Places to submit

What do Contest Judges Look for?

Recently I was one of three judges for a writing contest. We didn’t agree during the first round of reading on the winners. It took re-reading and much discussion to select the three winners. So that got me to thinking. What do contest judges look for when choosing winning entries? My fellow judges and I came up with: Make sure to follow the guidelines. They aren’t arbitrary. The guidelines are specific for a reason. Make sure to follow the criteria of what genre the contest is. Don’t submit memoir if the contest is fiction. Even though the judges may not be able to tell for sure if something is fiction or memoir . . . if it feels like memoir, it probably is. And that won’t work in a fiction contest. The winning entries that stood out excelled in creative writing and well-crafted stories. The writing and stories were compelling,…

Guest Bloggers

Jane Dystel: How long should it take to write a novel?

Today’s Guest Blogger is Jane Dystel, president of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management: Over the weekend, I finished a remarkable first novel.  The author had taken many years to complete this work and, in the end, I think the time it took her to do so has paid off (of course, only the marketplace will tell). Thinking about this – the time it takes a writer to finish a book – brought to mind how different each writer’s process is.  I found this very interesting piece on the subject in the Huffington Post. I have clients who take many years to finish their novels, much like the writer whose work I read this weekend.   Then, there are those who actually ask for deadlines (from me) by when they should have their next manuscript completed.  And then, of course, there are those who can conceptualize their stories and write them down…

Places to submit

Why should you submit to literary journals?

Why should you submit to literary journals? June 2015 issue of The Writer magazine answers: “Even though many don’t offer payment, literary journals are a great way to get your writing’s foot in the editor’s door. Some writers may overlook smaller publications to concentrate on bigger projects, but doing so could be a mistake. Whether you’re looking to apply to an MFA program or want to build your publishing portfolio, publication in a literary magazine or journal can be a useful first step toward your dream career.” For the next few Saturdays, I’ll post information about literary journals as places you can submit your writing. I welcome your comments and suggestions. ~Marlene


Trust Your Instincts

Gabriel Packard asked Bo Kaprall: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing? — The Writer magazine, June 2015 Kaprall answered, “Probably the most important single thing I’ve learned about writing is to trust your instincts, because, especially with comedy, it’s so subjective. One person will love it; another person will hate it. Everyone seeks comments and reinforcement or criticism, but really you need to trust your instincts, and that’s harder for someone who’s new at it than someone who’s a little more seasoned.” Marlene’s Musings: I agree. When in doubt, listen to your “gut feeling.” Your instincts are right on . . . you just have to trust yourself. With that in mind, when working with an editor . . . listen to what the editor has to say . . . you don’t always have to agree, nor make the suggested changes. Just listen carefully, then…


What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

Andrew Sean Greer answers this question in the September 2014 issue of The Writer Magazine. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing? “That you be clever as clever, and people will be impressed, but they will only be impressed for so long. After that, unless you are very real in your writing, and donate some piece of your heart, and are vulnerable, someone else will come along much more clever than you. Better to be ready from the outset. There is no competition for vulnerability. We are all in that together.” Note from Marlene:  There’s that vulnerability thing again.  Feeling vulnerable seems to go along with sharing your writing with others. . . that’s what Steve Jobs and I were talking about in the August 14, 2014 post about the most important tool in life about making big choices.  Well, Steve and I didn’t actually have this conversation….

Just Write

The nervousness of writing — Francisco Goldman

“When you’re beginning a book, or getting back into a book, as I am now, you have to learn to deal with the nervousness and stress of it. The blank page or the stalled page is incredibly intimidating. And you have to turn that nervousness – rather than into something that blocks you, rather than into something that makes you try to over-think, that makes you feel that you can’t proceed unless you have a clear idea of where you’re going – you have to harness that nervousness, almost like a natural force, and make it work for you. You have to trust that you’re just going to get inside the page and get inside the sentences, and you have to release the desire to feel in control and just follow the writing where it takes you and have faith that you’re eventually going to find the way.  — Francisco…


Dispute the thoughts that don’t serve you.

Listen closely to yourself and dispute the thoughts that don’t serve you – even if those are true. For example, you might think, “Writing a novel is hard. Selling a novel is hard.” Yes, both thoughts are true, but they don’t serve you. The only thought that serves you is, “I’m off to write a novel.” — Eric Maisel, January 2014 issue of The Writer magazine.  

Just Write

Are there rules for essay writing?

Pat Olsen has written an excellent article about writing personal essay in the December 2013 issue of The Writer magazine. Highlights: “. . . when I am so obsessed about an idea that I can’t wait to put pen to paper, the essay almost writes itself. That’s not so say I don’t struggle over every word, or that I’m done after the first draft . . . Some of the best advice I’ve received is that it’s not only what you choose to include in an essay that’s important, but it’s also what you choose to omit.”  She gives an example and then goes on to ask: “Are there actual rules for essay writing? If so, not all writers agree on them.” After consulting essayists, here’s what she discovered:  Kate Walter:  “‘An essay should have a universal theme . . . No matter how unusual a story may seem,’ she…

Just Write

Three Top Pointers About Writing Personal Essays by Kelly Caldwell

From December 2013 issue of The Writer magazine. “In the Classroom” with Kelly Caldwell. 1. Don’t worry about What is My Larger Subject? in your first draft. Just get out of your own way, write the story and let the universal themes of the essay reveal themselves. 2. When you’ve got that first draft, ask yourself, “So what?” and write down the answer. 3. When you reach a point in the essay where you want to make things up because they would be more interesting or more satisfying or just prettier, don’t. This is creative NONfiction, after all, and yes, that matters. Also, those are usually places where you need to dig deeper, because that’s where the richer, more meaningful material usually lies.      


Nobody writes a perfect first draft — Jonathan Maberry

“More often ‘writer’s block’ is a result of writers trying too hard to write a perfect novel in the first draft.  Nobody — no-freaking-body — writes a perfect first draft.” says Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker awards winner, author of 18 novels, including Joe Ledger thriller series, 30 non-fiction books, 1200 feature articles, 3,000 columns and writes projects for Marvel Comics. — “Jonathan Mayberry: How I Write”  by Larry Atkins, The Writer magazine, October 2013