Finding a Home for Your Story: Advice on Publication

Way back when I was about 22-years-old, I took a poetry class that changed my writing forever. I’m by no means a poet. I barely managed to write any decent poetry during the class. And since leaving the class, I’ve hardly ever written a poem – except for the occasional one that is born out of a purely emotional moment. But my lack of poetry skills isn’t what I took away from that class. It was actually quite the opposite. I walked away from that course as a newly-infused writer full of confidence and a sense of hope. As writers, we should always be filled with a sense of hope as we tell our stories. And we should always be hopeful that our work will find its intended audience.

That is probably the biggest take away that I received from my professor. She often spoke about “finding a home for your writing.” At first, we all thought she was talking about publication and finding the right magazine or journal to accept your work. That’s not remotely what she meant.

She told us a story about a series of poems she had written, which subsequently got rejected from every place she submitted to. Discouraged, she put them away in a file cabinet and forgot about them. Then, one day years later, she was going through the file cabinet and found them again. She was experiencing some personal difficulties at the time and her own words ended up being exactly what she needed to hear in that moment.

“Sometimes, you won’t always reach the broad audience base every writer dreams of,” she said bluntly. “Sometimes you’ll find that what you created will only reach a few people or even just one: yourself.”

The silence after she said those words covered the room in an impenetrable cloud of thought. I scanned the pensive faces of my fellow students as they digested what she’d just said.

Sensing many crushed dreams in that moment, my professor smiled as she added, “But you also have to keep in mind that your work serves a higher purpose. Everything you pour onto the page is intended for someone to read – to provide someone with whatever comfort they need in that moment. It will always find its intended audience so don’t be discouraged by your words. Use them. They will always be hope for someone who needs to read them.”

To this day, I still get chills when I think back to that moment in class. Every writer has a moment when they defined themselves as a writer – and that was mine, at the back of the classroom, quietly absorbing this poet’s wise words. Yes, we all want to be discovered as the next J.K. Rowling and have our stories printed for the masses, but those grandiose dreams are really us getting ahead of ourselves.

The journey to finding a home for our story doesn’t begin at the end of the road with a publishing contract and an advance; it begins with ourselves. We are our story’s first home. We are the ones who need to take comfort in our own words – after all, they live within us. Finding the hope within our writing will have a ripple effect. So far, I’ve had a couple short stories published and each one was the most honest version of the story in my mind that I managed to tell on paper.

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

5 Tips to Renew the Joy of Writing

Sometimes, writing can feel more like a job or a burden, especially when the creativity won’t flow. Here are some tips to get in the zone to meet those writing goals.

Dabble in Something New

Write from the Point of View of a different character. Stretch your limits and try a new genre. Swap a romantic relationship to a spiteful one and see where it takes you. Do your ‘good guys’ always win? Let the ‘bad guys’ have this one. Create a “what if” alternate ending to a current project. More often than not, these will alleviate any writers’ block you may be experiencing as new ideas bloom.

Change of Scenery

Stir the pot and change your surroundings. If you normally write at home, try relocating to a coffee shop, library, or somewhere with people milling around in the background. You’ll get in some “people watching,” which provides natural inspiration for characters. 

Writing Mashup

What if robots went on a rampage in Victorian England? What if a human wants to be where the mermaids are? Let the creativity flow by using an online generator to give random combinations to write about. Making this a daily habit seems to successfully help many authors stay in the writing flow.

Free Write

Sometimes you just need to get words on paper to feel productive. Set a timer and write whatever thoughts flit into your mind until the end. It can be about what you did today, how you feel about your current work in progress, what you hope to achieve, random bits of dialogue between characters, etc. There doesn’t need to be any rhyme or reason to it nor does the grammar need to be perfect.

Reward System

Is everything going well with your writing, but you’re feeling a bit underappreciated? Set up a reward system for yourself. Say your writing goal for the day is 2,000 words and you’ll get to eat a cookie if you meet it. If you finish your goal for the week, you go to the movies. Be as creative and personalized as you want with choosing rewards.

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Gothic Poetry

I like to write gothic poetry. Gothic poetry has a fascinating history, thanks to the writings of Tennyson and Thomas Gray. If you are a lover of the dark side, and enjoy music such as Inkubus Succubus and romantic poetic musings, then I hope this post inspires you to pen dark verse of your own.

Once I walked home past a cemetery on a  magical cold winter night. The chilling glow of the streetlight over the tombstones woke the muse in me. I went home and wrote a poem about what I saw that night.

Surround yourself in an environment that inspires you to write dark verse. I live in a city well-known for its dark spooky history. I visit my favorite cemetery, Mount Olivet, carrying a thermos, a journal, and my pen. Graveyard tours are offered in my hometown. Put away the laptop or phone for an hour or two. Grab a journal, a quill pen, and latte-and go!

Now, once you are comfortably seated in a cemetery, sipping your latte, open your senses to the environment. Hear the bird songs, the creaking tree boughs, see the crows – crows are always hanging around in a cemetery. I think it has something to do with them being messengers of the dead–if you believe in that. Write down your verses. Therefore, it’s great to use a journal rather than a tablet. You can be messier and more creative. It frees up your creative expression.

Observe the way the crows perch on tombstones, how old the tombstones are. I once found an abandoned bird’s nest in a cemetery. Notice the age of the trees, colorful leaves, or flowers at the foot of a grave. A moth flitting over the ground, birds pecking for seeds, crows screeching from the treetops. A crow nest lives in the cemetery in my neighborhood. The nest has been there a long time.

Once, I strolled through Mount Olivet. An apple tree grows inside and outside of the cemetery. A fallen apple lay on the ground. Dead carpenter ants rested on the apple- except for one carpenter ant that crawled over the rotted apple. It churned my stomach. I left.

The Titanic victims are buried there. A word of caution: remain grounded and centered while you are there. Take what you like and leave the bad energy behind.

The quiet of a cemetery can be relaxing. They are not dangerous places, but people should still use common sense. If you do want to write there, go during the day. Safety trumps all. Don’t disturb the graves or take anything that doesn’t belong to you.

This may hopefully lead you to create a poetry chapbook!