Feeling flush?

August 11th, 2011

This year Tudor has been an inspiration to us all and an example of the success, synchronicities and satisfaction that can come your way when you enter contests.

I try not to spend too much on contest fees every year (unless they come with a subscription to a journal that I really want), and enter a range of different challenges, from haikus to anecdotes to fiction to memoir.

If you’re like me, you end up with a collection of polished pieces (a feat in itself!), but sometimes I forget to go back and re-purpose them once the contest period is over.

Fortunately, there’s a call for submissions out now that may help you put some of those orphans to use. The folks who publish the “Uncle John’s” readers series are compiling their first ‘flush fiction’ anthology. No, the topic doesn’t have to be bathroom-related, but the word count does have to be less than 1000 words – just the size, perhaps, of some of your previous contest entries.

Submissions must be postmarked by August 31, 2011 – snail mail only. Full details are here.

Good luck – and thanks, Tudor, for keeping us inspired!

Money for nothing

June 11th, 2011

Sadly, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Not in the writing world, anyway. There is not even such thing as a reasonable-amount-of-money-for-the-actual-amount-of-work-you-put-in. No, I’m afraid the closest you’re going to get is to receive a not-insulting-sum-of-money-that-is-fair-given-market-conditions-and-that-gets-paid-to-you-on-time. That, my friend, in the freelance writing world, is pure gold. That’s also why your parents wanted you to go to med school or law school – or pretty much anything but j-school…

Speaking of j-school - I graduated in 1996 and freelancers were getting paid more then than they are now. So did I pick a winner or what?

This little lesson on writing and money comes courtesy of one of the spam comments the blog received this past week (spam central we were, around here). Here’s the comment:

We need internet writers desperately. After checking out your website, we want you on our staff. We pay out $35-$50 hourly. Our top writers are pulling in over $90K a YEAR, writing part-time. Please stop by and see us.

I am here to tell you this is hogwash! Pure, 100 per cent, complete and utter hogwash (I would use a stronger animal reference here but I’m making an effort to clean up my language). This statement is simply not true.

There are lots of sites like this out there telling you they need you, and you can make lots of money in your spare time, and you just have to register with them (oh, and pay a small fee) and the work will roll in, pour in, deluge in and you’ll be able to pick and choose your assignments and then lean back in your chair and eat pitted cherries all day while you peck out your stories and the cheques also roll, pour and deluge in.

Really? You really think this is going to happen? I’m not asking if you wish this would happen or if it seems only fair and right that this would happen but I’m asking if, deep in the recesses of your heart and mind you believe this to be true. If the answer is still yes then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong.

I could go into lots of details and give you all the good reasons and logic as to why things that seem too good to be true really are and also remind you there is no such thing as a free lunch (unless your mother makes it for you and then you still have to listen to a diatribe on your good-for-nothing cousin and the mistakes he’s making with his good-for-nothing life and, pretty soon, you wish you had just paid $5.99 for the deli special). Anyway, I could do all that but one of my most favourite bloggers of all times – the wise and mysterious INTERN – has already done a fantastic and funny job of it here so I invite you to read it for yourself.

Of course, in the interests of maintaining a fair-minded and egalitarian blog, I definitely invite you to write in if you can prove me wrong. If you really have pulled in over $90K a year, writing part-time, by all means let me know and I will happily bathe in hogwash.

Fun in The Sun

June 9th, 2011

Back in March I wrote this post in which I waxed rhapsodic about a new literary find, The Sun magazine, which is published out of North Carolina.

This week I introduced one of its sections to my writing group. It’s called “Readers Write” and has, I believe, been a feature of the ad-free magazine since early in the publication’s almost-40-year history. Each month, readers write their true, anecdote-based reflections on a given theme and a wide-ranging selection is chosen for publication. It’s usually the first section I flip to, and I try (usually unsuccessfully!) to ration out the pieces so I can stretch out the reading pleasure until my next issue arrives. Here’s a sample of the  current issue’s “Readers Write” section (you can get a taste of the magazine’s essays, fiction and poetry, too, while you’re visiting the site).

After my writing group read through some of the selections in my back issues, we looked at the upcoming themes, and each picked one with a view to possibly submitting a piece to the magazine. We only wrote for 10 or 15 minutes, but made a great start on our stories!

The upcoming topics are Boxes, Warning Signs, Promises, The Best Feeling in the World, Whispering, and Good Advice. Deadline for ‘Boxes’ is July 1, ‘Warning Signs’ is Aug. 1, ‘Promises’ is Sept. 1, and so on. Submissions are to be ‘thoughtful and sincere,’ says the publisher; word count isn’t specified but most look around 200-600 words.
Give it a whirl – you’ll produce an interesting snippet of memoir, at the very least, and a potentially published piece if you choose to submit. Pick a theme, and see where you can take it!

