Thursday, June 23, 2022

Check Writers' Guidelines


Today's topic is on writer's guidelines that many publications provide for your sake and theirs. There are writers who don't take the time to check guidelines, and they are far more likely to receive a rejection because of it. I've written on this topic before and probably will again, as I feel it is important.

The guidelines are exactly what they say--a guide for you to know if your submission fits the publication. You will find out if there is a maximum word count, or even a minimum in some cases. You'll learn whether you can submit a reprint or not. You'll discover what the editor is looking for. Will they take fiction only, or nonfiction only. Do they require a short bio sent with the submission, even a headshot photo in some cases. The guidelines a publication provides is a treasure trove in most cases.

Now and then, the guidelines will be minimal, tell you very little. Some publications offer no guidelines which is a shame as both you and the editor may be wasting your time in submitting.

The two places where I have found the most extensive guidelines are Chicken Soup for the Soul and Knowonder! (a children's ezine and print magazine no longer taking submissions) Looking at these kinds of guidelines might be a little overwhelming at first, but read through once, then go back and read it again, more slowly. Let it sink in. 

It's a good idea to  match your submission to the guidelines. Go through and check off the things your submission does, and those that it lacks. Can you make adjustments to fit the guidelines? Sometimes, you are able to do that. Other times, you can move on to another market as you know this one isn't for the piece you want to submit. 

Some guidelines are very brief. One or two sentences. Some are nonexistent. All you'll find is an address where you can send your submission, or a link to Submittable. Nothing else. I find this frustrating. Tell me what you want and what you don't want. Please! You'll find a wide range among the many writer guidelines you check. 

When I want to submit to a particular magazine, I put something like 'Cadet Quest writer guidelines' in a search engine. Then click on any one of several possibilities they send me. 

I have submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul many times, and I know the guidelines pretty well. Even so, I read through them each time to refresh my memory, and I also want to check and see if there have been any changes. So, don't rely totally on what you learned earlier. The older I get, the more I use the check, check, and double-check method for many things. Yes, it takes time, but in the end, you'll benefit.

Make reading guidelines a part of the submission process. 


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Stormy Weather Offers Writing Possibilities


A Wednesday Morning Surprise

My husband went out to get the newspaper this morning, and he was met by a surprising sight. A tree in our front yard had gone down in a severe thunderstorm we had last night. We'd had tornadic activity about 10 days ago. After that storm, the tree was leaning but still standing. Last night's high winds and driving rain made the poor tree give up and keel over. 

So, what does this have to do with writing? Weather like storms and storm damage are interesting and sometimes, exciting, situations to put in a story or novel, even a personal essay or a poem. Mother Nature offers a lot to write about when it comes to weather of all kinds. 

Adding storms to your story allows for some great description as well as emotions like fear, anger, sadness and more. 

Describing a storm gives you an opportunity to create a vivid image for your reader. Think of the possibilities of a storm at sea on a small ship, a tornado on a farm, an earthquake in a mountain village in a foreign country, a blizzard on a ranch, lightning striking and causing fires, and so many more. Write about these weather situations so your reader sees it clearly and feels like he/she is there. 

When difficult weather scenarios are in your story, it's a perfect place to up the emotional part of your story. If the protagonist is living through a storm of some kind with life-threatening qualities, he/she is going to feel and display fear and maybe anger that he/she is in this situation. When writing about how the person feels, don't tell your reader, show how the man/woman is feeling. If you can show, rather than tell, your reader is more likely to also feel some emotion. 

For an exercise today, choose one or more from the following list and write a paragraph or two using vivid descriptions and showing your reader the emotions being felt:


storm at sea



ice storm


forest fire

severe thunderstorm

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Descriptions vs Family Stories


Summer Fun

As most of my readers know, I encourage writing family stories and keeping them in a loose leaf binder so that more can be added. But, besides the stories, you should write descriptions of what life was like when you grew up, the places you lived, the activities you had, and more. 

I've written about the apartment building where I grew up. Not a story, but describing what it was like to live in a two bedroom apartment on the third floor of a building housing 62 apartments. There were six in my family, so it was cozy living. When my children and grandchildren read it, they'll know what life was like in the 1940s and 50s. How it differed from today. 

You can write descriptions of what family reunions were like in your childhood, the kind of sports and games you played, your wardrobe as compared to what the kids of today have in their closets, what kind of meals your mother served, your church lif, what the movies and theaters were like, stores and more. 

Not everything that goes in your Family Stories Book has to be an actual story with beginning, middle, and end. Reserve one section for these descriptions of what life was like during your growing-up years. 

