Who has brought the beginning of their novel to a creative writing workshop? Show of hands? All of you? Most of you? I thought so. I’m guilty of bringing the first couple of chapters of my novel to a workshop once and I still feel bad about it, because it was way too much. I can’t remember the page limit our professor gave us, but I know I overstepped it (over 30?). And not only did I overstep the limit, I didn’t double-space; I only spaced it 1.5 so I could shorten the number of pages. I knew perfectly well what I was doing.
Most professors teaching a creative writing class will encourage his or her students to bring short stories. I don’t want to say because writing short stories is a lost art. It probably seems like it since everyone wants to write a New York Times Bestseller and perhaps have their book turned into a movie or TV series.
Aside from being short but sweet pleasantries, short stories serve a purpose for any writer who wants to master their skills: It has a beginning, middle and end, which everyone in the workshop can read and analyze when they have a short story. It also allows a writer to finish a story. It’s good practice. They’re truly healthy doses of creativity. Plus, a short story can always lead to something unexpected, which I will get into in a minute.
Like Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”
Additionally, short stories are easier to sell. I hope I don’t sound like a poser when I say that, but it’s true. I searched writing competitions and magazine submissions before the weekend started and found many interesting goals to pursue. [List of competitions and possible publications are further down the page.] Yesterday I sent in a short story I wrote two years ago… after dusting it off, editing out over 2,000 words and re-reading it ten times over, of course. I also submitted an article to another competition, which I frankly don’t have a ton of hope for, but at least I tried.
I know that over the past year or so, I’ve said things like, “Write for you, man. No one has to see it.” Writing is something personal, yes, we do it for ourselves. Not having your name out there doesn’t make you less a writer. However, getting published is such a rewarding feeling; it’s like winning a prize at the end of a marathon. So why not give it a go? Jeez, the only thing I’ve gotten published since high school – not counting any news articles – is a one-act play called “Shoveling Shit in Hell,” which got out last spring in The Central Review. It was so fun to attend the event that followed the publication where all of us writers met with friends and faculty at the library at Central Michigan University. Each and every one of us read his or her piece to the audience. I was a little nervous when it was my turn and it didn’t help that the guy reading with me played the snobby character as a Silicon Valley girl; it took me a moment to choke down my own laughter before I could go on.
As I was saying earlier, a short story can lead you places. After sending the short story, I recalled all the little “spin-offs” I had cooked up in my mind. The story itself had many interesting characters, not to mention that it had an epilogue that introduced several possibilities. For whatever reason, I tucked away the story somewhere and forgot about it instead. I’m happy I picked it back up, because I think I finally found the people and the setting for my crime novella. Sometimes a story has the weirdest sense of sneaking up on you.
Wow, a novel with a deadline on May 1st, this novella and several short stories I got to write. I am good at giving myself homework.
Here are some competitions and open submissions for you to look into. Good luck to you and may the best man or woman win!
- Visions of the Future in Cicada Magazine: Due Feb. 7
- Science poetry competition in Event Horizon Magazine: Due Feb. 29
- Innocence and Experience in Parabola (The Magazine of Myth and Tradition): Due March 1
- Same magazine has submissions for Paths to Healing (Due June 1) and Generosity and Service (Due Sept. 1).
- Returning Home in Temenos: Due March 21
- Florida Keys Flash Fiction Contest (three-week residency): Due March 31
- Identity in Story Magazine: Due May 1
- General issue in subTerrain: Due May 1
- Nostalgia in subTerrain: Due Sept. 1
- Chicken Soup for the Soul has several submissions coming up:
- Dreams and Synchronicities, and The Spirit of Canada: both due March 31
- The Joy of Christmas: Due April 30
- Stories about Teachers and Teaching, and Blended Families: both due June 30
- The New Yorker has open submissions year-round.
- Fantastic Stories also takes submissions, original stories up to 3,000 words long, either science fiction or fantasy.