Another cross-training challenge!

May 26th, 2011

I knew it was too good to be true. I was floating on a cloud all day, feeling my life was perfectly, miraculously, in balance … my hairdo was behaving, my writing was humming along, my garden was beckoning, healthy food awaited my children in the fridge (NB: the food was in the fridge, not the children). Could this really last?

Apparently not. Because at about four o’clock I suddenly realized that I had totally forgotten to write my blog post this week. Tudor carries the bag on Saturdays, and (technically) I am your faithful correspondent on Thursdays.

So, given that ‘Thursday’ is fast coming to a close, especially for our eastern readers, I will simply offer you another fun writing challenge that crossed my desk today. For more, see last week’s post on literary cross-training exercises.

Here’s the goods from Vancouver’s subTerrain magazine. You don’t have to live in Vancouver to participate; perhaps you have an outsider’s view of our fair city that would provide a unique slant to your piece:

Call for Submissions

subTerrain magazine is accepting poetry submissions for its Special Summer Issue celebrating Vancouver’s 125th Birthday.

We are seeking poems that explore Vancouver’s history, geography, and varied ethnicity. The issue will be comprised of 125 poems and several essays on the topic of poetry & politics in Vancouver.

Please try to address your subject in unique, fresh, and surprising ways.


Poem length: maximum 50 lines (including stanza breaks)

Line length: maximum 56 characters (including spaces)

Poems should be typed, single-spaced, on 8.5 x 11 paper

Authors of work selected for inclusion in the issue, will receive $25 per poem plus publication. As well, all contributors will receive 5 copies of the issue and a one-year subscription to subTerrain.

Deadline for entries: June 30, 2011 (postmarked)

We require hard copy, mailed to the address below. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you want your submission returned. All submissions not accompanied by a SASE will not be returned (so keep a copy for yourself!).

Send entries to:

SubTerrain Magazine

Vancouver 125

po box 3008, main post office

Vancouver, BC

V6B 3X5

E: subter@portal.ca



Year of the contest update

May 14th, 2011

I was waiting to see how it all went, but now I can tell you I found out in March that I was a finalist in the National Capital Writing Contest, and the Awards Ceremony was May 10, and I went and received an honourable mention, and it was a very lovely evening.

My younger son turned to me the next morning and asked “Did you win?” and I said “No,” and he said “I knew you wouldn’t.” Hmm – it would have been nice if he had told me and I might not have worried so much about my hair.

Although, every single finalist was called up on stage and we all received very nice certificates and had the judge’s comments about our work read out loud, so I guess it was good I fixed my hair (which my older son had warned me earlier “didn’t look very good” – I suppose we’re honest in our family).

My husband kept emphasizing it was an honour just to be recognized and it 100 per cent, truly was. Except, you see, it felt like a bit more of an honour when we were all in it together; a small group of people all chosen from the greater pool of entries. Once some won and some didn’t the honour of being recognized dulled just a tiny bit.

I want to emphasize, however, that I am not complaining and I wouldn’t hand in my (very beautiful) Honourable Mention certificate for any reason and, as a bonus, an anthology has been created - a real live book anthology with an ISBN and a price and everything and my story is in it, along with the stories of all the other finalists and so, I suppose I have now had my second piece of fiction officially published, and in a book which I now own (or, more precisely my husband owns as he insisted on paying for it) and so, all in all a great experience.

And that, by the way, is where I learned about a glosa because the first prize winner in the poetry category had written a glosa and it was beautiful.

I have had many thoughts about this evening and stemming from the evening and, like the glosa post, no doubt many more posts will be spawned as a result.

I would say, based on this alone, the Year of the Contest has been a success and so I urge you to think of what you really want to do, make a plan and do it because you never know what may come of it.

Gearing up for Rocky retreat

March 2nd, 2011

For much of the past year, I’ve been a member of the Creative Nonfiction Collective of Canada. It’s a lively group of committed writers who are engaged by the genre and enjoy exploring the possibilities it offers.

I was immediately won over to the group when I discovered amongst its membership Susan Olding, whose book of essays, Pathologies, I’d just finished reading and loving. Since then I’ve booked other members as speakers for my local writers’ society and got to ‘know’ many more of them by lurking on the discussion board (which is open to non-members, as well).

But coming on the April 29 weekend is the collective’s annual retreat at the Banff Centre for the Arts, which will give me the chance to put a face to some names and to benefit from the buzz that always come when a group of writers pools its energy.

