The Planner Experiment: A New Month Begins

June month plan

So here we are. June is upon us. We’re looking at the midpoint of the year and the days keep flying by. How are your submissions going? Are you finding ways to use the daily planner to stay motivated?

Last week I admitted I was having trouble submitting and hoped that I would find that original energy again and I think writing it here really helped. I finished the month strong, entering two contests and submitting to ten magazines.

I received a wonderful, personal rejection with feedback from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. You couldn’t ask for a nicer rejection. In other words, keeping with it is paying off.  As a friend of mine recently said, “You keep pounding and pounding at that wall, eventually you’ll break through.” I can see cracks forming in the mortar.

Contests

As I mentioned, I’ve started looking into how contests fit into my submissions goals. I entered three short story contests last month, paying a total of $47 in entry fees. I won’t know if it’s a good investment or not for a while, but I am still focused on learning more about how to select contests, so I did some searching and found 30 contests with deadlines in June. At an average of $20 each, if I entered all of those contests, that would be $600 in entry fees for only one month of contests! So how am I going to choose?

One way to quickly sort through is by type of writing. Many of the contests ask for manuscripts: poetry chapbooks or story collects, novelettes, or full novels. Since I have stories in contests and all of my stories are out looking for work, I thought I might focus on poetry in June. I saw that one of my favorite poets, Ada Limón, is judging a poetry book prize. The deadline is the middle of the month and I have been wanting to create a poetry manuscript of my work, so I plan to use this as a deadline to get that work done. Then I can adjust that manuscript to fit other contests.

Another way to choose contests is by researching the judges, the journals or organizations having the contest and previous winners. Researching all of these aspects of a contest will give you information about which contests will be the best fit for your work.

When I was reading advice from contest winners in the last issue of Poets & Writers, one of the winners said to look at what else your contest entry fee gets you. Will you get feedback and critique? Will you get an issue or a subscription to the magazine? Will all entries be considered for publication?

All things to think about when trying to select which contests to dish out for.

Getting In On The Ground Floor

Submitting to the first issue of a literary magazine can be a bit of a gamble–you can’t read previous issues to see what they publish, and they may not last long–but it can also be rewarding. My first publication was in the first issue of Five on the Fifth and I enjoyed the experience and created relationships with the editors.

This morning, while looking over my wordpress reading feed, I came across a brand new ezine from Writer Shed Press called Writer Shed Stories. This is a brand new paying market ($20). I felt like I had a story that might fit, so I submitted. We’ll see how it goes.

In researching this month’s magazines, I also came across The Blend a paying market out of Australia. Their first issue comes out in July.

The Pages

2019 Planner June opening pages

Today, I’m only posting the June month planner page with deadlines and these first couple days. I will update the deadlines as the month progresses. I noticed plenty of errors in last months deadlines, but some of them may have been changes that happened during the month. As I’ve said before, it’s better to submit as soon as the window opens, or in the case of Submittable submissions, at the beginning of the month.

I’ve planned weekly compounding writing prompts for each week in June which will start on Monday, so check back again tomorrow night, or Monday morning.

I look forward to hearing from you. Are you submitting to the magazines in the planner pages? Tell me about your submission experiences.

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning, and Meeting Your Publishing Goals!

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The Deadlines: Collecting and organizing

short story submission planningI made a breakthrough over the weekend. I entered the information I’ve been collecting about different literary magazines and their reading windows into a spreadsheet. Now I can easily sort all of the reading periods by deadlines and what month I want to include them in my planner. I also added spreadsheet pages for contests, paying poetry markets, anthologies and community events.

Sifting Through

I found some more submission sources. Along with Newpages, Poets and Writers and Submittable listings, I’m using:

The Review Review

CLMP Community of Literary Magazines and Presses

As there are thousands of literary magazines and I only intend to introduce 365 in my planner, I decided to begin my exploration with magazines that pay their writers. I noticed that many journals are now using Submittable and charging a submission fee. I feel like it won’t be worth my time if I’m losing money for my efforts,  so my focus is on journals with no fees that pay writers anything at all upon publication. I was happy to discover that there were more paying markets than I thought and separating my spreadsheets into fiction and poetry revealed even more opportunities if I can muster enough courage to submit my poetry.

