Monday, October 12, 2015

Spotlight Website: Winning Writers

Today I want to detail a very helpful site for emerging or established writers.

Winning Writers is a site dedicated to finding and promoting contests that are free or nearly free. They even boast that they are “One of the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers.”  And rightly so.

Not only do they tell you the details of a multitude of contests, but they actually categorize them based on your experience in writing. You can also use their very advanced search tool to find exactly the right contest.

The details of each contest are outlined thoroughly.  You must read carefully because sometimes the contests have very specific requirements for genre, length, and even your age, race or place of residence. Some are based in the UK, but many are based in the U.S. 

Here are just a few of the contests with approaching deadlines that might interest you:

**Note: You do have to register to use the site before you can access contests. Once you are registered you'll have full access to the site and the ability to keep track of your favorite ones.**

Jane Lumley Prize for Emerging Writers (Poetry) Deadline Nov. 1

We Said Go Travel Writing Contest (Creative Non-fiction Travel   Writing) Deadline Nov. 26

Build Your Own Blog New Writer Contest (Poetry, Short Fiction, Creative Non-fiction) Deadline Nov. 29

They even offer their own contests, such as the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest that has no fee and offers a great cash prize.

Be advised though, the competition is fierce.

You can always check out past winners for most of the contests to see that these writers are extremely good and very serious about winning. I would highly recommend you always read the previous award-winning pieces to see what topics and styles judges seem to prefer for each contest you plan to enter.

But, wait, there's more. 

In addition to offering a slew of contests,Winning Writers also offers a great variety of practical resources. Within their archives, they have articles to help you avoid scams or sales pitches masked as contests. These are very helpful and eye-opening.

Here are a few more articles and links from their site for your perusal:

They also have links to literary forums and similar sites that connect writers of all ages and genres. Additionally, you can find information about the publishing world for your genre or recommended books that may help you improve your craft.

While Winning Writers promotes all genres of writing, they seem to have a special emphasis on helping poets. But the most of the contests, resources and articles are for writers of all levels and areas.

This site has a good thing going. So don’t miss it!

After you've checked out the site, let me know what you think. Or do you have another site you would recommend to writers? Make sure you comment below to share the knowledge!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Don't Fear the Feedback

Many writers, especially new ones, share one fear: feedback.

What is it about sharing our writing—our soul—that makes our hearts pound, stomachs twist, and foreheads sweat like we’ve been pumping iron in the gym for three hours?

Consider these sources of this fear.

Allodoxaphobia:  the fear of criticism.

A year and half ago, I paid to have a piece of my novel professionally critiqued. I had never, ever gotten any real feedback on it. For the moment, it seemed like I was turning in a life or death term paper. His feedback would either validate me as a writer or terminate me. Out of my mind with anxiety, I emailed the critique, begging him to be gentle in his comments. He assured me he would.

At the time, I had a misconception about feedback. I believed that if someone were to mark up my work with suggestions it meant one thing: that I was an awful writer. 

Stomp on my heart and my dreams.

Kakorrhaphiophobia: the fear of failure.

A year later, I met an editor at a conference, and she offered to critique my flash fiction story right there on the spot. I agreed. Since I entered the story into the conference contest, I wanted to see what she thought and guess if it might place.

As she began making bloody blue marks all over my paper, my heart sank. As we discussed it, I realized that her suggestions would improve it greatly. I thanked her, and with my tail between my legs, I took back the page that reflected hours of toil over apparently…not much. Depression swallowed me whole for the rest of the day.

I had gotten an F.

To think I could ever win a contest. Silly writer.

Atelophobia:  the fear of imperfection.

I’ve been diagnosed as a perfectionist. (As if I needed a professional to certify my insanity.)

How that affects me as a writer is that I work incredibly hard. Always rewriting. Always editing. Sometimes I take it to the extreme to avoid mistakes.  So when I produce a piece to be critiqued or edited, I’ve already spent hours upon hours perfecting it.  

For another writer to find flaws in my masterpiece would feel like I had succumbed to the jaws of imperfection and failed. 

When I tell writers not to fear the feedback, I’m speaking from experience. I know what it’s like to fear criticism, failure and imperfection—all at the same time.

But do you know what I’ve learned?

The right constructive criticism from the right person can grow you as a writer as well as affirm your skills. Because I avoided feedback, those fears hindered my growth as a writer for years. I never allowed anyone to affirm my gift so I always wondered if I was good enough to publish.

From that first critique I received, I learned so many things about writing. He also affirmed my talent with some positives. His constructive comments spurred me on to read books on how to improve my craft further. 

The next year when he critiqued the same story I had previously revised, he made sure I knew that I had progressed greatly. Even though he still offered suggestions, I realized those ideas only served to make my story better and stretch my skills further.