Keynote speaker is Karen Connelly, and the full program is offered here. The conference is actually FREE with an annual $35 CNFC membership; costs are for the facilities and meal package. I’m delighted to be taking advantage of the Banff Centre’s $99/night room rate to tack on a short pre- and post-conference writing retreat of my own.

So if you fancy an excuse to meet some like-minded souls and carve out some writing time of your own, consider this an invitation to the Rockies!

Writing shorter

February 19th, 2011

As I said in my last post, there are concrete things I hope to accomplish from entering contests and one of them is to exercise my ability to write short, succinct pieces and to self-edit (mercilessly, if necessary).

The contests I’ve entered this year have had word counts ranging from 150 words (no, I didn’t miss a zero there) to a relatively generous 2,500 words. With a background in journalism, this is nothing new for me. In fact, having 2,500 words to play with is pretty much unheard of in the world of newspaper / magazine writing unless you happen to land a coveted long feature assignment, which are few and far between.

However, lately I’ve switched my focus from magazine and newspaper work to (banging-my-head-against-the-wall) in the hope of getting published in the fiction world. Partly because I no longer have anyone giving me any kind of restrictions and partly because novels are my particular area of interest, I’ve been spoiled by having all the space / word count in the world to tell my story.

Which - don’t get me wrong - is nice, however there’s something to be said for remembering how to use words economically and effectively. Especially from a reader’s point of view…

This is where contests come in for me. I’m not horrible at writing to a specified word count. That is to say, I don’t set out to write a 1,000-word piece and do a word count at my perceived halfway point to find it’s already 3,000 words. No, I tend to be able to write a first draft that comes in within 10 or 20 per cent of the alloted word count.

The thing is, when I say “within”, what I really mean is “over”. I never, I mean ever, write something 800 words for a 1,000-word contest. It just has not happened to me. Which means I have to cut. Sometimes I have to cut what seems like an impossible amount.

But I do it. I always do it. Because, as painful as the process might be, it’s less painful than spending hours writing a piece and then giving up on it because it’s 200 words too long.

And, it’s good for me and for my writing. At least in my opinion it is. Cutting – being forced to cut – gives me the incentive I need to get rid of my little oh-s0-clever bits. The things I feel incredibly pleased with myself for adding in. The self-indulgent flourishes where I think “ooh, that’s funny” or “how good am I?” The things, were I to have unlimited space, I’d never be able to force myself to let go of but, to be painfully honest, once taken out of my contest entry leave no gaping hole. No missing meaning. Nothing anyone would ever wonder about.

Meaning, of course, they probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

So, another benefit of contests – lots of practice cutting, slashing, editing and removing.

Thoughts on cutting? Self-editing? Contests? Do share…there are no word count restrictions in the comments!

The year of the Contest!

February 12th, 2011

I’ve decided this year is all about contests for me. My goal is to enter one per month and, if I can, more (I’ve entered four so far since the beginning of the year). Should anyone choose to follow me in this plan, you need to get your hands on the Canadian Writers’ Contest Calendar – it’ s magic!

So, I had all kinds of reasons why I was going to do this and I’m going to explore some more deep and meaningful ones in future weeks but, for now, let me tell you about an unexpected updside I’m experiencing.

The joy of submitting.

Oh I love submitting my work. I really, really do. I know some people don’t enjoy this phase but I think that’s ’cause they skip right by the enjoyable part and go straight to the place of ”I might get rejected“. True, yes, very true. In fact, “might” is the wrong word; the right word is “will”.

When submitting, because I know I will get rejected, the only thing to do is keep submitting. You see, every submission is a slice of hope, a piece of promise, a possibility. And the latest one is always the strongest so, as long as I keep submitting, the sting of being rejected on my older and less shiny and less exciting submissions is considerably dulled. “It doesn’t matter,” I think, “Because I just popped a new envelope in the mail yesterday! Ha-ha!”

One of the things I do to make money (unlike all the above-mentioned submissions which, in the fiction realm, have yet to earn me ANY money), is to write these things called BCRs. A BCR is a Biographical Career Report, usually running about 50 pages once complete, in which I analyze a client and try to figure out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what keeps them working.

Something that comes up quite often is the notion of goals. Not surprisingly, many of us human beings are goal-oriented. So I often end up telling my clients they do well with goals but what happens if, for example, they are an engineer working on a mega-project which has a five or ten-year timeline?  Well, I often recommend they take on a side project or find something else in their life which allows them to set and achieve smaller, quicker goals to keep them satisfied as they go.