As an example, I'm sharing a piece I wrote several years ago that was published on a website about the differences of summer days for kids now and when I was growing up. It's not a story, but a description of the way things were. If you don't know where to begin writing a description, think about your summer days as a child for a start.

Summer Now and Summer Then

In today’s world, moms start preparing for summertime months ahead. They scour the local papers and websites for summer activities for their children. The mindset today appears to be that school is out for 2 ½ months, and the children need to be busy. Lessons of all kinds fill the hot summer days for six-year-olds and on into the teen years. Summer music lessons, swimming and diving, arts and crafts, drama and a summer reading program at the local library are only a few of the activities for these vacationing children.

Some mothers make charts so that there are Mon-Wed-Fri and Tues-Thurs things to do. The week-end might be free or taken up with a traveling baseball team. The aim is make sure the children never say “I’m bored!”

And they probably won’t make that statement as they’re too busy running from one event to another, or getting ready for camp. Ah yes, there are camps of every variety you can think of. basketball camp, football camp, cheerleading camp, band camp, golf camp, day camp, soccer camp, church camp—to name only a few. Some kids attend several every summer.

By the time school starts, these over-scheduled kids must be thrilled to get back to the classroom so they can rest. I was happy to go back to school every fall, too, but for a different reason. I’d had the summer to get away from the strict school routine, to enjoy those “lazy, hazy days of summer” we heard of in a popular song.

I grew up in the 1940s and 50s in a world that doesn’t come close to resembling that of the 21st century. Summer vacation meant sleeping a little later than usual, then helping my mother around the house for part of every day. When I finished the tasks she assigned, the day was mine. Occasionally, I walked the many blocks to the pool with a friend. Or I meandered down a cinder path behind the commuter train station to the library where I marched up and down the aisles between bookshelves selecting an armload of books to take home. As soon as I finished a stack of books, I headed down the cinder path again, only to return with another armload of reading material. I didn’t get a sticker for each book I read. I read them because they were exciting, because they transported me to places I’d never seen before.

Radio soap operas made the time helping Mom go fast. I’d get so caught up in the tragic doings of all the stars of these serials, and when school started, I’d lose track of them. Would Helen Trent find love again? Did Stella Dallas come out all right? I’d only know if I happened to stay home from school with a cold or the flu the rest of the year.

As I got older, I spent many of my summertime hours babysitting neighborhood children or my own three brothers. Their toy boxes weren’t nearly as full as the ones today. A new coloring book and box of crayons brought forth cries of joy. Bubbles in a bottle appealed to every age. I’d sit on the porch steps with my babysitting charges, and we’d blow magical bubbles until the bottle was empty, and then go make more with dishwashing soap. We bounced balls against the brick wall of our apartment building where we lived, and we played Sewer Tag in the concrete courtyard. The sewer covers were safety zones, and the kids shrieked as they darted from cover to cover. I pushed babies and toddlers in strollers to the park a few blocks away, where we ambled round and round the wooded pathways. And I made children jug upon jug of Kool-Aid. I liked the little bit of cash I earned babysitting, but I had fun with the kids, too. It proved to be part of what led me into the teaching field years later.

The only places that had air-conditioning back then were the movie theaters. Marquee banners proclaimed “It’s cool inside!” as they rippled in hot summer breezes. When the heat waves hit the streets of Chicago, it was time to go to the movies to cool off. It didn’t matter what movie they showed, we found blessed relief from the sticky humidity and heat for a dime.

Maybe we did tell our mothers we were bored, but if so, I have no memory of it. Looking back, I think I’m glad I had such a carefree, relaxed summertime. A glass of Kool-Aid and a Nancy Drew mystery left me feeling happy and content. I looked forward to summer vacations, and so did my friends.

So, which way is better? Who’s to say?  Maybe we’d have been better off with a little more stimulation and structured activities, or maybe we benefited greatly from having to create our own activities. That was then, and this is now. Change may be hard, but it’s the way of the world. Now, we live in a multi-tasking, structured society. Maybe a program director of today can come up with a summer class for kids called “How To Relax and Have Fun On Your Summer Vacation.”


Monday, June 20, 2022

Should Writers Strive for 100%?


Writers must give 100% every day. That's a pretty bold statement. I doubt if very many writers give that amount each and every time they sit down to write. Or when they look for markets. Or when they are searching for inspiration. 

In a perfect world with perfect writers, 100% would be the norm. But, our world and our writing world seldom reach perfection. Nor do we as writers. There are days when we come close, and we should feel very satisfied about that.

Do forgive yourself if there are days when you can't give that percentage because you don't feel well, or life situations intervene. There will always be times when it's impossible to give that much to our writing world, but try to move on and get back on track as soon as possible.

