You Need a Deadline – New Reedsy Contest Directory

The first quarter of 2017 is behind us. How’s your writing going? In January, we checked in with you about your writing goals, but that seems like it’s SO long ago now. (How did we get to April so quickly?!?)

Have you, like me, you’ve been moving the goal line on your writing projects? You know – pushing things out a little bit at a time because, life? I completely understand. Things come up. Each of us has obligations and unplanned crises, and many of us are also suffering from resistance fatigue. Hitting your writing targets can start to feel like an impossible dream.

Well … sometimes, what you need is a deadline.

I write a LOT, but most of what I get done is writing that is tied to a client or other deadline. “My” writing projects (stories, novel ideas, flash fiction, etc.) tend to slip down the slippery slope of falling priorities. I want to work on them, but other things are always butting in ahead of them – cutting the line, so to speak.

Solution: Give myself a deadline for one of My Writing Projects

There are always a variety of writing contests going on. Why not pick one and go for it? Even if you don’t win, you will have completed something, and that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Ricardo Fayet, founder at Reedsy, reached out to me to share his company’s new resource: Writing Contests 2017, Curated with love by Reedsy. In a follow-up email conversation, he shared the inspiration for this new, searchable database:

We speak to a lot of upcoming authors, and one thing we discovered is that writing contests are a pretty contentious topic of discussion. While most writers love the idea of being published, read, and rewarded for their work, some authors had been burned in the past. The truth is that, while there are hundreds of contests each years, very few of them are worth the time; some of them are even outright scams, designed to squeeze money out of their entrants.

With that in mind, we wanted to give authors a way find their ideal contests. Updated weekly, this page lets you search for competitions by genre, entry fee, deadline and prize amount. And because we’ve vetted each and every one, there’s no need to worry about being ripped off.

So, how about it? Think you might try to find a deadline that will help you prioritize your writing? If you decide to go for it, let us know in the comments so we can cheer you on. Also, if you know of any reputable contests not in the Reedsy list, please feel free to share those as well!

Good luck!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Are Writing Contests Valuable?

blueribbonLast Sunday, I attended the awards ceremony for Vermont’s Scholastic Art & Writing Contest at the Brattleboro Art and Museum Center.

The art and writing on display was fantastic; no wonder The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are considered “the most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7 – 12.” These kids have talent!

The museum was buzzing with teenage energy as kids and their parents from all over the state saw their work hanging on the museum walls or read award-winning writing published in binders for all to read.

At noon, the crowd sat for the ceremony, which included exhortations from both Danny Lichtenfeld, the museum director, and from Roberto Lugo, a potter, social activist, spoken word poet and educator. Each in his own way, they told the kids to keep breaking the rules and fixing social and global problems they’re inheriting from us.

Vermont Scholastic Awards

Roberto Lugo

Lugo’s remarks were, well, remarkable: In a combination of rap, poetry and prose, he conveyed the story of his trajectory from urban poverty to academic and artistic achievement in language bordering on song – and received a standing ovation. Truly inspirational.

Then came the awards. Those earning Honorable mention were asked to stand; then the Silver Key winners; finally, the Gold Key winners came forward for a group photo.

This is where the event went sour for me. I wished all three groups had a photo op.

I attended the awards ceremony because this was the second year I’ve been a writing judge. Even though judges are given guidelines, which are very helpful, the process is still, ultimately, subjective. But more than that, I wanted the Honorable Mentions and Silver Keys to stand in front of the audience and have their photos taken in acknowledgement of their efforts. I didn’t want the awards to be quite so stratifying.

This has brought the entire enterprise of contests for artistic creation to a head for me. Even though my first novel won a prestigious award, I’m suspect of contests turning literature and visual arts into a kind of artistic World Series.

Scholastic Awards

Artistic expression is not a horserace; it’s neither limited nor competitive.

Artistic expression is not a horserace; it’s neither limited nor competitive. And while the Scholastic Awards are meant to acknowledge excellence and encourage youthful talent, I fear that the way in which we do so will backfire, on both the developing artists and writers and on the very essence of artistic expression, which creates its own rules, shows us a new way of seeing, and tells its own story.

Is making art its own reward? What do you think about writing contests and awards?

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Being a Contest Judge Brings New Perspective to Submitting Work

FollowTheGuidelinesOn the flip side of being a contestant in a writing contest, I’ve also been a contest judge. I realized many of the challenges that those who run contests (and publishers) run into consistently.

