Join the NaNoWriMo Train – It Isn’t too Late!

Breaking Free to Write by Deborah Owen

I’ve been wanting to join NaNo for years but never had the time, so why did I wait for the hardest year of all to do it? Which of the reasons listed below is the answer? Guess.

  1. Not too smart
  2. In a weak moment, I decided to give it a try.
  3. I had no idea what I was getting into.
  4. No coffee to awaken my brain on the day of that dreaded decision.
  5. I wanted to help encourage others through Creative Writing Institute next year.

Which one did you guess? Actually, all of these reasons led me into National Novel Writing Month. In a way, I severely underestimated the daily challenge, but in another sense of the word, writing 1666 words a day doesn’t take all that long. You aren’t supposed to edit as you go – which I always do – so not doing that makes the writing fast.

When I first started writing (back when dinosaurs were first laying their eggs), I determined that I would not start a second story until I finished the first and ditto with novels. It took me ten years to write my first novel and I can’t go against my own rules, so I decided to use NaNo to REwrite the novel.

NaNo doesn’t care what you do as long as you write. You can write 50,000 words in a series of short stories, write a novel, or just make a feeble, puny attempt. They only ask that you WRITE.

I am as guilty as the next writer in putting the muse off until it doesn’t come courting any more. Think of your dating days. What did you do to prepare for courting? You got your act together! You put your life in order and you laid time aside to go courting and be courted. Do that again. Court the muse.

I don’t have a clue about the NaNo site and all the things they offer, but I’m making an effort and enjoying it in spite of myself. If you haven’t started with NaNo this year, it isn’t too late. You have until the last day of November to sign up at http://www. It doesn’t matter if you don’t meet your goal, but it DOES matter if you don’t even try.

Let’s make a deal. Try it for one week. Will you at least do that much? I have nothing whatever to gain by your joining NaNo. I’m just trying to help you get the same new vision that I have. It’s exciting! (Did I really say that? Um… I believe I did. I think I’m actually starting to enjoy this. Yeah!!!) Join me!

Huh? You insist on paying me back for this great favor? Okay. Drop in for a ten-second peek at and we’ll call it even. Happy NaNoWriMo!

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach your Social Media Prospects

Four Sure-fire ways to Reach Social Media Prospects

Art work and Article by Sola Johnson

Are you using the right techniques to convert “likes” to solid leads? Effective social media can be downright frustrating for beginners. Try these key strategies to give you an edge in marketing.

Good Communication: Most brands fail to define the purpose of social media. Don’t be too professional or too novice. Avoid flowery statements. Be brief AND persuasive in every post. Tell your Twitter prospects why they will enjoy your product in 100 characters or less. Give faithful fans the leftover 40 characters to engage and promote your tweets. Quality sells faster than quantity.

Post Frequently: What is your peak time to display engaging posts? Study Linda Ikeji’s blog to see how important it is to post frequently. Notice the placement of pictures and ads. Placing your brand in the public eye shows dependability. Top artists like Davido, Ariana Grande and other entertainers use Instagram to show what they do on their days off. If you are an up and coming entertainer, posting frequently will spur growth, especially when your contact details are open. All social media is good. Young Bieber uses YouTube. What do you use?

Regular posting will keep you on your customer’s mind, but posting too often can backfire and brand you an aggressive marketer. Some years back, studies showed weekly branding failed to engage prospects, but marketing twice a day overstretched their limits. So… how often should you post updates? Experiment to find the answer. Constant changes in social algorithms demand research, tests, and repeated tests until you really know your market.

Be Human: If you are going to use platforms like Buffer and Hootesuite to auto-post daily, do so carefully. Buffer lets you connect social accounts on its platform, but don’t ignore user experiences and customer interactions. According to an in-depth research by Convince & Convert, 42% of Twitter’s customers expect answers to a support request within 60 minutes.

Here’s a tip: Be prepared to hit the pause button. Automated troubleshooting is a bad idea. No one, not even the writer, can stomach conversing with bots and if a prospect sees carelessness in your marketing, you will be saying goodbye to them.