So, how do we strive and reach that 100% mark? Setting small goals is one way. If we make our writing world goals huge, we're more than likely not going to reach them. Then, we get frustrated and discouraged. Definitely not a 100% situation. Instead, make a series of small goals. It's a lot easier to give your all when achievement is possible and in sight. 

Something else we can do is to have an attitude adjustment. Those writers who think positive are going to have better days than the ones who are down on themselves. If you think you can write a certain story or essay, you're much more likely to do so. 

Work at finding inspiration to start a new writing project. Inspiration doesn't always walk up and tap us on the shoulder. We have to create inspiration a good deal of the time. We need to put ourselves in positions where we can find inspiration. The reclusive writer is not going to find it very easily. The ones who mingle with others and put themselves in a social setting will be more likely to find a new topic and the energy to write it. Even going for a walk by yourself can bring inspiration, unless you walk with your head down, oblivious to the sights and sounds around you. I attended a zoom meeting yesterday with three other women. In the course of our conversation, there were several times that I thought about story ideas or felt inspiration of some kind. It's there, but it's up to us to recognize it and utilize it. 

Work at those three things--set small goals, make an attitude adjustment, and look for inspiration. Make strides in each of the trio, and you'll be well on your way to increasing what you give to your writing world. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Stinkin' Rejections!


Writers deal with many situations. Rejections of writing they have submitted for publication is only one, but it's pretty large in stature. A few synonyms for rejection are: decline, repudiate, refuse, and spurn. snub, turn down, disapproval and several more. It doesn't matter what word you use, it's still a rejection of your work. A stinkin' rejection!

One very important thought to remember is that a rejection of writing you submitted is not disapproval of you, the writer. It is an editor declining to publish your submission. Our first thought when a rejection arrives may be: He hates it! That is possible, but not necessarily probable There are many reasons an editor does not accept what you sent. He/she may have recently published a piece that was very similar or on the same topic. He/she may have an abundance of stories or essays and needs to slow down on the acceptances. He/she might like it, but not well enough to accept and have to do a large editing job. Maybe your submission was not right for that publication, which means you need to be more careful in selecting a market. So, hating it, is far from the only reason you received a rejection.

Should you feel hurt or angry when a rejection arrives? It's only being human to feel that way at first. Disappointment figures in, too. What do you do when a rejection arrives, often after waiting a long time to hear about your submission? We all react differently. Some will be deeply disappointed. Others will be angry to the point of throwing a few things or stomping around the house shouting. Others will be  so hurt by the rejection that they'll crawl into a quiet spot to nurse their wounds. Go ahead and react whatever way feels best to you. The rule here should be that you can react, but only for a short time. Don't let the rejection rule your writing world. 

Is there a lesson to be learned from rejections? Sometimes, there is. It may not be sitting there for us to see immediately. Wait a while before you attempt to figure it out.

Deal with the rejection for a day or two, then move on. Once you've calmed down, read your submission as objectively as you can. Do you see where you might improve it? If you're happy with the piece as is, start looking for another publication where you can submit again. If you see places where you can add or delete, work on it. Most rejections come with only a No, not a reason why. There are editors, however, who will send a note to let you know why your word was not accepted. Feel blessed if that is the case. 

Stinkin' rejections! Right? They are, but also a part of our writing journey. We've all read about famous authors whose work received multiple rejections before being accepted. Why should you and I be any different. The part we need to focus on is a lesson learned and to continue growing as a writer. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Pixie Dust For Prose Writers


What do you need to be able to write beautiful prose? First of all, what IS beautiful prose? I'd define it as writing that captures your attention, words that you put together to create vivid images for the reader. Beautiful prose is memorable. It stays with the reader. How are you going to achieve this kind of writing? 

According to our poster today, all you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust! If only we could run to the supermarket and buy a bucket of that pixie dust and sprinkle it across every page we write. 

In lieu of that, there are some other things to heed that will help you achieve writing that readers will remember, not only for the content, but for the way in which you wrote the story or essay. 

Prose writers often steer clear of attempting to read or write poetry, but it would be wise to read a lot of poetry to soak up the vivid images the poet gives us, the use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, similes and metaphors. Poets can make words sing, and prose writers can strive to do the same.

Avoid using a lot of passive verbs. They are merely connectors for your subject and object. They show nothing to the reader. When you edit a first draft, get rid of as many passive verbs as you can. You'll never dump all of them, but make them scarce. An active verb shows something or someone doing something. They help your reader see what is happening.

Make use of your thesaurus. If you don't own one, there are several online that you can consult. Find alternative words for the common ones we often spread through our story or essay. 