First off, I admire anyone who takes the time to write and submit for a contest or publication. Whether it’s a short entry or novel-length, submitting work to be read (and judged) by someone else forces a big leap out of your comfort zone. Kudos for pushing yourself to submit!

My best advice for submitting to anyone at any time is: Make the most of your effort by following submission guidelines.

You’ve put a lot of effort into your story — you don’t want your story disqualified before anyone reads it, do you?  Of course not!

We writers are a creative sort, but one area not to express our creativity is in tweaking the physical appearance of the submission.

  • Submitting in a font other than Courier or Times New Roman; a font size larger than 12 or smaller than 10; or pages with margins smaller than 1″ all around, doesn’t work (unless explicitly asked for). Don’t do it. Always always always submit in standard format – for publication, for contests, for inquiries, for queries, for anything, really.
  • If guidelines say ‘no more than 800 words,’ make sure your submission is not more than 800 words. If in doubt, word count more often than not, does not include the title; however if you have any doubt at all, include the title in your word count!
  • If submitting a piece that requires specific words to include, or a theme to write to, make sure to include the words, or write to the theme in an obvious way.
  • If submission guidelines say to submit as text in an e-mail (versus as an attachment), then, by all that’s holy, submit in an e-mail and not as an attachment!
  • Seldom, if ever, do you want to do a special header on a submission that includes all your contact information. Name, e-mail, postal address, phone number, and other such information should be sent within an e-mail or simply typed at the top of your submission (again, depending on guidelines).

Make the most of your effort to push yourself out of your comfort zone to submit to a contest (or publisher) — make your submission count — follow the guidelines, every single time.

I’ll have a follow up post on how to handle feedback from an editor about your piece.

I wish you a great week and hope you’re thinking about submitting to a contest or publisher (if you weren’t already!)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Motivate Yourself by Submitting to a Writing Contest

Today’s post is as much for me as it is for you. You see, I’ve been quite lethargic about writing fiction lately, as my business has been so pleasantly busy that I don’t have time to write for fun.

I put don’t have time in italics, since, we all know that we make time for what is important to us. I do have time. I have the same amount of time as everyone else and if I truly want to write fiction, I will find a way.EnterWritingContests

Today’s post is my self-motivation for finding that way.

Submitting to contests is a great way to be inspired to write, to actually write, and to actually submit. I’ve done it. I know it’s always fun and challenging and a unique way to get the must to come out and play.

My all-time-favorite contests are the quarterly 24-hour contests by WritersWeekly.com, where you register in advance (this is for the July 9 contest) and pay the modest $5 fee, then on the date of the contest, you receive the writing prompt, the word count, and the guidelines. You have 24 hours to write, polish, and submit a short story.

It’s up to you if you want to pay a fee or not. $5 is the most I’ve ever been willing to part with to enter a contest, but there are all types of contests available.

Here are some contest lists to get you started

I hope you try a writing contest, or two, to shake off cobwebs, exercise the muse, or to have some plain old fun for no other reason than you want to!

Deadlines are a great incentive in themselves, but you could win a prize (money, publication, or some type of gift), improve your writing and editing skills, and even give your self-confidence a boost — which is where I’m at.

Feel free to share your thoughts on contests, and if you have a favorite, please share!

(I’ll talk about contests from a judge’s perspective next week.)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question

Oh, my fickle writer’s heart. Make up your mind, I beseech you.

2015 nanowrimo teeIt’s that time of year again – NaNoWriMo season. Yes, for the sixteenth consecutive year, November will bring us the joys and perils, triumphs and heartbreaks of yet another National Novel Writing Month. A week from today, at midnight on the 31st, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world will come together in virtual and real-life write-ins to surge as one pen- and keyboard-wielding army toward their common goal of each writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Insanity? You betcha. Fun? Absolutely.

Though I admire the spirit of NaNoWriMo (and love its resident plot bunnies), I am always on the fence about participating. As November approaches, I hem and haw, weigh the pros and cons, and generally waffle about . As I muddle about in this year’s annual ritual of indecision, I took a moment to look back on my seven-year relationship with this ordeal tradition of the writing world.

2009 – My First Time

I captured my first (and  – spoiler alert – ultimately only) NaNoWriMo “win” during my virgin trip into the disorienting world of trying to write a novel without a plot. I was still fairly fresh off my divorce, and was living with my daughter in a carriage house apartment that had originally been the servants’ quarters on a large, old money estate. Floundering as I was in my personal and professional life, I was looking for something to anchor my existence and NaNoWriMo seemed to fit the bill.