Pictures: A good picture is worth a thousand words, but use some text, too. Inserting a picture in a post is an awesome trick that will exceed the word limits of some social platforms. Imagine a Coca Cola text advertisement on a billboard that doesn’t showcase a picture of the product. Odd, right?  Billboard advertisements hinge on appealing to on-the-move clients, so share this emphasis when dealing with online prospects. Insert pictures to whet your customer’s appetite.

A photo of your employees relaxing, laughing, or doing some community work is a sure-fire way to humanize your brand by piquing interest and engaging minds. Eye-catching quotes and tips are excellent ways to boost online presence. What’s more, you don’t have to be a Photoshop guru to create good graphics. Digital marketers and social media experts use quick, fun tools like Picmonkey, Quotescover and Canva to achieve this task.

Follow @Epjohnson01 on Twitter for more tips.

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How to Target a Market

by Ariel Pakizer

Pick your audience before you start writing.   or even plan, an article. Waving in western culture is a friendly gesture, but an open palm is the equivalent to “flipping the bird” in some Hispanic cultures. Writing without knowing your market is like waving in Spain, you’re saying hello, they’re seeing a curse word, and everyone is confused.

Selecting a market is tricky. “High Fantasy fans” is too large, but “twenty-year-old white men” is too small, so target a market in between the two. Choose an age range and a topic. Focusing on one interest is wise, since art students and sports scholarships typically aren’t interested in same type of article.

You have the idea, now where does it fit best? Decide what focus (if it’s a story, or angle if it’s an article) your piece should take and target your particular market from there. If you don’t know what your audience wants, you need to do more than targeting a market.

If you’re a thirty-year-old woman targeting men going through a midlife crisis, you’ve got some research to do. If you’re willing to plan, research, and edit your article, you can spare a few hours for researching your market.

Once you understand your market, tailor your story to it. Write what your chosen audience wants to read. Every market has a tone and length they enjoy, so try keeping your article to the appropriate word count. If you’re writing a short story, write the characters with strengths they’ll admire and not quirks they will find annoying.

Writing for an audience isn’t easy and only practice will make you better. Learn to blend your writing with what others want to read. Write a few pieces for a specific audience, and then try selling them.

You can aim for a local magazine, newspaper, or reach out to an online journal. Why not find an internet magazine, learn about its target audience, and write a short story specifically for it?

Work on a piece for a few weeks, but set a deadline. It will turn a project into a goal, and the finished work into an accomplishment. So, go for it, write and sell a piece to a target audience by March 31st. Don’t sit and think, “I couldn’t do that!” because you can’t know that’s true until you try.

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What is Foreshadowing?


Foreshadowing Tips

by Bob Bruggemann

Wikipedia says foreshadowing is a literary device in which an author suggests certain plot developments that might come later in the story. This is an example of foreshadowing:

Sam thought about what the perpetrator said. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before; he’d been threatened many times. The light turned green and he swung around the corner. His eyes panned down the quiet block of single family homes and he knew something was wrong.  His partner’s house was dark and so was his. Sam rolled up to the curb and turned off the engine. Leaving his cap on the passenger seat, he pulled out his service revolver, loaded a round into the chamber, and cautiously stepped out of the car.   

Sam’s actions give a blatant description of what could happen next. The reader has been forewarned that something might be wrong.  It could be a false alarm or it could be something devastating. Only time will tell.

The reader will fall into this trap easily and without suspicion. It’s perfectly natural for a man to enter a tense and dangerous situation with his gun drawn… but suppose he enters the foyer, the lights suddenly come on, and he hears:

“Surprise! Happy birthday, Honey!”  He found a room full of neighbors in the living room, holding up drinks for a toast. The joy faded as they focused on Sam’s cocked 9mm pistol.

This scenario is a variation of foreshadowing called “misdirection” or otherwise known as a “Red Herring.” See for more examples on the following:   

o   Premonition

o   Master patterning

o   Red herring (misdirection)

o   Prophecy’s and omens

As an author, you control your world, along with everyone and everything in it.  Never be afraid to experiment and push your muse to the limit. There are no limitations to your imagination. Use red herrings and foreshadowing to great advantage.