And about that story I had edited? That same night, I sat in the audience watching everyone else get awards, regretting I ever submitted that story. Then the speaker from the podium called my name for second place in flash fiction.


Walking to the stage, I learned something else valuable about feedback. That yes, every story has the potential to improve with each revision. However, just because you have some development to do doesn’t mean you aren’t fit to take pen to paper. It simply means you’re not finished just yet .

Can it hurt? Temporarily.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

This is the writer’s life.

Today, I thrive on feedback because it’s my ticket to writing a bestseller.  How I wish I had pursued it sooner!

If you want to grow and learn, don’t fear the feedback.  Don’t let your fears keep you from blooming.


Now I want to hear from you. How do you respond when receiving feedback on your writing? Can you identify with any of these fears? Tell me below.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Clarion Call for Publishing

Do you remember what the clarion call means?  It's time to roll up your sleeves and get writing. Here's your call to action, friends, with several potential opportunities in one!

Chicken Soup for the Soul 

There's hardly a person you will talk to you who hasn't heard of the long-standing popular series Chicken Soup for the Soul.  So I've done a little investigating to see what kinds of submissions they accept, and I'd like to share my findings with you.

Currently, they have several topics for which they are taking submissions.  I've listed them below with approaching deadlines first.  You can find all of these in much more detail if you click here.

My Very Good, Very Bad Cat 
Notable stories regarding the cat in your life
Deadline: September 27, 2015 (NEW DATE)    

My Very Good, Very Bad Dog
Notable stories regarding the dog in your life
Deadline: September 27, 2015 (NEW DATE)

Angels and Miracles
Intriguing stories and poems regarding supernatural encounters and events you've experienced
Deadline: Sept. 30, 2015

Alzheimer’s and Dementias Family Caregiving  
Encouraging stories and poems based on caring for a loved one with one of the above conditions 
Deadline: Oct.30, 2015.  

The Joy of Less
Encouraging stories regarding simplifying your life for a greater cause
Deadline: October 30, 2015
Military Families
Encouraging stories and poems based on your living the military life
Deadline: November 30, 2015

The Spirit of America
Stories that show the essence of being American
Deadline: November 30, 2015

Chicken Soup for the Soul has very specific story-writing guidelines.  As I've noted before, make sure you read those guidelines carefully before you submit your story.  A few of their expectations are as follows:

*Show don't tell (I'll be doing my own series on this very soon)
*Stories should evoke emotions and appeal to the senses
*Stories should always be non-fiction and written in first-person point of view
*Stories should be 1200 words or less
*Poems should tell a story and avoid forced rhyming (they only accept narrative poems)

Also, most of their stories (depending on the topic) are heartwarming, encouraging, and/or inspiring so keep this in mind as you consider submitting.

You can find more guidelines and tips on their website.  I highly encourage you to pick one or two topics and try it.  And remember, before you submit, find someone else to help you edit and revise.  If you don't have anyone to help you, it's time to get some writing buddies.

Something else you should realize is that you won't get a rejection letter if you're not selected, but you will be notified if they choose to publish your piece. However, know that the wait time could be quite long. If they do choose your work for publication, congratulations! And you can expect $200 and ten free copies of the title that your work appears in.

What are you waiting for?

Even if non-fiction is not your genre, this would be great practice for writing regardless.  Remember that the only way you will ever get published is if you finally tiptoe out of your den and start taking some risks.

If you're already knee-deep into the publishing scene, this could be an opportunity for even more experience and add more writing credits to your bio. Not to mention getting a box full of Christmas presents to give friends and family.

And what happens if you don't get selected?

You brush off that rejection, go to your writing closet, and try again.

Image of chicken soup borrowed from RedWordSmith at the English language Wikipedia

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 Reasons Writers Need Each Other

One of my friends, Linnette Mullin, references a quote in her book Finding Beth that describes writers as “blue monkeys living in a brown monkey world.”  I don’t know about you, but that describes me.

We writers are unique creatures.  Many of us are introverts who prefer to be locked in a room with a computer or pen and paper for hours without interruption—we thrive on alone time.  In contrast to social butterflies, we draw our energy, not from socializing but from internalizing and thinking.  We have a lot to say, but not necessarily through our mouths.
But that doesn’t mean we should live as if on an island.

The first time I connected with other writers, joy rippled through me.  These people are just like me, I thought.
Now we get together regularly, but not for games or football.  We connect to share our writing and learn.  I’ll be the first to admit, we can be nerds.  Normal people don’t get excited over words, but we do.  Pass the coffee anyone?

Finding others who share my passion and understand my struggles and goals has relieved me of feeling isolated and continuously grows my gift .   Based on my experience, here are 5 reasons you need to find more writing buddies today.