Proof of concept

The first month of the year isn’t over and I’ve already missed a ton of deadlines for both reading periods and contests. My research has revealed that the journals that pay the most have tiny reading periods of only days per year. I was also shocked to see that the The Pushcart Prize XLIII: Best of the Small Presses 2019 Edition (The Pushcart Prize) is already at my local library. How is that even possible?

I began to get frustrated and overwhelmed, but I reminded myself that the purpose of this research experiment is to be prepared for next year. The missed deadlines this month and the beginning of next only support my theory that a successful submission is planned well in advance.

A new problem

Journals charging submission fees and contest entry fees aren’t the only monetary issue I see with my heightened submission plan. Each journal expects submitting writers to become familiar with past issues before submitting. Many journals provide some stories to read online, but most suggest that one purchase an issue or get a subscription.

I understand that the journals need to make money and it’s important to read what the journal prints. I want to read as many literary magazines as possible, but if I was to purchase 365 magazines at fifteen to thirty dollars an issue, I would have to spend between $5,500 and $11,000 only to read one issue which isn’t really enough to get a feel for a publication as a whole .

I want to make money, not go into debt, so my submission goals are now limited to journals that have story samples available online, journals I can find through my library system and journals that have stories in collections that I can get from the library like The Pushcart Prize and The Best American Short Stories.

With all the time it takes to read enough short stories to familiarize oneself with literary journals, I don’t know when submitting writers find time to write. I’m hoping, through this experiment, it will all click by next year. I’ll be familiar with the journals, know the deadlines for the ones I want to submit to and have a year’s worth of stories to submit. Ah, I really am a dreamer.

Staying Flexible

Though I made some of my January goals, I changed my mind on others. I started writing the possession story for the Dark Regions contest, and I still like the idea, but I didn’t want to feel that dark right now, so I let that story go for the moment.

I read some of the winning stories from the Nelson Algren Short story contest in The Chicago Tribune archives, but I still want to read more of his work and write a story specifically toward that contest, so I put that off until next year. From learning about Nelson Algren, I’m also learning about Studs Terkel. I’ve noticed that there are literary magazines inspired by these gentlemen. I look forward to learning more about them.

Though Sixfold sounded interesting, with everything else I’m doing right now, I didn’t have time to read everyone’s entries, so I put that off for another time as well.

Through my deadline collection, I also found many February first deadlines that I will put on the January pages for next year, but not stress over for now. I want to have time to get familiar with each of the journals and not send stories out only because there are deadlines. Everything about this process is showing me that I’m on the right track. Submitting stories is for planners.

The Planner Pages

With February fast approaching, I’ve worked out some more rough draft pages. I want to start each quarter of the year with large goals for the three months. Then each month will have more specific goals and a list of specific deadlines for that month. Here’s what I’m going to try for the First Quarter and February:

first quarter planning page left                               first quarter planning page right

february plan page left                                             february plan page right

I hope you will download them and experiment along with me. I’ll be adding more deadlines to the February Deadlines page as they come up and will update accordingly. I look forward to your feedback about what you like and don’t like about the design and content as well as whether you find the format motivational.

If you know of any deadlines to add to February, please let me know in the comments.

The daily pages for the first week of February will be posted on Thursday.

Happy Reading, Writing, Planning and Submitting!

See into the future: No more missed opportunities

Heron in flight

With renewed passion and fresh eyes, my story will take wing.

Happy New Year! I know I’m a week late to the party, but I’m finally feeling like getting started, so better late, right?

A new year, a new project

I have an exciting new project for this year inspired by a tweet from Julie Reeser (@abetterjulie) asking about end of year processing and planning. She got me thinking about planning. I’ve been in survival mode for a very long time and though I’m glad that keeps me in the moment, it has kept me from making plans.

Julie’s tweet got me thinking about the many times I have happened upon a submission that excited me only to find out the deadline had just passed or was hours from closing. I don’t want to live on the edge of submission deadlines anymore. I want to plan ahead and have the time to submit my best work to reach my publication goals. To this end, I am starting a quarterly daily planner with writers who are submitting short stories and poetry while writing novels specifically in mind. As in me and hopefully you.