I have fond memories of creeping out of bed in the dark of predawn, brewing a cup of Sleepytime tea, and hunkering down over my clunky old Dell laptop in the small room that served as my office. I would pull the hood of my bathrobe over my head to create a fleecey barrier between me and the rest of the world, and I would write like mad until my daughter woke up. I crossed the finish line with a total tally of 50,146 words. (Cue the champagne and ticker tape.)

2010 – Conversations in My Head

The next year was the first in what would be a long succession of will she/won’t she debates around the subject of NaNoWriMo. In Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year, I provided a frightening peek into my head and the weird conversations that take place there. In the end, despite part of me wanting to do NaNoWriMo just so I could tell my inner critique to take a leap, I wound up giving the writing marathon a pass after realizing that “winging it” was just not my style.

2011 – Radio Silence

Seems that my resolution to listen to my inner writer and stick to less pell-mell approaches to writing must have stuck because I barely whispered a word about NaNoWriMo in 2011. The whole scene passed me by, barely ruffling my literary feathers.

2012 – More Voices in My Head and Blaming Larry Brooks

In 2012, I once again leapt into the fray and joined hoards of enthusiastic (and slightly delusional) writers as they sallied forth into the chilly month of November with Big Ideas and lots of coffee. Halfway through the month, I found I’d hit a bit of a wall. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from distractions, my inner critic, or my inner editor. They were driving me crazy, and keeping me from doing what I needed to do: write.

At the end of the month, I posted about the final outcome of my battle in NaNoWriMo #Fail (I blame you, Larry Brooks). Though I had, indeed, failed to hit the 50,000 mark, I realized that there was a silver lining to my shortcomings. I realized that part of my inability to fully engage with the “no plot – no problem” approach was that I’d learned so much (in great part from the aforementioned Mr. Brooks) about story structure that I couldn’t bear to just throw stuff at the wall and see if anything stuck. In short, I was ruined for pantsing.

2013 – Another Intermission

Coming off my failed attempt in 2012, there was another brief intermission of radio silence.

2014 – A Brief Consideration and a Big No

Last year I briefly considered once again throwing my lot in with the other NaNoWriters, but in the end it was NaNoWriNope for me.  My reasons remained the same (so points for consistency), but I still felt a twinge of guilt because despite all my talk about learning about story structure and wanting to plan and prepare, I wasn’t making the time to do that work any more than I was making the time to write 50,000 words.

··• )o( •··

Which brings us to 2015.

I have been going through the usual motions, trying to decide whether to join up with my NaNoWriMo comrades, or not. I ordered the 2015 winner’s t-shirt in a burst of late-night hopefulness, but in the morning I was full of doubts and second guesses again. I wrote down a pros and cons list (for the record, the “yes” column won by one), but still failed to make a decision.

Then, as I sat down to write this post I decided to take a minute to dig up the “50,000 words of crap” draft that I wrote in 2009. It only took me a couple minutes to locate the behemoth Word doc in my digital archives. I read the first chapter, and though I saw many (glaring) craft errors, I was actually drawn in enough to keep reading until my daughter got off the bus from school.

Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe there’s something here after all.

The characters that I developed (mostly on the fly) for that young adult urban fantasy have stuck with me over the years. I recall their names, and can almost see their faces. Though November 2009 is (and always will be) a blur, and even though this is the first time I’ve ever re-read a single line of that “manuscript” (and, I use the term lightly), I still remember certain scenes quite clearly.

So, after much internal debate, my decision for 2015 is this: I will not participate in the 2015 NaNoWriMo. Instead, I will re-read the mixed up mess of a story I patched together in 2009, and I will then take it apart and put it back together using everything I’ve learned about story structure and the craft of telling a good story. I will use this abandoned not-quite-a-novel as a guinea pig of sorts to see just what I can do to try and bring this thing back to life.

We’ll see … we’ll see …

P.S. I’m keeping the t-shirt. 

P.P.S. If you want to go out for your own NaNoWriMo win, by all means charge ahead. Doing NaNoWriMo (or, not doing it) has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you are a real writer, a good writer, or a committed writer (though you may need to be committed on November 30th if you choose to take the NaNoWriMo assignment). 😉

P.P.P.S.

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Shareworthy:

unlost logoUnlost by Paul Jarvis and Jamie Varon

In my past, I was something of an online course junkie. I signed up for way too many audio courses, digital workbooks, and virtual workshops. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning, but at some point you have to stop consuming and start creating.

