The people at magazine Firewords talk a lot of sense and this piece of advice for writers struck a chord with me. I tend to over-explain my stories and choosing what stuff to leave out is a real skill.
My sincere thanks to my two-year writing buddy, Linda Tyler, for this insight into how she got her short fiction writing career off the ground. This is my first guest post on this blog and I am grateful to Linda, whose work I admire.
Early Writing Buddies Success Already friends, Shirley and I started to write seriously a couple of years ago (2014), bouncing ideas off each other and providing an honest critique of each other’s stories. We were delighted when our first success was joint second prize in a regional short story competition in Scotland.
Since then, like Shirley, I have had a few successes. I’ve self-published on Kindle an historical romance (Summer Intrigue), have a poignant story in an anthology (Last Call and Other Stories, published by Ouen Press), been highly commended for the opening page of a crime novel, short-listed for a piece of mystery flash fiction, had a family tale published in The People’s Friend and have stories, one bizarre and the other comedy, in two anthologies to be published this year (2016).
Write the story You want to write As each of these works of fiction is different, I feel I’ve yet to find my ‘voice’. On the other hand, this means I’ve written the story I wanted to write and the style followed naturally.
Rejections go with the territory Despite these little successes, I’ve had many rejections. Between the summer of 2014 and the end of 2015, I submitted 58 stories; six of these were successful. Interestingly, two of the stories had been rejected previously by other competitions/publishers, another had been rejected elsewhere twice and yet another had been to three different places before finding a home.
Don’t Look Back Writing really is a case of perseverance. Shirley’s motto is Onwards and Upwards; mine is One Story Back, Another One Out. Both are good maxims. Send off a piece of work, forget about it and get on with the next one.
My ideas usually come from comments made by friends or something I’ve read (I read widely, both fact and fiction). We are often told ‘write what you know’.
For whatever reason, I find it difficult to base a story on an aspect of my life; and the one story where I’ve attempted this has been out seven times with no success.
What I do find helpful, though, is to set a story in a place I know – for example a coastal town, a relative’s sitting-room, a church and a preserved steam railway. The characters may be imaginary, but the setting is one I can easily visualise.
Don’t waste your money With the exception of the flash fiction piece, my successes have been with free submissions. It is too easy to spend £5 here, £7 there, and find at the end of year how these sums have mounted up. This year I intend to submit only to those competitions, magazines and anthologies with free submission.
And I cannot over-emphasise the importance of a writing buddy.
I am a scientist and I love science, medicine, drugs, technology and learning about their use and mis-use. I wrote two stories last year using science as a base and I enjoyed doing it. Two different subjects and quite different stories.
Then I ran out of ideas. I surprised myself that the well of imagination was dry. Why?
I did research in two or three new areas that I have some knowledge of so that I would be up to date in those fields. The research excited me and thrilled me with possibilities. I spent ages online and printed off lots of useful background and even drew up a list of possible story plots.
But my pen wouldn’t write about them.
But when it comes down to it, why don’t I just write it and then ask those questions? Not all of my stories are boring so why should these ones be? aaarrgghhh
Resolution for February 2016 – write at least one science fiction story. And don’t be such a wimp.
I like short short stories and today I wrote my first 100-word story for a competition. It was great fun and it reminded me of some of the writing exercises we have done in workshops. There’s nothing like a deadline and a prompt to get me writing.
I think I should always have some urgency to write because I produce words more readily under pressure. Well, here’s hoping my foray into short short stories will prove fruitful in 2016.
I must thank Cathy Bryant for her super site cathyscompsandcalls. Already I have had a success with one of my stories being accepted for publication in one of the literary journals that Cathy recommended in her list of opportunities for writers. Thanks Cathy!
After submitting over 50 entries for magazines and competitions in 2015 I am hoping to up my success rate this year. And in January I saw my first little success, so that bodes well. Thanks especially to Linda, my writing buddy who keeps me on the right track, and who has seen her own measure of success rise too.
Onwards and upwards, I say.
Linda and I are off to Durhamhill for one of their marvellous residential writing courses in March. Really looking forward to that!
This morning, having finally got over a streaming cold and eating too much christmas pud, I woke with new enthusiasm for my writing. Casting aside the box of tissues and the packs of paracetamol I was raring to go.
So much so that I pre-empted New Year and made an early resolution. Today, I vowed, I would submit five items for writing competitions. I have a good up to date calendar of competitions ranging from 500-word flash fiction to 5000 word short stories. More than six of these have closing dates in the next five weeks.
Well, I have had such a productive day! And it isn’t even five pm.
I have sent off some CDs to a friend who is starting up a film club, bought and posted a gorgeous card for my best friend’s birthday, drawn some cash out of the ATM, taken a huge bag of clothes to the charity shop, walked along the beach and admired the massive waves,been blown sideways by the gale-force winds, put on the dishwasher – and cleaned the oven!
Christopher Fielden hosts and manages a very useful web site with advice and resources for short story writers. My favourite section of this comprehensive site is the Competitions listing which Chris keeps up to date with hundreds of story competitions around the world.
It was from this listing that I selected the competition that brought me my first Short Story First Prize, the inaugural Crediton Short Story Competition in 2015.