June 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Forgetting to make coffee in the morning
  2. Use these 5 words: hype, version, second-degree, engagement, deadly.
  3. Raining on the parade
  4. Start with this line: “I’ll drink to that!”
  5. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  6. no free meals
  7. Strange noises in a quiet house
  8. Use these 5 words: congestion, extended, haywire, dicey, tools.
  9. A departed loved one’s birthday
  10. Start with this line: “Don’t go home without a plan.”
  11. “Remember when these were rare?”
  12. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: memory, arrogant, remorseful, grunts, sights.
    2. Write about getting away with something.
    3. Use the phrase, “Is that what really happened?”
  13. Wanting to wear something forbidden
  14. struggling for relevance
  15. Forgetting how to ride a bicycle
  16. Use these 5 words: mapping, rights, underdogs, gold, wisdom.
  17. “Why are you so fussy today?”
  18. Start with this line: “Wow! Where have I been?”
  19. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  20. illegal sales of spot prawns
  21. “Does it always take this long?”
  22. Use these 5 words: hybrid, fork, diamond-encrusted, juices, makeover.
  23. Doing something you know you shouldn’t.
  24. Start with this line: “Some people are so gullible.”
  25. Turning in a project to be reviewed
  26. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: world, excerpt, persons, lunar, boxes.
    2. Write about turning the picture over to see if it makes more sense.
    3. Use a non-standard answer to, “How are you?”
  27. A complicated story that’s not quite right
  28. a baffling array of long words
  29. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.
  30. Midyear check-in! Review your 2016 writing goals and revise as necessary 🙂

Modify an Old Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the title character is an unidentified man whose only link to his past is an old book he used as a notebook / commonplace book:

She picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed. It is the book he brought with him through the fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus. (p. 16)

And in his commonplace book, his 1890 edition of Herodotus’ Histories, are other fragments—maps, diary entries, writings in many languages, paragraphs cut out of other books. All that is missing is his own name. (p. 96)

This month’s exercise is to use the English patient’s book as inspiration.

Step One: Find an old book to repurpose. I suggest starting with a used book that already has some scuffs and scrapes so it doesn’t feel too precious to modify.

If you don’t want to use a book you already own, look for a suitable book at a used bookstore (check the discount bin out front) or charity book sale. Tip: library book sales often sell hardcover books for $1 or less.

While you can start with any book, a copy of a favorite novel, a nonfiction book whose subject is interesting to you, or one with aesthetic appeal (but perhaps less-than-interesting content) are good options.

Step Two: Modify your book! You can play with the existing text or treat it more like a blank journal.

Some suggestions:

  • create found poetry using the existing text
  • paste in photos, clippings, tickets, etc.
  • doodle or draw
  • add patterns or color
  • write notes in the margins
  • journal between the lines
  • fill in blank pages
  • write an alternate ending or add a “missing” chapter
  • add a character
  • modify illustrations/photographs
  • dry leaves or flowers between the pages

Step Three: Continue until your book feels finished. Use your book as a source of inspiration for your writing—both during the process of creating it and afterward.

[Page numbers from the 1992 Vintage edition.]

Toasted Cheese 16:2

The June 2016 issue of Toasted Cheese features poetry by Colin Dardis, Bobbi Sinha-Morey & Diane Webster; flash by Andrew Bertaina, Jhilam Chattaraj, Greg Metcalf & Tara Roeder; and fiction by Sharon L. Dean, Karl Harshbarger, Isabel S. Miles & Steve Passey.

TC 16:2 also includes the Spring 2016 Three Cheers and a Tiger Writing Contest winning stories by Meredith Bateman, Brian Behr Valentine & Erin McDougall.

At Candle-Ends, Shelley Carpenter reviews Feeding by Cody L. Stanford and Lou Gaglia reviews Crossing the Lines by Tony Press.

This issue’s Snark Zone is by Stephanie “Baker” Lenz.