Connections .  The more you know, the more places you’ll go.  Networking with other writers will open unexpected doors.  I found my first critique group through friends at a writing conference.  The more connections you have, the more opportunities you will find.

Growth.  My writer friends push me to be better and go farther.  We constantly learn from each other and grow as a result of constructive feedback.

Support.  I would venture to say that all writers struggle at times.  I haven’t met a writer yet (published or unpublished) who hasn’t admitted to struggling.  Many of us question ourselves and our abilities regularly.  When rejection comes knocking, we want to quit.  Surely we need each other for encouragement to push through those dark, daunting times.

Platform.  As writers, we help each other out when it comes to building a platform, or a fan base.  We read each others’ works, and we tell our friends in order to get the word out there.  We like and share each others’ posts and promote each other regularly.

Accountability.  If I know I’m meeting with my writing friends consistently, then I have to make sure I write something by certain dates.   Having a regular schedule keeps me on track with my goals.
Look around and take an inventory.  How many of your friends share your passion to write?  Do any of them help you revise and edit your writing?  Do they challenge you to write more and write better? 

I’m not advocating trading in your friends for new ones.  We all have friends that enhance different parts of our lives.  But if you don’t have many writing friends, it’s time to seek out some.  The best place to start is through critique groups (click here for suggestions on one of my previous posts), social media, and school. 

Trust me.  You need more writing friends.  Seeking out friends who share my passion to write was the best step I ever took as a writer.

How do you connect with other writers?  Start the conversation below!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Spotlight Website: Help for Writers

Occasionally I'm going to spotlight helpful websites for writers.  
It’s vitally important for writers to constantly find places to learn about their craft.  Good writers are constantly learning how to improve.  

This week on July 1st, a new website launched for writers called Almost An Author or A3.  

Today I’m going to give you the highlights of this brand new hit.

Need expert advice?

With about 30 authors, editors and writers who contribute columns to the website each month, there is a variety of talent, creativity, genre and experience.   Many of the contributors are award-winning writers who have been published several times.  Their books are listed on the site as well.

Also, there are ongoing articles each month spotlighting bestselling authors from around the nation and their advice for aspiring writers.  How valuable is that.

You can find help with just about every genre, including science fiction, romance, poetry, magazine articles, and children’s books.

Experienced writers also give you helpful advice on the craft of writing.  

Do you need help with characters?  They have information on that.  Do you want to create an extraordinary world and setting for your fiction?  They have that too.  And there are so many other topics they cover.

One column in particular for young writers is called "Dear Young Scribes."  Written by an author who published as a teenager, she offers advice to other teen writers who have hopes of being published.  Make sure you check that one out for sure.

Are you discouraged?  

Almost an Author offers several columns specifically devoted to supporting writers with encouragement.  
Writing can be very hard on a person.  Writers face battles unique to their passion and calling.  Many of those battles stem from feeling under confident in our ability and cause us to second-guess if we should even do it at all.  Sometimes it helps to read the encouraging words of others like us.We need coaches when we feel like quitting.  

Also, if you're in need of ideas, you'll find them here.  Lots of tips and tricks abound throughout the website.  You find help with editing, social media and blogging, using your time wisely and more. Several columnists also offer creative inspiration to writers and even useful things such as how to fend off writer's block and other diseases of writing.

Want to win an award?

The website even offers awards to emerging writers.  

The Blue Seal Awards focuses on internet writing, such as blog posts and articles for the web.  The contest closes September 1st.  

The Fresh Voices Writing Contest is a contest for writers of every genre.  This contest will open October 1st and close December 1st.  But don't wait.  Go ahead and start thinking about this one now.  

So what are you waiting for?

If you subscribe to the site you will get email updates.  That way you can feel connected.

And make sure you don't miss my own poetry column called "A Pinch of Poetry."  I'm honored to be included among so many great writers.  

Now, take a few minutes to tour Almost An Author, and then share some of your thoughts below.      

Friday, June 26, 2015

Choosing the Right Word

As a writer, one of the most important things you need to learn is that every word counts.  

Today's topic is word choice, or diction. Diction is the process by which a writer uses to choose the exact right word for the piece he or she is writing.

What’s so important about choosing the right word?

Word choice affects so many things in your writing, but specifically we are going to look at tone and imagery.

Recently, I had a student who wanted to improve her word choice.  She wanted to use unique words rather than simple ones. However, when she started picking words, they that didn’t quite create the impression she intended.  In her story, she was trying to show that she was worried about moving and leaving her friends.  One of her sentences was this:

I might have to flee, maybe migrate or take off without any sincere goodbyes. 

Let’s break this down.  