I’ve been on the wagon for quite some time now, but then this little course came across my radar. It caught my eye for three reasons: 1) it’s called “Unlost,” which is a cool name, 2) it’s being offered by Paul Jarvis, whose blog I really enjoy, and 3) it’s only $34 ($49 after October 31st). The course description begins like this:

Have you ever been so frustrated at yourself that you can’t seem to do the creative work you know you’re meant to do? Have you ever felt like all you need is more time and at least a million dollars in order to have the freedom to create the things that you stay up at night dreaming of creating?

Well, the bad news is that we’re not going to give you a million dollars or unlimited free time. Sorry.

The good news is that you don’t need either of those things to do incredible creative work.

I’ve only listened to half the audio recordings, and I haven’t even touched the workbooks yet, but I think this is a course some of you may find helpful in an encouraging kind of way. This isn’t a pitch. I’m not a partner or affiliate. I don’t get a dime if you sign up. I just thought you might like the chance to take a look. I did, and I haven’t regretted the purchase. The lessons aren’t exactly rocket science, in fact they are mostly common sense; but sometimes a little dose of common sense if exactly what we need.

A Writer’s Manifesto by Joanne Harris

joanne harrisI could have included this one with the rest of the blog posts, but I felt it deserved to be highlighted. I enjoy Harris’ work (novels like Chocolat and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), and have also admired her more in-the-moment writings such as her humorous Ten Rookie Writer’s Mistakes post and her #storytime mini stories (told via tweets).

In this piece for the UK’s Writer’s Centre Norwich, Harris navigates with grace and brass tacks talking points through some of the most treacherous writing-related territory – the relationship between writers and readers and the perceptions of the value (as in cold, hard cash) of writing. It’s an interesting read that serves up much food for thought along with a healthy dose of pragmatic (but not dour) reality.

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And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin not a competition

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you a barrel-full of enthusiasm and inner fire to get you driving ahead on your writing projects … at your own speed and in your own way. Your finish line is a unique and personal thing. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Entering Contests

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: www.pixabay.com)

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: http://www.pixabay.com)

Like many writers, I’ve submitted short stories to contests, hoping that my work would win and fearing that my entry would be far outclassed. But I’ve not entered many contests, mostly because I figured if I had to pay someone to read my work, I’d do better investing in an editorial reader to give me meaningful feedback.

I have submitted work to contests with no entry fee – and I’ve won prizes: both money and recognition, but neither fortune nor fame. In 2005, I won a local writing contest; since then, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. This has given me a new perspective on contests and how winners are picked.

At first, I was one of five judges. We all read all the entries, then met to decide the winners. Some years, the winning entrance was obvious – not always because it was so good, but because the competition was weak. Other years were more contentious. Several stories were prize-worthy, and we each argued for the one we liked best. The final result was a compromise amongst the judges, and not necessarily about the work.

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest. www.writeaction.org

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest.
www.writeaction.org

This year, I’m judging the prose entries myself. The responsibility is large, and I’m taking my time. Happily, this year’s entries are the best I’ve ever read and a big change from the last time I served, when the writing was poor and the presentation worse. Manuscript Matters. Submitting a story to a contest or agent or editor is like sending it on a job interview, and it should go out looking its best. This year’s submissions all arrived as clean copy in black ink on white paper in twelve-point type. They’re easy to read, and I’ve been able to get lost in the stories without having to fight my way through fancy fonts, blue and/or bold ink, and other typographical devices that detract from the words.

The words are good, the stories touching, entertaining, imaginative, and varied. I’ve enjoyed reading them, and I’ve read them all twice. I’ve read my favorites several times more.

These submissions are so good, that picking a winner is hard. So I reread them, arrange them in my order of preference and let them rest. I’ve been doing this every few days for over two weeks, and the winners are starting to emerge. I keep placing the same story on top of the stack; that’s the one I’ll call First. Another week of reading and rearranging has helped me settle which stories will come in Second and Third. Of the other four, I’ll recommend one for Honorable Mention.

I’m taking my time because judging a contest is entirely subjective, especially with stories that are both well-told and well-written. Rereading has allowed me to attend to the finer elements of craft: voice, point-of-view, use of language, development of suspense, narrative arc, metaphor, and meaning.

But that’s me. Another judge might choose differently.

Based on my experience judging, here’s my advice for entering contests:

  • A writer can control craft, so submitting absolutely excellent work is key – but still no guarantee. How your work fares depends both on the quality of the other entries and on the subjectivity of the judge. Neither are elements a writer can control.
  • Follow the contest guidelines precisely; this is an element a writer can control. A smart writer does this with all submissions, not just contests. Everything else is a crapshoot.
  • Consider submitting to journals during their open reading periods instead. Most contests cost money, and most open-reading periods accept submissions for free.
  • It bears repeating: send only your best work.