The cover image is by James on Flickr, with additional photos by photographers around the world, all of whom have generously made their work available for use under Creative Commons licenses. Please click through and check out their photostreams.

Congratulations to all. Happy reading!

May 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: grunts, share, looking, clings, alter.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m not surprised it didn’t work.”
    3. Write about opposites both being true.
  2. “Tell me again why that’s wrong?”
  3. Use these 5 words: vibes, lyrics, flash, shame, tribute.
  4. Learning from someone else’s misfortune
  5. Include this line: “This song makes me want to dance!”
  6. A long time between days off work
  7. a deafening silence.
  8. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: misused, comes, haunches, unrequited, memory.
    2. Use the phrase, “Don’t go without me.”
    3. Write about fixing something that wasn’t broken.
  9. Use these 5 words: meeting, petty, hard, nominate, psychopath.
  10. “I know where to look that up.”
  11. Start with: After her release from prison…
  12. Going home to more drama
  13. what actually happens during a commercial break.
  14. “I’m using that. Get your own.”
  15. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: excerpt, moaning, public, preserve, south.
    2. Use the phrase, “Are you sure about that?”
    3. Write about a bad day at work.
  16. There’s always one more of them to do.
  17. Use these 5 words: disgusted, king, intimidate, truths, earful.
  18. Becoming aware of someone else’s pain
  19. Include this line: “This is the job I’ve dreamed of.”
  20. Doing something domestic for a friend
  21. a lawsuit over too much ice in iced coffee.
  22. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: reaches, hand, agony, appear, these.
    2. Write about a sequence of numbers.
    3. Write about making something with one’s hands.
  23. Use these 5 words: monster, rigging, victim, anger, exposed.
  24. …and you need yet another password for that.
  25. Include this line: “I fangirled over _____.”
  26. Getting old is not for the faint of heart.
  27. shenanigans at a picnic.
  28. “Put the phone away and talk to me.”
  29. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: killed, unrequited, barking, boxes, light.
    2. Write about doing something you’d never do.
    3. Use the phrase, “There’s no guarantee.”
  30. Write something completely different today.
  31. Your dog hates hugs.

9 Years, 9 Percent: A Look at Toasted Cheese’s Submission, Rejection & Acceptance Rates

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Inspired by other journals that do monthly, quarterly, or yearly public posts about their submissions, I did some very rough and dirty math about Toasted Cheese submissions over the last 9 years of our 15-year existence. This includes the last three quarters from 2007 and the first quarter of 2016.

Where did you get this information?

In 2007, I began to use Gmail to help me sort and label my TC email. Anything that comes through with “submission” in the subject line is automatically labeled as a TC submission. That’s one of the reasons we ask that you title your submissions that way.

I also use labels to mark a first-read piece to be rejected or considered for second read. After that, I use another set of labels for a final rejection or acceptance.

For my archive, I have labels for the year a submission was sent and a label for the issue for which the piece was submitted. After that issue is published, the submission is re-labeled for the year in which it was intended to be published. For example, a submission received on November 1, 2015 would be for the March 2016 issue and is filed under “All Subs/2015” and “TC Subs/2016.”

How accurate is this?

It’s not scientific by any means. First of all, these are only my picks, not the picks of TC’s editorial collective. Because these are only my picks, they aren’t TC’s official acceptance and rejection rates. I’m one of the more generous editors. I have more “yes” pieces in my final stack than other editors. Therefore, these numbers probably reflect a higher acceptance rate than TC actually has.

Not everything I choose as a “yes” or a “no” is published or rejected. The information I can access reflects only my personal choices. There are times when a first-read “no” for me is eventually published.

Some writers send their submission to the wrong place. Sometimes they send only to me. Sometimes they send a new submission as a reply to a rejection (those are sent by Beaver). When we manage to catch those, we forward them to the editorial collective even though they’re disqualified. So the overall submission rate may be higher simply because we don’t actually get some intended submissions.