Show what something looks like. Instead of telling me that that the lost boys came upon a river, say something like: They spotted water, a silver ribbon of life meandering between the shoulders of prairie grass. Use sentences like this, but don't try to make every sentence in your story the same kind. If you do, you'll lose your reader.

We're told to use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Ooops, I just used an adverb. Use them too often or too many to describe one noun or verb, and you are overdoing it. Instead of showing your reader what something looks like or acts like, you might lose them from overdoing it. If you say, 'The soft, cuddly, carressable blanket soothed June enough to let her sleep.' It's better to choose one of those three adjectives. Your choice, as any one of the three would work. Be even more careful with adverbs. Instead of saying 'He kicked the tire furiously and angrily.' try: He gave the tire a mighty kick. That lets you know he is angry without telling the reader. 

Use a bit of alliteration now and then. For some reason, we like the continuation of words that begin with the same letters. Carol jumped over the small snake that slithered in the grass. Use it, but don't overdo a good thing. Sprinkle it like pixie dust, a little here and there.

Onomatopoeia means using a word that relates a sound. Birds chirped. The clang of the bell startled him. Again, it allows your reader to hear what is happening as well as seeing. 

Show your characters; emotions so that it transfers to the reader. Make the reader feel what the character is feeling. Again, don't overdo it. Too much of a good thing is exactly that--too much.

To write 'beautiful prose' you must work at it a little at a time. Do read poetry and look for the small ways the poet uses vivid images. Consider using much of the same when you write prose. Look for places to change when you edit your drafts. You, the writer, see exactly what is happening, you feel what the character feels, but your job is to transfer those feelings to the reader. 

All of the above suggestions come naturally to some writers, but others must work at it. 

Nobody ever said writing is easy. If we had that pixie dust, it might help. Otherwise, we've got to rely on ourselves. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Rating Payment for Your Writing


The following is a repeat post written quite a few years ago, but the topic is still pertinent today. Note that Chicken Soup for the Soul is paying the same today as it did when this was written 8 years ago.

We have a couple new members in my online writing group. They've spent some time reading the bios of the others in the group. Both asked about writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul after they noted that several of us have been published in the anthology and saw a call for submissions in our monthly marketing list.

One wondered if it was worth it for payment of only $200 when you could command a much higher amount by selling to a national magazine or some other venue that pays more. The other asked if we who have written for the anthology thought it had advanced our career.

In mulling over their questions, I came to the conclusion that it all comes down to perspective. If you're trying to make a living as a freelance writer, then the $200 isn't going to go very far in your living expenses. Freelancers who must live on what they make need a faster turnover than Chicken Soup gives and more compensation.

For hobbyist writers, which I consider myself to be, that $200 is fine and the exposure I've gotten has helped me move along in my writing world. I'm not famous, nor will I ever be, but having had stories in 15 Chicken Soup books certainly hasn't hurt me as a writer.

This anthology often receives submissions in the thousands for each book and only selects 101 stories, so making it is a real upper for the writer. It allows a writer to preen her feathers just a little when the announcement comes sailing through cyberspace into the Inbox of the email program.

As for the amount of payment, that $200 and 10 copies of the book are a lot more than most other anthologies pay writers. I've had payments of $100, $50, $25 and even one at $10. The next question might be Why do you bother submitting to those that pay so little? Every writer has to make that decision for her/himself. Ask yourself if the payment is your top priority. Or is it the addition to your publications list? Or is it achieving success with one of your stories? Is it being able to share your true-life stories as a help to others? Is it just plain personal satisfaction?

As for whether my work in Chicken Soup has advanced my career--I think it has given me some recognition which, in turn, triggered this blog to help other writers. It's also given me some satisfaction, but I'm not writing to put food on our table. I can be satisfied with these pluses whereas a person trying to earn a living as a writer might not.

Years ago, a new member in our writing group told us that she'd quit her full time job to pursue a full time writing career. She was a good writer in many ways, but she also had a lot to learn about the finer points of writing. She knew next to nothing about choosing markets, the submission process and more. Needless to say, she became discouraged in a short time. She kept at it for a few more months, then quit writing completely and started a business of a completely different type. She would have made a good hobbyist writer, using what she made as a supplement to her other income.

So yes--it's what side of the fence you're standing on as to whether writing for a publication like Chicken Soup for the Soul is worthwhile. Or any other low-pay but high-exposure publication. Knowing what you want and what you can expect from your writing will help you decide.

By Nancy Julien Kopp December 03, 2014  (original post)

Check Writers' Guidelines

NOTE;  I WILL BE AWAY FOR A FEW DAYS. NEXT POST WILL BE JUNE 28 Today's topic is on writer's guidelines that many publications provi...