Good luck!

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

The 2005 prize-winning story Marlboro Music became a chapter in Deborah Lee Luskin’s award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Writers, Time to get visual.

camera typewriterAs writers, we are – let’s face it – pretty obsessed with words. We get geeky about grammar, excited about syntax, and delirious over great dialog. We have strong opinions about the Oxford comma, have been known to swoon slightly over a perfect turn of phrase, and can debate the merits of different POVs for days.

You know who doesn’t do any of this? Normal human beings. Non-writers care very little about the nuances of language or the underlying structure of story. They are not concerned with finding le mot juste. They do not understand why anyone could agonize over a single sentence for hours. And, they often judge books by their covers.

Normal People do not succumb to the allure of words the way we do. Their attention is much more likely to be caught by an image than by a beautifully crafted sentence. Especially in this fast-moving, clickety-click digital world, The Visual rules a disproportionally large share of the collective mindshare. The vast majority of our popular media channels are highly visual: television news, online “magazines,” Facebook, Google+ and so forth. Even Twitter has become more visual with in-line pictures now showing up front-and-center in the Twitter timeline. And then there are the purely visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine. Even LinkedIn is now incorporating Facebook-like visual features to highlight member-published articles.

Words may be your stock in trade, but if you want to stand out amidst the virtual avalanche of information and noise on the web, images can give you a valuable advantage.

Are there writers who make do without images? Of course there are. Several of my favorite bloggers rarely, if ever, use images in their posts. But these folks are already well established, and I am (as I’ve already admitted) a word nerd, so they don’t necessarily need pretty pictures to reel me in. I’m a sucker for the words, plain and simple. Most people are not.

If you are not already using imagery to complement your writing and – hopefully – capture the fickle attention of visually-oriented folks, here are a few ideas to get you started:

First – where do you find great images?

Gorgeous image by Mario Calvo as featured on Unsplash

Gorgeous image by Mario Calvo as featured on Unsplash

My favorite source for free, Creative Commons (CC) images is Compfight, a third-party search for the massive image database, Flickr. You can set your preferences so that Compfight will only provide you with images that are under the CC license, and they also provide a handy bit of code that includes the proper attribution (“Photo by …”) so you can just cut and paste that into your post and not worry about copyright infringement.

I have also used various paid stock photography from time to time, iStockPhoto has some good images at low cost. But, I do like free photos better. Unsplash has some beautiful images, though they are not always as easy to categorize by theme. The Morgue File has a decent search capability, though the images are not as high a quality. Free Digital Photos has better quality images and an easy search functionality. I also like Death to the Stock Photo (partly because their name makes me laugh). They are a subscription service that emails you a new batch of beautiful images each month for free. For $10 a month, you can get access to additional photos, plus online downloads for all past photos.

Author Edit – 9/11/14: 

I just stumbled across another great blog post that includes a great list of additional sources for stock imagery. I haven’t explored them fully, but if the samples the blogger included in the post are any indication, these are some quality collections. You can find the post on the visual.ly blog, aptly titled Where to Find the Best Stock Images.

You can also create your own photos. I am an Instagram addict and often use my own images in my posts. If you have a smartphone, you can download all kinds of photo editing apps to add special effects to your snapshots. My favorite editing app is Snapseed, but I also like to play around with ColorSplash, iDarkroom, and LensLight. Another handy app is Over. Over is great for adding text to images. You know all those visual quotes you see around the web? Over is an app that can help you create your very own versions of these hyper popular images.

Bonus Tip:

snagitMy favorite app for clipping photos off the web is called SnagIt. This is one of my must-have apps. I use it multiple times each day. Couldn’t do without it. Clipping an image is super simple, and the app also includes some basic editing features. I think the updated version may even have some pretty sophisticated ones. (I’ve been meaning to upgrade …)

Second – how do you use these images?

Use images in your blog posts: Adding images to your blog posts helps them stand out when they are shared (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and also in various readers and even in email. I typically use at least one “hero” image in each post, and I will often include additional “accent” images as well. I also always include my (tiny) head shot in my byline bio at the bottom of the post. (It’s great to give your readers a face to associate with your name.) I won’t lie, sometimes it feels like I spend more time finding the perfect image for a post than it took me to write the post, but I always feel like the final product is more “complete” (and universally appealing) after I’ve added the image.