My original goal was to have the first quarter (January – March) planner available to download already, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense because this is really an experiment in what actually works to motivate me to get stories submitted, rejected, revised, (submitted, rejected, submitted) x infinity, rejected and finally accepted. It’s the multiplication part I appear to have a problem with and hope to overcome.

One of the ideas that has inspired me to submit more–work harder toward rejection–is the lovely goal of reaching 100 rejections in a year. On the surface, that sounds pretty crazy: I would have to write 100 stories in a year? No. Having that many drafts by the end of the year would be awesome! But I don’t think I would have time to do anything else, and I have other stuff to do. I wouldn’t send the same story off to be rejected from 100 different editors either. However, in a combination of daily submission goals for stories I have written and stories I will write along with poetry submissions, contest entries and a grant submission or two, I might be able to reach that goal of 100 rejections along with a pile of acceptance letters. That’s the joy of the idea. If you look for 100 rejection letters, you may have to work harder because of the people who start saying yes. It’s a great form of reverse psychology as long as your actual goal is to publish and not to accumulate rejection letters.

I also have a novel manuscript that I am fine-tuning to submit. I want to create a planner that inspires all types of writing submissions, rejections, editing, and re-submitting.

If my planner design helps motivate me, I hope to have created a tried and true planner for 2020 to inspire all writers by the end of the year.

So far, I’m approaching the project (and the design) like organizers say to approach any project: Large goals, broken into smaller goals, broken into small, achievable goals.

Planners don’t work for me if I waste time filling in my planner, so I want the important stuff to take very little time. The point to creating this is to inform. I want to know at the beginning of the quarter of the year what stories I’m submitting and who to send them to, by name. I don’t want to waste days researching them when it should be at my fingertips. It’s aggravating to me when I have to spend an entire day, or a week, trying to figure out who to address my cover letter to. It shouldn’t ever be that hard, especially when you’ve cared to do the research. My idea, is to include a magazine for each day of the planner, as an idea for one of each day’s submission.

An area that I’m still contemplating is contests. I have heard that contests can be important, but looking through the wonderful poets and writers calendar, it turns out most of them cost money. I think I can add one or two contests to my budget each month, especially if the judges provide feedback.

January Submission Goals

These are the submissions I will put on my January 2019 goals:

1/15 Outlook Springs end submission period

1/15  The Dallas Review  end submission period

1/24  Sixfold  contest $5

1/31 Nelson Algren Short Story award

1/31 Dark Regions contest “Possession”

This short list is a great reminder why it’s important to plan ahead. I have stories I can send to Outlook Springs, The Dallas Review and Sixfold, but I need to read past issues and find the story that fits best. For the Nelson Algren award, I want to get familiar with Algren’s work. Because I planned ahead, I was able to put his book, The Neon Wilderness, on hold at my local library and am already becoming familiar with his work. For the Dark Regions contest, I’m writing an original story. Finding the right story to match a call for submissions, and writing a news story all take time, so planning three months in advance is my goal, but one month will have to do for now.

Submission sources

I have also started a list of magazines to write overviews for and add to the daily submissions goals. I’m finding submissions information from:

Poets & Writers

Submittable

New Pages

and interesting things I see on Twitter

Books, Books, Books

Every writer has to read, a lot. Over the last few years I have been reading like a starving monster, consuming anything that gets in my path. Though there’s nothing wrong with that, I noticed that my reading goals list on Goodreads was pretty much ignored last year and I transferred most of it to this year. To remedy this, I’ve decided to add a reading section to my planner that includes at least two fiction novels, fiction short story collections, poetry collections and non-fiction books per month.

Here are January’s reading goals:

Fiction novels: Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, The Outsider: A Novel by Stephen King

Fiction short story: The Neon Wilderness by Nelson Algren, America’s Emerging Writers (I finally got my paperback and I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s stories. Yay!)

Poetry: The Carrying: Poems by Ada Limon, Selected Poems (William Carlos Williams)

Non-Fiction: The Philippines: A Singular And A Plural Place, Fourth Edition (Nations of the Modern World) by David Joel Steinberg, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

 

If you have suggestions for what I should include in planner, I would love to hear from you. I hope you will join me in my experiment to plan ahead.