Is anyone with me yet? Has anyone jumped ahead to realize if I’m working on a novel and I like goals, maybe I need some sort of side project to keep me satisfied? Yes, good for you. Well, submitting to contests fills that need for me. I think “good for me, I finished something” and then I can go back and pick up from the 37,629th word of my current manuscript.

There’s also one more thing I really like about submitting and you’ll either be with me on this or think I’m nuts – I love the details. Adore the guidelines. All the little nit-picky things required for each magazine or publisher or contest really rock my boat. Which font to use. Which size. What size the margins should be. Is the page number on the bottom right or top centre? What needs to be on the story and what isn’t allowed to be. What information absolutely must appear on the cover page? Where and how and when is the story to be submitted?

I love getting each and every detail right. I often cut and paste the instructions into my document and then delete them, sentence by sentence as I fulfill them. “Double spaced with first line indent?” Done. “12 point Times New Roman?” Check. So satisfying.

Am I a perfectionist? Well, maybe in this one way – when it comes to the details. But as to the rest of it, no; I don’t think I am. I’m much more about “good enough” than “perfect” (you just have to read some of my favourite quotes to know that). Besides, I know if I don’t settle for good enough, I’ll never get to perfect and then I won’t be able to send my submission and we all know how I love doing that…

Final Weather Workshop

January 22nd, 2011

Here’s the last exercise I’ve dreamed up for our January weather theme.

This time I’d like you to think of a way the weather might change somebody’s life. Or not change it (or change it by not changing it, if you see what I mean by that…).

Change is really the essence of any story. Setting, situations, characters (both their actions and perspectives) – all these things change to move a story forward. Sometimes it’s something small about the setting (a gentle April rain shower) that starts a major chain reaction of change in a story. Sometimes the event is huge (a destructive record-breaking storm) and the story is about characters trying not to change in the face of it.

At any rate, put this idea of weather-driven change in the back of your mind, let it percolate for a while and see what you get from it.

As a further incentive, why not keep your story short and use it to enter this competition? When I say short, I mean it though; 150 words or less. There’s no fee for entering and being concise is always great practice so I say go for it.

Happy writing and, if you enter the ultra-short story competition, happy editing too!

The Supple Writer

January 15th, 2011

An e-mail conversation I had with Lynn sparked this post so, sorry for you Lynn, nothing new this week…you’ve heard it all before!

In horseback riding, there’s this little (by which I actually mean hugely important) thing called suppleness. It’s a large and complicated topic, challenging to comprehend and harder to execute and, for anyone wanting to understand it better, there’s (much) more about it here.

I’ve been riding, on and off, for 30 years and suppleness is something I have to work on every minute of every hour I’m on a horse. It’s delicate, ephemeral and you’re probably wondering what it has to do with writing.

Good question. Well, if you have the patience to read the information at the link above, you’ll see lots about muscle groups and longitudinal vs. lateral suppleness, etc. etc.

Which is fine. Important. Very good information.

However, I have a new riding coach and she is expanding my mind in many ways and one of those ways is her thinking on suppleness. You see, Pia extends the idea of being supple beyond muscles, beyond the body and to the head.

The main benefit of having a horse who is supple in body is that he is moving well and can do the things you want him to do. So suppleness = responsiveness.

Pia takes that idea to the brain and I saw her illustrate it this way. She held one of the barn cats in her lap and asked if the cat was supple. Well, duh, yes; it’s hard to think of a more supple animal than a cat. She patted the cat and stroked the cat and then she moved her hand away from the cat. The cat followed. She moved her hand back and then forwards again, side to side. She changed position and direction rapidly and that cat followed with his head bobbing and weaving to keep up with her hand. “This cat,” she said. “Is supple in his mind.”

And so, now to what this has to do with writing. To me, generating good ideas, building on them, coming up with twists and links - in other words creating a story – is only really possible when your mind is supple. When you’re ready to receive new ideas and let them grow and follow them around a bit when they twist and turn.

The Winter 24-hour Shory Story Contest is coming up next weekend at writersweekly.com and Lynn was asking me about how I come up with my story idea and how I integrate the theme and so on and so forth and I told her I think it all boils down to suppleness. If your brain is supple it will work away on a different level than the conscious brain which, of course, is busy making decisions about what to have for dinner, which movie to rent on Friday night, etc.

OK, so great information but how to supple one’s mind? Well, in many ways. Mostly just by writing. But within that you can do writing exercises, you can create stories intended for submission to a certain publication, you can enter contests (like the one mentioned above). You can write anything and everything just to be writing – so thank you notes, work correspondence, an e-mail to a friend, a blog post. If you do this your brain will get used to jumping and thinking and creating and it will be – that’s right – supple