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at

Twitter: deborahowen – 



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Tips on Writing Memoirs

Looking for Tips on Writing Memoirs?
by Hugh Wilson
Volunteer Staff at Creative Writing Institute

Writing memoirs is easy. Don’t make something easy into something hard. Write for the sake of posterity. Wouldn’t you love to read what your great, great grandmother wrote about her everyday life in the 1800s? Well… IF she had written it. Publication is not the only measure of success. Sure, it means an editor thinks thousands will enjoy your writing and a good byline always massages the eyeballs, but writing is a transient thing.

Think about future generations and how they would love to read about your life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Yes, we’re talking about writing memoirs.

“But I haven’t done anything memorable,” you protest. “My life is humdrum. Who’d be interested in me?”

What seems commonplace to you can be fascinating to someone else, especially in a hundred years’ time. Think about the kind of details you’d like to know about that great, great grandmother. What type of clothes did she wear? What did she eat for breakfast? What did she do in the evenings? How did she meet her husband? Did all of her children live to adulthood?

Just as today’s teens can’t imagine a world without television, today’s ordinary life will seem extraordinary in tomorrow’s world. By the time someone read’s your heart’s deepest secrets, you will likely be gone anyway.

You don’t have to reminisce in chronological order. Write memories down as they come to you and slot them into the proper period. You can write them by hand and put them in a three-ring binder or type them into a computer and rearrange the order, but no matter how you do it, DO keep your memoirs in a safe place. is a good place to back your files up for just $59 a year. Dropbox has a free program, and there are other such free places. Just Google “free storage.” Keep your work backed up in more than one location. Store it on an external hard drive or flash drive and keep it in a lock box. Material kept on CD’s will deteriorate over time.

Build a picture of your life for your descendants to read. Leave a part of yourself behind. Start writing memoirs today.

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Christmas Customs Around the World

Christmas Customs and Traditions by Shanna Wegrocki.

Let’s take a brief break from writing and discuss a well-researched piece on Christmas world traditions.

Christmas tree lots are on the corners, lights are twinkling on houses, and decorations are everywhere you look, but this is one of the few holidays that is celebrated around the world.

China, for instance, celebrates by hanging paper lanterns, and crafting paper chains and flowers for their Christmas trees. They get a visit from Dun Che Lao Ren, (their version of Santa Claus).

India celebrates Bada Din (Big Day) with festivals and large feasts. Since they don’t have pine trees, they use mango or banana trees instead. For them, it’s a time of spring-cleaning and whitewashing their homes. Shopping and baking abound.

In Argentina and many South American countries, people celebrate by going to church and taking part in religious rituals. Families feast together and trade presents while celebrating the birth of Jesus. They thrive on dancing, caroling, and fireworks displays for twelve days, ending on Three Kings Day in January.
Swedes start Christmas festivities on December 13 with the Santa Lucia ceremony. They set up trees and decorate them with candies, straw ornaments, and small gnomes. Christmas Eve ends with a candlelight procession to church. The Christmas gnome, Tomte, (believed to live under the house), leaves gifts for the family.

Spain starts their holiday season with the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. The big cathedral in Seville hosts a ceremony that includes Los Seises, the dance of six, which is a ritual dance performed by ten boys in elaborate costumes. On Christmas Eve, known as Nochebuena, families feast together around the Nativity scene and light tiny oil lamps when the stars come out.

Germany starts their Christmas season even earlier, with St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. Children put out their shoes and if they’ve been good, they receive gifts, but if they’ve been bad, they can expect twigs. Given that the Christmas tree, as we know it, originated in Germany, it’s no surprise that the tree is a point of pride in many German homes. On Christmas Eve, they unveil it and serve a feast.

The French trade the Christmas tree for a Nativity scene and populate it with small, clay figurines called Santons or Little Saints, which local craftsmen prepare. They also serve Christmas cakes in the shape of a Yule log. On Christmas Eve, children leave wooden clogs out for Pere Noel to fill. Families attend midnight Mass and return home for a giant Christmas feast called Le Reveillon. In some areas of France, children get gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas. Adults usually exchange their gifts on New Year’s Day.