Due to the volume of data I worked with, I’d guess these discrepancies might only reflect a percentage point or two of difference. I feel confident in saying that my personal choices are a fairly accurate reflection of TC’s overall rates of acceptance. When I’ve investigated a month’s or a quarter’s acceptance rate over the years, these numbers fall in line with what I found.

ab_16-05_9-years-9-percent

Background Image: Jose Picardo/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Okay, let’s hear it.

We had approximately 4600 regular submissions (not contest entries) in the last nine years. Of all regular Toasted Cheese submissions, 60% are rejected on first read, 13% are disqualified, and 2% are withdrawn before first read. This means 75% of submissions don’t make first cut.

Our shortlist is therefore made of 25% of total submissions. Of those, two-thirds (16% of total submissions) are rejected on second read and one-third (9% of total submissions) are accepted for publication. Of that 9%, some are withdrawn (for example, the piece was simultaneously submitted and accepted elsewhere) while some of the rejected pieces are salvaged by an editor (as an “Editor’s Pick”).

Note: writers can submit up to five poems in a single submission; often we accept only one or two of these. The data here considers any number of poems accepted as an acceptance (e.g. 5/5 poems submitted is an an acceptance, but so is 1/5 poems).

These number run pretty parallel to rates we see month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter, and year-by-year.

Our submission rates have been quite steady: an average of 510 submissions per year (over 40 submissions per month, 10 of which pass through to second read); between 500-620 per year during and before 2011; and 410-496 during and since 2012. We have light months and heavy months. January is traditionally the month we see the most submissions, likely due to New Year’s resolutions. All other months are pretty equal.

As I write this, we have had 174 submissions in 2016. At that rate, Toasted Cheese will receive 525 regular submissions.

So when you hit “send,” you have a 1 in 4 chance of being shortlisted and a 1 in 10 chance of being published in TC. And you’re 100% ahead of all the writers who never click that send button.

If you’d like to see us share more in future about our submission, rejection, and acceptance rates, let us know in the comments.

Track Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. If you haven’t already, set up a way to track your submissions. Duotrope’s submission tracker used to be free but when Duotrope went pay, so did the submission tracker. Membership is $5 per month, less if you sign up for a year. Writer’s Database has a submission tracker and free accounts.
  2. When you set up your submission tracker, go through your email and add everything you’ve ever submitted. It can be inspiring to remember how many times you gave it a shot.
  3. Set a goal for submitting your work over the next three months, like:
    • Send out a story every Thursday for 12 weeks.
    • Clean out your file of unfinished or abandoned work and polish one piece for submission within 90 days.
    • Submitting poetry? Max out your submission. If you only have one poem slated to send but the journal accepts three per submission, add two poems. You never know what will move an editor.
  4. Read the submission guidelines for a handful of random journals. New Pages runs a nice listing, as does Poets & Writers. Compare submission guidelines for similarities and differences. If you’re curious about why a journal has set a specific criterion, click through to read it and you might discover further explanation at the site.

April 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandThe feelings of the April Fool.
  2. Write about someone who is young but old at heart.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: fog, pestilence, through, toadstools, built.
    2. Use the phrase “Nobody was injured, but…”
    3. Write about complicated instructions.
  4. Start with: “Tonight I’m auditioning for…”
  5. “Well, that’s a proper train wreck.”
  6. Use these 5 words: mission, waiting, events, echo, time.
  7. Trying to stay awake after lunch
  8. “Stop whining and eat your dinner. Children are starving.”
  9. Everything I knew turns out to be wrong.
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, their, yard, misused, pianos.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m holding it in my hand.”
    3. Write about a late-night snack.
  11. Dividing up stuff after a breakup
  12. Have a character pose topless.
  13. There’s always one more thing you need.
  14. Use these 5 words: anecdotes, suspends, delicious, absolutely, ready.
  15. Unexpected last moment extension
  16. “You’re under contract.”
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  18. Give your MC some form of punishment.
  19. “I’d like to trade places with _____”
  20. Use these 5 words: text, hopes, impossible, audience, nautical.
  21. I could never get the hang of Thursdays
  22. “Another naked selfie?!”
  23. Maybe if it’s dark they won’t notice it.
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: nothing, muttered, memory, factory, opened.
    2. Use the phrase “What are you going to say?”
    3. Write about a headache.
  25. Book ’em, Danno.
  26. Write about a massive disappointment.
  27. We’re oddly even.
  28. Use these 5 words: coloring, prejudices, profane, trending, blame.
  29. April showers bring May _______.
  30. Write about ‘a state of unlimited freedom’

Spring Three Cheers and a Tiger Winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Spring Three Cheers and a Tiger contest!