First of all, the word flee means to escape.  She intended her tone to show worry about leaving, but instead the word flee made it feel more like she wanted to run from them.  This is the opposite of what she meant.    

Next, migrate conjures the imagery of geese flying south for
the winter.  While it is similar to moving, it’s not the image she was trying to convey.  Certain words bring specific pictures to mind whether we intend it to happen or not.

Lastly, sincere is a great word choice.  It clearly communicates that she clearly cared about her relationships.  Paired with goodbyes, the phrase sincere goodbyes creates the feeling of true sorrow, which is exactly what she meant.

Sometimes keeping it simple is best.  Here's a revision that would capture the essence of her feelings: 

I might have to leave without any sincere goodbyes.  

Every word has it’s own unique meaning.  

One of my favorite authors Steven James mentions in his book Story Trumps Structure that there is no such thing as a true synonym.  At first, this seems contradictory.  

However, I found the same idea from another famous author named Gustave Flaubert, a French Author who lived in the 1800’s. According to an article I read, "he often repeated that there was no such thing as a synonym and that a writer had to track down le seul mot juste, 'the unique right word,' to convey his thought precisely."  

Dictionaries define Mot juste as a French phrase that means the exact right (or appropriate) word.  Every word has it's own unique meaning.

So the lesson is that when you go to choose a word, make sure you choose the right one.  You have to be sure that each word you choose reflects the tone you wish to convey and creates the imagery to fit your piece.  

And be careful when using a thesaurus.  Never use a word that you don't know.  There are few things worse than using the wrong word in your writing.  And your readers will always know it.

Have you ever used exactly the wrong word by accident?  Or do you have a story about finding just the right word?  Tell me below.

"Gustave Flaubert". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 26 Jun. 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

When Tragedy Strikes, Write

In light of the recent Charleston tragedy, I wanted to take a moment to reveal writing as a healing agent.

This week, communities around South Carolina and the nation are reeling at the horrible massacre that happened at the church in Charleston.  The tragedy is beyond explanation, and many are seeking answers to something unanswerable.

When tragedy strikes, it's a good time to sit down and write.

I'm not talking about fictionalizing the event and making an entertaining story out of it.

For now, I'm talking about searching for emotional healing through writing.  Working through tough questions, anger, and sorrow on paper.

I have been advised numerous times by counselors and people in leadership who are not writers to use the pen to release my frustrations.

There is something very healing about the release of emotions on a page. 

On more than one occasion, writing has helped me work through very difficult and dark times in my relationships.  Instead of blasting another person with my anger, I took it out on the paper. And somehow, I felt like I had released enough of it to move forward with forgiveness and work out whatever the problem regardless of whether the person even apologized.

Here is a disclaimer about writing to release anger: if you do this, be sure to throw it away.  It will do no good to show it to the person.

The events of this week have stirred up much anger.  I'm angry that someone would do something so heinous.  But instead of publicly attacking the killer, it would be best to attack the page and then throw it away.  Keeping rage circulating is only going to stir the pot further, possibly even causing others to retaliate violently.  Yes, of course we want justice, but that will come eventually and not by our hands.

We don't want retaliation.  We want healing.

It's inevitable that we will all face loss.  Loss is especially hard if it's unexpected like what many are facing this week.

I've found that poetry and journaling helped me to express those sorrowful feelings that I couldn't express verbally.  Once it was out on paper, it felt like I was released more and more from my grief each time.  Whenever depression tries to creep back in, I have found that expressing my feelings through writing helps to curb those hopeless feelings.

Take note that I'm not saying I walked away completely healed in each of these instances.  However, on the road to complete healing, writing has been extremely instrumental.   And I believe it can be for you.

If you are struggling, even if you are not a writer, try to use writing to find healing this week.  Your anger, grief, or sorrow may be totally unrelated to the shooting.  It doesn't matter.

Here are five ways to use writing to deal with tragedy:

  1. Freewrite all your thoughts and words.  Let it all out.  This doesn't have to be in complete sentences.  Write anything and everything until you feel you are done. 
  2. Write a letter to the offending person.  As long as you don't plan to give it to him or her, freely write all your feelings and emotions in letter form.
  3. Try poetry.  Think of an image, such as a familiar object or a nature scene, that expresses how you are feeling and use figurative language to bring that image to life.  Use words that reflect your current emotions.
  4. Journal your daily thoughts and emotions.  Take time each day while you are experiencing tragedy or loss to write it out in a journal.  Reread your entries occasionally to see your progress.  
  5. Write a letter to the lost loved one.  Tell him or her everything you wished you had done or said and work out unresolved issues.
I'm not going to promise that writing will heal all of your wounds, but I can tell you that it will help you on your road to healing.

How have you used writing to find healing?  Tell me your story below.