The Italian Christmas season starts with the Novena, nine days of special prayers and religious devotion. Children perform with carols and reciting poems to receive coins and musicians sing tributes to the Virgin Mary. Instead of writing letters to Santa, children write notes to their parents. Families often build a Presepio, their own replica of the manger where Jesus was born, and they worship around it. After fasting 24 hours before Christmas, they enjoy a lavish feast. In some places, they open gifts after midnight Mass, but most wait until after the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. That’s when Befana, an ugly witch, brings gifts on her broomstick. The legend of Befana says she missed seeing Jesus in the manger because she got lost, so now she goes house to house looking for Him, leaving gifts for good children and charcoal for bad ones.

In all probability, the closest to American tradition is Britain. It starts with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Instead of Santa Claus, Father Christmas brings presents. Children write letters to him and then toss them into the fireplace where he reads their requests in the smoke. The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, so called because people used to collect money in boxes made out of clay, which they distributed to the poor.

Most of America’s Christmas traditions trace back to Victorian times in England. Everything from Christmas stockings to “A Christmas Carol” originated there.

Christmas is an important holiday all over the world. Whether you’re decorating a tree or buying gifts, Christmas is the one holiday that transcends cultural differences and draws people together. Have a very Merry Christmas!

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Contest Winners for Short Story Contest


Thank you to our judges: Head judge – Jo Popek – and judges Mr. Lynn Carroll
and Annie Evett. Without them, there would have been no contest. Many
thanks! Here are their decisions for Creative Writing Institute’s
Third Annual Beginner’s Writing Contest:

1st place: Secrets Best Kept by Diane Davis
2nd place: Annabell Hated Being Asian by Michelle Yu (age 15)
3rd place: Apples, Pumpkins, or Manure by Shirley Dilley

Honorable mentions: Helen Crall, Sneha Koilada, Shirley Dilley

Read 2nd place, 3rd place and honorable mention stories here:

And now for our first place winner’s story in it’s entirety…

SECRETS BEST KEPT by Diane Davis (See Diane’s bio at the bottom)

Rachel pulled the last box out of her mother’s closet and set it on the bed. Putting her fists in the small of her back, she stretched her aching back and rolled her shoulders. With a sigh she opened the flaps. She had delayed long enough. The cleaning service was due this afternoon.A loud clang from the kitchen indicated her older sister, Sylvia, had things moving along in there. Packing up the debris from the life of a sixty-two-year-old woman was physically exhausting, but when she was your mother it was emotionally taxing too.

Rachel pulled a pink baby afghan out of the box and laid it aside. She didn’t know whose it was, but she and Sylvia would never have kids. Maybe she’d give it to the Cradle Guild at church. Next came a jumble of stuff. A tassel from a graduation cap, a Kewpie doll, an old Timex, a pair of baby shoes.

At the bottom of the box she found a small brown notebook bound with a thick rubber band. The cover had no writing on it, front or back. Rachel started to take off the rubber band, but hesitated. It felt wrong, digging through Mama’s personal things like this. She had been a private person, loving but reserved, even with her family. Now that she was gone, Rachel felt like she was violating some unwritten rule. But she couldn’t throw the notebook away without looking at it. After all, there may be something important in there. She pulled off the rubber band and opened the cover before she could change her mind.

In the upper right-hand corner of page one was what looked like a date:14 Juni, 1968. The page was crammed with line after line of her mother’s fluid cursive, but Rachel couldn’t understand a word of it because it was in—German? Did her mother speak German?

Flipping through the rest of the notebook, Rachel’s unease grew. She didn’t know what this meant, but she sensed it was bad. Why would Mama have a diary written in a language she never spoke in everyday life? Had she been hiding something?

Rachel’s first impulse was to show it to her sister. After all, Sylvia was thirteen years her senior—maybe she would remember a time when Mama spoke German. Rachel almost called out to her, but the words died unuttered. Her sister had taken Mama’s death hard. That’s why Rachel had the task of packing their mother’s room. Sylvia had finally managed to achieve a certain amount of calm. Showing her the notebook might send her on another crying jag. Besides, maybe it was nothing.