Use images in your social media posts: Ever notice how text-only posts on Facebook tend to seem a little lost in the Newsfeed among all those splashy, image-based posts? When people are quickly scanning through the Newsfeed, their eyes are most likely to be caught by a great image. If you can find one to include in your status update, you’ll increase your chances of being seen and read. The same applies to Google+ and even Twitter.

Experiment with visual platforms: Just because you are a writer doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with image-based social media.

instagram iconAs I already admitted, I am an Instagram addict. I love the creative outlet Instagram provides, and I love looking at the beautiful images people post from all around the world. (Talk about getting story ideas by the handful!) Instagram has a number of simple filtering and other editing tools included in the app, but the real power of Instagram is in the community.

pinterestPinterest is another goldmine for story ideas. It’s also a great way to share images that reflect the themes in your work and your personal interests and philosophies. Many writers keep Pinterest “boards” (collections of images) about stories they have in development, particular characters, settings, etc. You can also create private boards that no one can see except for you – a handy visual reference to help inspire you. (Please feel free to visit my Pinterest boards.)

vineVine is a six-second video app that my ten year-old daughter loves. To be honest, though I made a valiant effort to “get” Vine when it originally launched, I just can’t get my head around how to create videos for this particular platform. I guess video just isn’t really my thing, but some people have had amazing, breakout success with these super-short clips. I’ve seen a number of “Vine Stars” make appearances on national morning news shows, the Ellen show, and other major media outlets. So, I guess you never know.

As writers, we may not always believe that a picture is worth a thousand words; but, in today’s digital world, a picture might be just the thing to get someone to actually read your thousand words.

Think about it, and then go have some fun with pictures.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Camera & Typewriter Photo Credit: Olivander via Compfight cc

Writing. If you’re not scared, you’re doing it wrong.

etsy print by Andrekart

etsy print by Andrekart

I keep a magic wand on my desk. It’s a simple, unassuming implement made of basswood. I picked it up at a Renaissance Faire a couple of years ago because I liked the feel of the smooth wood and the look of the ash-gray striations that run along its slender length. Also, I didn’t have a magic wand.

I use my wand all the time. I have yet to see it display any overt magical properties, but it is a comforting talisman when I find myself confronted with a writing task that feels beyond my ability. This happens almost every single time I sit down at the keyboard.

I had an honest conversation with some writer friends about this recurring and paralyzing lack of confidence. It was immediately clear that this condition is common among writers. Each of us could relate. Each of us had her own methods for getting past the fear. Whether we chipped away at our anxiety word-by-word, or tried to slingshot past it, each of us knew this chronic ailment intimately.

To be clear, our commiseration was not about suffering from a lack of creativity or battling that shape-shifting foe known most commonly as writer’s block. This was a little different. This was more about feeling like a fraud. More specifically, this was about feeling like a fraud who was about to screw up big time and expose herself as a fraud. This feeling of despair and dread is sometimes called The Impostor Syndrome, and it’s not pretty.

Very often (almost always) when I sit down to write something (an essay, a column, a page of website copy, a case study, a blog post … pretty much anything), I am immobilized by the certainty that I have no idea what I’m doing. Despite the fact that I have been making my living as a writer for nearly seven years, I am sure that the entire experience has been a fluke.

There is a (not so) helpful soundtrack that plays in my head as I sit, staring at the blank page on my screen. It whispers in my ear that the jig is up. It tells me what I think I already know – that there’s no way I can pull off this heist again. The whispering voice marvels at how lucky I’ve been so far, at how gullible my clients have been to accept my work as The Real Thing.

I sit and I stare. The voice rattles on, subduing me with its hypnotic babble. I am sure that the voice is right. After all, here I am – sitting and staring and not writing. Clearly, I have no idea what I’m doing. Clearly I have just been faking it all this time, but my luck was bound to run out and today is the day and oh-my-gods-what-will-I-do-now?!? I type a few words and delete them. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Everything sounds staid, crass, cliched. The whisper is getting louder and louder and …

Cue the sound of a needle scratching across a record that has suddenly stopped spinning.

Breathe.

Know that this is completely normal.

You are not a fraud. You are a writer. And this is part of the writing process. At least, it’s part of the writing process for most of the writers I know.

Sure, there are those glorious and golden moments of pure  inspiration when the words fly from your fingers as though coursing through you from some alternate universe where writing is as easy as eating pie. But most of the time, writing is hard. Most of the time, each assignment feels like a new territory and you feel like a lone explorer who is venturing forth without a map or proper supplies or any idea of how to get from point A to point B. You feel like you faked your way here based on false bravado, but now as you stand on the edge of the jungle you’re finally realizing what you’ve promised to deliver and you’re scared.