 

Happy Reading and Writing

#NaNoWriMo Yes or No? The Pros and Cons of Participating in National Novel Writing Month

Maria L. Berg writing in her notebook in front of her portrait painted by E. Spencer Matthews entitled Maria Fights the Robot SpidersHave you heard of NaNoWriMo but are not sure what it is? Thought of trying it but wondered if it was worth it? I wrote the first draft of my novel this November and lived to tell.

Imagine: You’ve been dreaming of writing a novel since you were a little kid, but life got in the way. You’ve been mulling your story idea for years. Suddenly, the stars align and you are ready to write your novel. The leaves have turned and begun to fall and you know the holidays are coming. Do you sign up and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month? Will it be worth your time and effort?

This is where I was this October. I told myself, if everything lined up just right, I would do it. I have always been a self-motivated creator, but when it came to getting words on the page, my dream novel, the one I thought about when I dreamed of being an author, wasn’t happening. This year, NaNoWriMo helped me get that story started.

Before I had ever heard of (Inter)National Novel Writing Month (November): I had done research; I had a broad outline of the characters; I had even written a prologue and shared it with my critique group, but the story wasn’t getting written. I don’t know why, but I knew I had to get outside of myself to write this story. Ever feel that way?

I decided I would look into NaNoWriMo.  I wondered why so many people were talking about it.  The goal? To write a rough draft with a beginning, middle and end and at least 50,000 words in one month. It sounded impossible. Did I do it? Was it fun?

Let’s look at the Pros and Cons:

PRO CON
Developed my characters Lost storyline sometimes
Wrote lots of dialogue Didn’t feel like art more like a machine
Approached difficult scenes Paid too much attention to word count
Wrote most words in a day More difficult revision
I now know how much I can write in an hour and in a ten minute sprint My face broke out and my house got dusty
Learned about word crawls
Joined a write-in at a local book store
My inner critic really didn’t like it!

As you can see, the experience was more positive than negative.

One take-away that I will use throughout the year is Word Crawls. Word Crawls are games to motivate writing. Unlike prompts, they do not tell you what to write. The purpose of a crawl is to play a game of how much or how long to write. My friends compared them to D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) in that you choose characters and might roll dice to see what your character does next, but the fun part is you write a story within a story. My favorite was The Walking Dead Crawl. You can take a look at some word crawls at the WikiWriMo

Nation Novel Writing Month 2015 Winner Banner

When I had a fever in the third week, I didn’t think I would make it. Word crawls with my best friend got me through.

So for me, this year, YES, it was worth it. And it was (mostly) fun. If the timing is right and you feel ready, you can write a first draft of a novel in a month! And as a bonus, learn what motivates you and new ways to get words on the page.

Have questions about NaNoWriMo? Please ask in the comments.

Did you participate this year? What do you think? Yes or No?

Happy Reading and Writing!

 

Be Prepared: Inspiration Can Surprise You!

A flooded play areaYesterday, I had my whole day planned–the whole week actually–but while wandering the blogs of wordpress, I happened upon Catherine Austen’s Blog – Deadline? What Deadline? She had a post about writing contests for kids that ended with some no entry fee writing contests for adults. As usual, I find a contest I’d like to enter just before (or directly after) the deadline, but one got me excited: Highlights Magazine’s Fiction Contest.

I’ve tried entering some of my short stories for adults in contests and submitted to a few magazines, but I hadn’t  thought of writing short stories for kids. I was focused on completing chapter books and writing query letters. I loved Highlights Magazine when I was little, especially searching for the hidden objects throughout the magazine. So, I got really excited.

The theme this year is mysteries. This was a little challenging. How to write a mystery for kids in 500-750 words. I researched past winners and mysteries for kids from the library, but finally found inspiration from a mini-mystery with a funny solution from my past.

Once I came up with my story idea, I took a nice, long walk. On my walk I came up with my characters names, traits and quirks. I thought about how to build up the mystery before revealing the solution and when I got home, I wrote three quick pages of notes.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell this story in 500-750 words, or if I will submit it to the Highlights contest, but I’m excited about my new characters and the little mystery could be part of a larger story. You just never know where inspiration will come from.

I happened up two other blogs that might inspire ideas:

https://first50.wordpress.com/

https://writingcontests.wordpress.com/

Have you found inspiration in any surprising places lately?