Gold: “First in Time, First in Right” by Meredith Bateman
Silver: “Bus Stop” by Brian Behr Valentine
Bronze: “Rendez-Vous” by Erin McDougall

The winning entries will appear in the June 2016 issue of Toasted Cheese.

We’d also like to thank everyone who entered. There were very interesting and creative ideas for how a pair of glasses (or do I mean spectacles?) ended up folded and placed under a lamp post! The photo is one I took myself, having spotted the glasses laying there as I was walking by, and I still often speculate about what the real story behind it was. Of such moments are interesting stories made.

We hope you had as much fun writing the stories as I had reading them.

Amanda (The Bellman) Marlowe

Start a Project Blog

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

One of the big appeals of writing challenges like NaNoWriMo or April’s NaPoWriMo is that they have a concrete timeframe and goal, whether it be to write a 50,000-word novel in a month or thirty poems in thirty days. Even if the task as a whole seems daunting, it can be broken down into manageable daily goals: don’t worry about writing 30 poems, focus on writing one poem a day.

Because a writing challenge is finite, it’s easier to keep going on those days when you’re uninspired, tired, or busy. You can remind yourself if you skip a day, you’ll have to make it up later. You can remind yourself you only have X days left, you can do it! You can remind yourself how good you will feel when you complete the challenge.

Writing challenges give you the satisfaction of completing a project. At that point, you can decide what you want to do next: keep writing? start editing? set it aside and move on to something new? Whatever you decide to do next, even if it’s stick your project in a drawer and never look at it again, doesn’t take away from the fact you finished (and, of course, celebrated!)

The challenge-goal reached-reward cycle is what keeps people going for years in many endeavors, but it’s often something lacking in a writer’s life. Writers tell themselves they need to write everyday—indefinitely, forever! Then they get mad at themselves when their enthusiasm for a project started a decade prior wanes. A writing life without meeting goals and taking the time to reward oneself for doing so is a recipe for burn out.

So this month’s challenge is designed to get you moving away from setting goals with no end in sight. For this challenge, you’re going to start a project “blog.” Any social media platform can be used for this project as long as it allows you to post text. Your project blog should be separate from your existing social media. In other words, don’t use an existing account for this project—start fresh! Your project should have a theme, a writing goal, and a set timeframe for completion.

Example: write 52 100-word flash stories, each based on a photograph, in a year.

Think about your daily life and your existing commitments when deciding on your project. Be realistic! The point of this project is give you the satisfaction of reaching a tough, but manageable, goal. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Do-X-every-day-for-a-year projects are popular, but keep in mind it’s hard to do anything every single day for a year. If you do attempt such a project make sure your daily goal is small.

Challenges like NaPoWriMo work well because the writing goal is for the entire length of the project. Writing one poem each day is one way to reach your monthly goal of 30 poems, but it’s not the only way. You might have days during the week when you have time for writing and days when you don’t, making it better for you to write two or three poems on the days when you have more time.

It’s good to have some flexibility built in, especially for a long project. Setting a daily goal for a year and then missing day 360 because you simply got busy and forgot would be demoralizing. If the platform you’re using for your project allows you to schedule posts, take advantage of it. Schedule time to work on your project as you would any other appointment, and set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.

When you reach your goal: celebrate, then re-evaluate. Do you want to continue, take a break, or try something new? If you do decide to continue, renew your project for the same timeframe, just like renewing a library book.