It’s all going to be okay. Remember – you’ve stood here before and you’ve made it through to the other side. You will do it again.

Each of us has her favorite tricks for hacking past the fear and doubt and paralyzing lack of confidence. Some of us start in the middle. Some of us go for a walk. Some of us set up our page with placeholder headlines and subheads. Some of us read the praise of past clients and editors. I’ve used all these tricks and then some, but the thing that ultimately gets me through a rough start is invoking the thing that scares me most – being an impostor.

Instead of cowering before this supposed flaw, I embrace it.  After all, what is a writer if not a person who makes things up? A writer conjures places, characters, and ideas with words. Why shouldn’t we use this same skill to our own advantage? When I am most stuck, I take “fake it ’til you make it” to a new level. I fabricate a story for myself and I step into it with all the conviction of a method actor. I transform myself into the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I inhabit my role so completely, that pretty soon I have forgotten about the ruse and am thinking only of the words that are flying from my fingers like sparks from the tip of a wand.

That’s when I pause for just a moment and smile to myself. The trick, you see, is not about fooling anyone else into believing I’m a writer. The trick is about fooling myself just long enough to figure out that this writer identity I’ve created for myself is the reality, not the role. I am the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I’d just forgotten my own magic.

Weekend Edition: On writer’s doubt plus good reads and writing advice

Welcome to the Weekend  Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).

I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.

Happy writing! Happy reading! 

Jamie

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question roadAll Writers Doubt Their Ability. Every. Single. One.

Writers doubt their instincts. They doubt their talent. They doubt their choices. They doubt that they will ever be as good as the other writers they admire.

Doubt does not discriminate. It gets all of us – from the most virgin newbie to the most seasoned veteran.

Only last week, J.K. Rowling admitted that she regretted her pairing of Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series.

In a post inspired, I can only imagine, by that news, New York Magazine (not to be confused with The New Yorker) published a post chronicling the regrets of some of literature’s best known icons. Among those on the list are Mark Twain (who looked back and wondered if he should have written Tom Sawyer in the first person) and Stephen King (who rewrote almost every page of The Gunslinger for a later edition).

Even my recently rediscovered favorite, E.B. White, openly expressed his doubt. In a letter to his wife he despaired over progress on a piece he was writing, saying, “Have reached the stage where I am suspicious that it is perhaps the lousiest concoction I have dreamed up to date …” Boy, don’t we all know what that feels like!

So, the next time you’re feeling down about your work and facing down your demons while battling an awful case of comparisonitis, please remember that you are in good company.

What I’m Writing:

hayThis has been a very busy week in terms of client work, so I haven’t had a chance to do much personal writing except for my morning journaling.

Although I’m always so grateful to have work, I absolutely get frustrated when things get so busy that I have to rush through everything and still wind up working late (and early) and having to forego many things I would like to do (such as taking the day off to share my daughter’s snow day). The ebb and flow of work is, however, a very real part of life as a self-employed writer. Sometimes, work is scarce and you have to busy yourself with personal projects while you wait for the next paying gig. Other times, you manage to find the Holy Grail of the freelancer’s life – a balanced workload. And then there are the times when your work queue is like a slow-motion, twenty-car pile-up and all you can do is sit by and watch while clinging to the feeble hope that when everything stops spinning you’ll be able to go in with the jaws of life and extract survivors.

The key to survival is to roll with the punches. As I explained to my ten year-old daughter at bedtime last night, a self-employed writer has to make hay while the sun shines. Sure, it’s a bit stressful when all the work gets compressed into a short period of time; but even so I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle for anything. I know that, eventually, things will level off and I’ll have a few weeks of blissful breathing room. I can’t wait.

What I’m Reading:

Meantime, even though I haven’t had time for creative writing, I made time for some reading. I know enough that I can’t lose both my writing time and my reading time without risking my sanity. So, last weekend – when I found myself in a momentary lull brought about by the various balls I’m juggling being in other people’s courts – I parked myself on the couch with a couple of books and didn’t move for the better part of the day.

Interestingly, the two books I wound up reading this week are polar opposites in terms of style and craft, voice and genre, and even era.

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First, I blew through the middle grade novel, The Angel Experiment: A Maximum Ride Novel (Book 1) (affiliate link). I borrowed the book from the library for my daughter who recently read The Hunger Games trilogy and has since found every other book wanting. Betsy, a lovely woman and fabulous children’s librarian, recommended the “Maximum Ride” series by prolific author, James Patterson. I have never been a huge fan of Patterson because of  his writing “model” of working with ghost writers (something he discussed openly in an interview on NPR, “James Patterson on Writing All Those Books“). But, I was desperate to find something my daughter would read.

