Cotton Xenomorph is a new literary journal produced with the mission to showcase new, and ecstatic art while reducing language of oppression in our community. We are dedicated to uplifting new and established voices while engaging in thoughtful conversation around social justice.

Manifestos: Stepping Stones

By Nikoletta Gjoni

Writers don’t abide by the same rules as non-creatives; we break them to create stepping stones for you to reach a broader understanding of everything that exists outside of your box—your threshold for comfort. We celebrate the weird, the new, and the common by following these rules. Follow closely:

  1. A Sense of Self
    I find it imperative that the writer’s voice shines through the piece and gives us a sense of authenticity—of originality. Certain phrases; the way words are coupled—I like to think I can get a sense of who the writer is—to some degree—by choices made in a story. Like reading tea leaves or looking at someone’s palm, the writer has opened the door just enough for us to take a peek into their psyche. Those carefully selected words you’re reading? That bizarre plot twist? They are an extension of that writer and they have shared it with you.
  2. Crisp, Straightforward Writing
    This isn’t to say that writing in the way of Steinbeck is the only way to approach short stories, but a writer shouldn’t be actively trying to confuse their readers. I don’t want to feel like I’m solving a puzzle when I’m reading; I don’t want to twist the Rubik’s Cube and find myself not understanding the writer’s intentions. Give me authentic descriptions; situations that alarm me or excite me or sadden me. Let me follow the characters’ paths, otherwise what are they there for if not to teach us something?
  3. Relatable Characters (even when their situations may not be so)
    I can read about other cultures—hell, other worlds, even—other animals, creatures, beasts, living things that I have nothing in common with, at least on the surface. Give me someone I can cry for; someone I can despise because they are that real, that alive on the page. Give me a situation I have never found myself in but yet somehow seem to suddenly understand. Here. Now. All of these things give me perspective. They create compassion and understanding in your readers.
  4. Authentic Dialogue
    Spare me the banal, the cliché, the trite, as well as the flowery, the Shakespearean, and the overly-dramatic (and I mean I’m a Shakespeare fan). As the world changes, so do circumstances, so do predicaments, and so does language. I often think about how today’s readers and writers view works from the past, and then I imagine how people in the future will view what we create today. Give them a window into our daily lives, but more importantly, give me something to connect with today.
  5. Subjectivity
    Even though readers are often reminded that a story’s narrator or protagonist is not the writer him/herself, it is oftentimes easy to see where a writer’s personal experience comes through on the page, like an inkblot stain. I would argue that subjectivity in a story is part of what gives it life, whether it be fiction or creative nonfiction. As unique individuals with our own experiences, heartbreaks, and joys, how can we be expected to leave those out of our creations?
  6. Originality in Construction
    I relish—TRULY relish—coming across a line that is put together in a way that balances both simplicity and intricacy. I find myself asking: How deep did they go to find that perfect combination of words? Give me a phrase I never knew existed before I read your piece, and one that I begin use so much it becomes my own cliché. You are a creative. Create. Create for those who can’t and for those who need your colors.

Are you ready to ford that river? Hold your balance and take the first step out towards the water. When you’re halfway across, don’t look back. Just keep moving. Keep moving.


Nikoletta Gjoni is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living outside of DC. She currently has a collection of linked short stories out on submission about people living in Communist Albania, spanning the 1970s through to the present day. You can find her work in BartlebyKindling Volume III, and Cleaver Magazine. Her first published story was nominated for the 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau prize.

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