall to submit some of their writing from the class to Valapraiso University’s online literary journal, “A Common Thread,” many of them were skeptical.
“I sent in some of my poems, assuming I would never get accepted,” said Nicole Montgomery, a student from Martin’s class.
Justine Johnson had high hopes for a short story she had written but soon ran into a few last minute glitches.
“I sent in my short story an hour before the deadline and then saw it was supposed to be 2000 words or less,” Johnson said. “Mine was 4915. I figured I’d ruined my chances.”
Around Thanksgiving, however, four students from the class heard that their work had been accepted for publication, including Montgomery and Johnson. Pieces by NW students included in the journal are Johnson’s creative nonfiction piece “Watching the Slideshow,” Montgomery’s poems “Seeking Lifelines” and “On Heartache and Hands,” Victoria Horn’s poems “Touchstone” and “Exhale” and a photograph by Sarah Odom titled “Deliver.”
These writing students weren’t the only people at NW to have work published toward the end of the year.
In December, Stephen Dykstra wrote a piece for his personal blog called “Top 5 things the church (re)learned in 2014.” The piece was Dykstra’s attempt to add closure to a year that he had seen as very influential for the church.
After publishing his blog, Dykstra’s roommate, Aaron Van Ee began encouraging him to submit the piece to Relevant Magazine for publication. According to their website, Relevant Magazine is a “leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings … covering faith, culture and intentional living.” The print version of the magazine only publishes pieces written by authors connected directly with Relevant, but the magazine encourages readers to submit writing for their online publication.
Dykstra ended up taking that advice, and on New Year’s Eve he received an email saying that another story had fallen through, and his piece would be published. The magazine whittled Dykstra’s list of five observations down to four and published the article.
Dykstra’s piece has been shared almost 500 times on social media, and he has been able to remain active in the conversation via the comments section on his piece.
“Mostly it was all encouraging, but there was one guy who was personally offended by part of the article,” Dykstra said.
Though none of these students had submitted work outside of NW for publication before, they all feel that they learned a lot about the process and were encouraged along the way.
“My advice would be, don’t write something for a specific journal or contest,” Johnson said. “Write your story, and then wait until you find places where it fits. Otherwise, you change your motivation. It’s not a paper or a news article or something with a specific deadline. If you write it like that, you won’t love it or be as proud.”
Dykstra, however, has a slightly different view on where writing motivation should come from.
“Try to understand who you’re writing to,” he said. “Understand the publication, and the audience the publication serves.”
Valparaiso’s journal can be read at http://scholar.valpo.edu/act/, and Dykstra’s article can be found by searching for “4 Things the Church Learned in 2014” at relevantmagazine.com.