I read the entire book in just a few hours. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy with chapters nearly as short as the ones in Dan Brown’s blockbuster, The DaVinci Code. The writing is simple and straightforward. There is lots of exposition. The characters are fairly one-dimensional. The plot twists feel manufactured and not totally unexpected. Reading this book was kind of like eating an entire bag of cheese curls in one sitting. It was entertaining, but there was no substance. Chewing gum for the brain. Still, if it gets my daughter to re-engage with the written word, I’ll be happy.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum is a collection of letters and essays titled E. B. White on Dogs (affiliate link).

Let me say that I have long been an ardent admirer of White’s work. His books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little were two of my first favorite books. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I came across some of his essays and swooned a little. This collection is especially charming because each of the included items is somehow related to dogs, often to White’s own dogs, a diverse bunch but mostly comprised of dachshunds.

This is the kind of writing that on the one hand inspires me and on the other hand makes me want to abandon writing all together. Each of these pieces – whether a professionally published essay or a casual letter to a friend – is full of beautifully crafted sentences that elicited from me quiet but emphatic (not to mention outwardly audible) grunts of appreciation.

Reading two such different types of books, one so close on the heels of the other, forced a comparison that otherwise would seem ludicrous. But, like Andrea Badgley observed in her recent post, Growth Spurt, writers often become critical readers. While Andrea’s epiphany focused on the role of good structure in a work of fiction, I was struck by the vast range of quality. If The Angel Experiment was a bag of cheese curls, E.B. White’s writing was a beautifully arranged and deeply satisfying platter of fresh fruit, aromatic bread, and a selection of the finest cheeses money can buy … all accompanied by a perfectly paired glass of merlot with a bit of dark chocolate for dessert.

There really is no comparison when you get right down to it.

Does that mean I will never read another “cheese curl” book? Nope. I will read plenty of them, I’m sure. But, I will know and appreciate them for what they are, and I will only indulge every once in a while. After all, if people are what they eat, writers must certainly be what they read.

P.S. – Little side note and bit of trivia: our own Wendy Thomas is the great niece of E.B. White. Quite a nice, if intimidating, bit of literary heritage there!

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

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And that’s all from me.

I hope the rest of your weekend is full of time to write and read. Remember that we all have our doubts and the only thing to do is push past them and get the words on the page. You can figure out the rest after that.

Thanks for stopping by! See you on the other side. 


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Live Free or Ride! – Try Your Hand at the Next Installment of the New Hampshire Pulp Fiction

The New Yorker not returning your calls? Likewise The Paris Review? Don’t despair; New Hampshire Pulp Fiction might just be your ticket to fame if not fortune. Okay, when it comes to fame, make that at least a few, local minutes of it.

The brainchild of Rick Broussard, editor of New Hampshire Magazine and George Geers, owner of Plaidswede Publishing, three volumes of NH Pulp Fiction have already been published. Another is due out in February. Their goal is to produce enjoyable, highly readable collections of short stories while providing a publishing opportunity for both established and new writers. All stories take place, at least in part, in New Hampshire.

Having stories in two of the books, Live Free or Die, Die, Die and Live Free or Sci FiLFDDD_02I can testify that the project has been both a lot of fun and personally rewarding. While I had published numerous magazine articles, Murder on the Mountain was my first foray into fiction. It was a thrill to get the thumbs up from Rick and then see the book with my story in the library and bookstores. (The books make great Christmas presents!) The public readings have provided a nice opportunity to get out of my home office and meet other writers. Not to mention, the friends and family I brought along treated me to dinner afterwards to celebrate the achievement.

The next edition of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction was recently announced and Rick is eagerly awaiting submissions. After zombies, detectives, science fiction and romance, it was time to give western pulp fiction a turn. However, it’s hard to ride the range in a state with few, if any, cowboys and tall pines instead of tumbleweeds. Instead of importing Tex and Rowdy to the Granite State, Live Free or Ride only asks that writers include that quintessential vehicle of the Wild West, the Concord Coach, among their cast of characters

For lots more information and Submission Specs, visit the New Hampshire Pulp Fiction blog.

Good luck!

Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two the NH Pulp Fiction short stories. Feel free to visit her blog Susan Nye – Around the Table for seasonal stories and recipes.  

© Susan W. Nye, 2013