Slipping the notebook into her purse, she decided to find a translator. If it turned out to be harmless as she hoped, she would show it to her sister when the time was right.

* * *

Weeks passed. Rachel had forgotten about the notebook after she scanned the pages and emailed them to a college friend who knew a German language major. Now it was tucked away in the bottom drawer of her nightstand under a half-finished novel and a crossword book. Life went on.

The packet came on a Saturday. Rachel sat at the kitchen table staring at it, torn between the urge to burn it and curiosity over the contents. Once she opened it and read the translation, there would be no going back. Not knowing would drive her crazy, but did she want to deal with the revelations it might contain, good or bad?

Grabbing the packet, she tore it open and pulled out the loose pages. The cover letter was a courtly salutation followed by a polite request for payment, signed by the translator. Her hands shook as she laid it aside and started to read the text.

The first dozen pages related everyday anecdotes about Sylvia and Father, along with notes about her rosebushes, and various church activities. Rachel scanned them, charmed by the light tone of the entries. Her mother seemed to be happy in those days.

At page thirteen, the tone became dark and frightened and angry. Rachel’s reading pace slowed as she tried to comprehend the horrible things her mother had written. She reread portions, too stunned to take it all in. By the end, tears streamed down her face and sobs clawed at her throat. It was much worse than she had ever imagined.

Hilda didn’t know when the incest began, but she gradually became aware of subtle clues. Sylvia shrank from touching her father and avoided direct eye contact with everyone. She had always been shy, but every day she became more withdrawn. Her appetite decreased and she rarely smiled. Finally Hilda was so worried she took her to the doctor. That’s when she learned the depth of her husband’s depravity.

Twelve-year-old Sylvia was pregnant, and Hilda suspected her husband was the father. The family would never survive the shame. To be so young and unmarried and pregnant was bad enough, but to bear a child of incest was horrible. There was only one thing to do.

Hilda put the word out that she was pregnant then took Sylvia with her to stay with a friend in Phoenix until the baby was born. She told her friends that her doctor had recommended the drier climate so her asthma wouldn’t flare up and endanger the baby’s life. After the child was born, Sylvia and Hilda brought her home with nobody the wiser. Rachel grew up blissfully unaware that her loving older sister was her mother, and her mother was actually her grandmother.

Robert never touched Sylvia again, as far as Hilda could tell. Perhaps her threat to go to the police scared him into compliance. But it seemed his depravity only went dormant for a dozen years.

To her horror, she noticed that he began to pay special attention to Rachel. He touched her frequently and his hands lingered on her arm or back. He insisted she kiss him on the lips and he hugged her tight, often pulling her onto his lap. Hilda knew she had to do something before it was too late.

She couldn’t let history repeat itself.

Over the next few days she began to put digitalis in his food, gradually increasing the dose. Never one to go to the doctor, he stayed in bed, forcing fluid even though he kept vomiting, trying to sleep in spite of his splitting headache. Two days later he was dead of a heart attack.

Rachel laid the last page down. She stared at the wall as she struggled to find her balance in this new topsy-turvy paradigm. Her grandmother had killed her father to save her from incest, and her mother was alive. Why she wrote it down, and more importantly, why she wrote the whole tale in German were mysteries that had died with Hilda.

Her mother was alive! Smiling for the first time in hours, Rachel jumped up and rushed to the phone, but she put the receiver back after dialing a few numbers. She covered her mouth as a fresh round of tears rolled down her cheeks.

Sylvia had lived with the pain of this secret for years. Would it be more painful for her if she knew Rachel had learned the truth? Or would it be better to go on as sisters with a close, loving relationship?

Sinking back into her chair, she closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. Letting go of the tension, sadness and fear, she opened herself to accept everything the diary had revealed. She was still the same person she had been before reading Hilda’s words. There would be time to decide what to do with the knowledge later.

The phone interrupted her meditation. She checked the caller ID and her smile came through in her voice when she answered.

“Hello, Sylvia. I was just thinking about you.”

About the Author

Diane Davis, an Arizona native, is a happily married mother of two with a life-long passion for words. She’s had ten short stories and an essay published in online ezines like Long Story Short, Menopause Press and FlashShots, and won first place in Phyllis Scott Publishing’s short story contest. Diane’s goal is to become a novelist.

CHRISTMAS SALE on WRITING COURSES at until Dec. 31, 2011. All courses now only $177. Eight weeks in length with your own private tutor. It just doesn’t get any better than that! Payment plan available. See the site for more details.

Making Time

Finding Time to Write by guest blogger, Hope Clark, Funds for Writers

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin
you have, and only you can determine how it will be
spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it
for you.”

~ Carl Sandburg ~

You cannot create time. You are allotted time. Twenty-
four hours in a day. So when you say you don’t have time,
you’re wrong. You have the same amount as anyone else.

So when someone contacts me, and asked how can they make
time for writing, I turn up the tough love to a pretty
high volume.

You make time for writing by sacrificing something else.

There! Problem solved. Now all you have to do is decide
what you toss out of your life to make room for your stories.

Oh, but you can’t. You have the job, kids, parents, church,
volunteer activities, exercising, gardening, cleaning, commuting,
Wednesday’s bridge, Friday’s movie night, and the list goes on
and on. How do successful writers do it?

Let’s start with one week. Find your notebook or calendar
that has plenty of room to write on, and make note of
absolutely everything you do. No fudging. No forgetting
and making up answers. You have twenty-four hours in a
day, seven days a week. Note them all.

Maybe you cannot give up your kids, as much as you’d like
to on some days. However, you can do the following to
spend more time writing and less time with child-rearing.
Yes, I said it! Take some time away from the kids. I’m
serious as a heart attack when I say that if your children
do not see you passionate about something other than them,
they don’t learn how to go after something great in their
lives or respect others who do.

1. Pick your writing time, even if it’s 15 minutes a day.
2. Make that time off limits except in case of emergency
(dinner isn’t an emergency).
3. Do not break your own regimen, or you teach the kids
it’s okay to break their own obligations.
4. Have someone watch the kids even if you’re in the house.
This teaches the kids that rules are rules.
5. Attend a conference. You’ll miss them more than they’ll
miss you.

Don’t have kids? Let’s take the job, the commute, volunteering,
and so on, and step back to analyze them in a different light.
How can they be streamlined, short-cut, or reorganized to
consume less time?

There’s always a way. With all the books on Amazon, obviously
somebody is finding the time. You are not the martyr. You are
not so unique. It’s just a matter of reorganization,
prioritizing, and frankly, not being afraid of tackling your
writing as if it were vital to who you are.

See more of Hope’s articles at

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Writers, Don’t Abuse your Short Story Readers

Short Story No-No’s
by guest blogger, Annie Evett

Short stories have rules specific to length. Don’t abuse your readers by wasting time on unimportant, mundane details, bad structure, or clichés. Be punchy and get to the point. Put a bit of ‘burlesque’ into your writing with hidden sparkles and treats around every corner. Tantalize and tease your readers and they’ll beg for more.

• We have a responsibility to honor the gift and talent we hold in weaving a short story.
• We owe it to our muse. Be strong enough to stab to the inner heart of the story.
• Don’t wimp away or cop out with extraneous details.

Show, don’t tell. A stark image of a naked body may stir some people, but the addition of whisper-thin draping and dimmed lighting will allure a greater percentage of people. Tantalize your reader with snippets of information. Avoid the “full frontal” mode.

Using tags, exclamation marks. Don’t overuse tags like screamed, shouted, said, yelled, fumed. Telling the reader how your character states their words is an insult to their intelligence. (The possible exception is whispered, since it can hardly be conveyed any other way.) Show action and emotions with dialogue or action, not tags and exclamation marks.

Don’t state the obvious. Only mention details that are necessary to the scene. Example: “She sat in the café chair at the table across from him” is remote unless she was sitting on the floor in the café or she’d been sitting there for so long her bottom was numb. If the scene doesn’t demand it, delete it.

Using clichés. Avoid clichés like the plague. (Forgive the cliché.) Get rid of the “rugged trapper,” “kind prostitute,” “crooked cop,” “gorgeous girl,” “flashing eyes,” the sighing constantly scenes or the melodramatic and predictable storylines unless they are absolutely essential.

Your readers will correct you. They’ll correct your grammar, point out your spelling mistakes, misuse of tenses and other writing conventions quicker than you can hiccup. There will always be someone who knows more than you. When they read your story, they’ll rip you to shreds for inaccuracies. Do your research well.

Spoon feed your readers. Readers actually enjoy being a little confused as the story unfolds. However, some plots and themes are so obscure, only the writer can safely discuss them, so don’t be too obscure. Some genres such as science fiction or fantasy need a little more detail, but Show, Don’t Tell is hard to beat.

Giving details. Detailing physical descriptions and what a character is wearing takes too much time in a short story. The reader will create the character in their mind if you give them a skeletal framework to hang their thoughts on. Skip what he/she ate for breakfast unless it is crucial.

For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at We are a 501(c)3 charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing therapy and are presently piloting a writing course for the blind. Your tuition will help support us. Thanks! “Like us” and leave a quick comment. You don’t have to subscribe or join to leave a comment.


SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS listed below… by Bob Bruggemann

If you want to win a short story contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. Many submissions are disqualified because they don’t meet all the requirements. If formatting guidelines have not been given, single space the text and indent the paragraph. If the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash pile. If the short story contest calls for G-rated material (which means no swearing, vulgarities, or erotica) and your entry contains just one swear word, it will be discarded.

Welcome to the judging world, where judges go strictly by the rules. Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will then look at these four elements:

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique

Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.


Short story contest winners come from second, third, and tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme, such as, “Wedding Day.” What’s the first story idea that comes to mind? Whatever it is, forget it. You can bet everyone else will have thought of it, too. A large percentage of submissions will be so similar that the competition will be fierce.

Make your short story unique and the judges will love you. Come at it from a different point of view. Seek a new angle.


Don’t wrack your brain for an idea. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, how, and ‘what if?’ Let your train of thought go where it will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a story that is different.

For example, what if a shy looking woman attended a wedding and sat in the back, all alone? At the reception, she avoided conversation. She partook of the food and drinks and then left. Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scanned the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper to see where her next free food and wine would come from. See? The ‘what if’ question can lead you down original alleys.


In short story contests, you’ll never wrong with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Sweetie! Don’t try to impress the judges with $3 words. Like any other reader, they want a story that is readable and absorbing.

Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. He/she wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning and what will happen next. Stick to the point.


A short story contest calls for three distinct parts: the beginning, middle, and end. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The beginning introduces the main character and what the short story is about. The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked. The ending must be believable, resolve the problems, and leave the reader satisfied.

Above all, don’t overlook simple formatting rules.

• Make a new paragraph for every new speaker
• Single space your short story and indent paragraphs
• Run the spellchecker!
• Watch your punctuation

And Finally…

If you don’t write an original entry for a short story contest, at least rewrite it to fit. For example, Creative Writing Institute’s contest is G-rated, which means no swearing or vulgar language. We’ve already received entries that contain good stories but the author probably didn’t cull out swear words from a story they had already written so it won’t be eligible. What a shame. Make sure your entry fits the rules.

This is short story contest is especially for beginners and the first thing the writer must learn is that judges go strictly by the book. See the rules here and abide by them: Above all, have fun! First prize wins $$ OR a FREE Writing Course!

WRITING TIP – Health and Fitness Articles

QUICK WRITING TIP: Health & Fitness articles sell very well. (Actually, non-fiction always sells best and earns the fattest paycheck.)

Think of an angle that will make your article unique. For example, if you’re writing about diabetes and it’s causes, you might use someone’s personal story of how they learned they had diabetes (with their written permission, of course). You might interview a doctor on warning signs of diabetes or tricky signs that seem to point to diabetes but may actually be another problem. The main thing is to use an original angle.

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