August 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Write out writing goals for the month
  2. Use these 5 words: stench, guts, savage, rabid, giant.
  3. Much-needed rain, still inconvenient.
  4. an unexpected apology.
  5. Lap-critter with a foot on the keyboard.
  6. Start with this line: “I must be an asshole.”
  7. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: screams, bone, burst, pestilence, hesitates.
    2. Use the phrase, “You’re probably tired of this by now.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “You might think it would _________, but no.”
  8. Use these 5 words: renews, prescription, depression, struggle, streets.
  9. Old holiday becomes anniversary of something new.
  10. a character with an annoying voice.
  11. “Is there more coffee?”
  12. Use this line: “We’re altering your own immune cells.”
  13. A game becomes suddenly serious.
  14. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: famine, pin, strength, gloves, young.
    2. Use the phrase, “It could have gone either way.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “the best _________ since sliced bread.”
  15. Someone else’s wedding
  16. Use these 5 words: parachute, glimpse, champagne, swallowtail, summer.
  17. Talking at your phone/computer.
  18. claiming someone else’s narrative.
  19. Tentative first day out after being sick
  20. Use this line: “I’m so uncomfortable.”
  21. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: author, neglected, poem, hearts, public. Bonus: the popcorn of despair.
    2. Use the phrase, “force of nature.”
    3. Was it too much? Or too little?
  22. Use these 5 words: solar panels, optimism, scorpions, messiah, revelations.
  23. The meeting room after everyone has gone.
  24. a costly battle.
  25. “It’s easy with the right tool.”
  26. Use this phrase: “bleak but beautiful.”
  27. Last days before school starts.
  28. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  29. “Who are you, really?”
  30. a trending hashtag that includes your MC’s name.
  31. Reprogramming the light timer creatively.

Word Association Story

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Create a grab bag of words. Write random words on slips of paper or clip them from old magazines and place them in a container to draw from. This would be a good writing group or classroom activity, as each person would contribute different words to the grab bag and no one would know what to expect when the draw was made.

Alternatively, use one of these random word generators:

  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; include/exclude duplicate words)
  • random word generator (options: generate 1-8 random words; click/drag to rearrange words; double-click to swap out a word for a new one)
  • random word generator (options: generate 2-10 random words; temporarily save words you like to a list)
  • random word generator (options: generate one word at at time)
  • random word generator (options: generate unlimited number of words; choose first and/or last letter; choose number of syllables or letters)

Draw one word and write the first sentence that comes to mind using that word. (Like a word association game, but word ➡️ sentence instead of word ➡️ word.) Repeat nine more times, so you have a total of ten sentences.

Write a story using all ten sentences. These sentences can be rearranged (used in any order) but must be used as-is. The ten original sentences are just a starting point—add as much as you need to fill in and complete the story.

If you do this exercise as a group, read the stories aloud once they’re complete.

Alternative group story exercise: After everyone has completed their 10 sentences, have one person start by choosing one of their sentences as the first sentence of the story. Go around the room in turn. Each person can either add a sentence to the story or pass when it comes to their turn. Stop when someone runs out of sentences. Read the completed story out loud.

July 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. That nervous feeling in your stomach when…
  2. Use these 5 words: roasting, hungry, tough, spatters, heat.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: probe, gaunt, children, inside, ourselves.
    2. Write about being sick and the stuff you didn’t get to do.
    3. Use the phrase, “Major party foul.”
  4. Use this phrase: “the need to explain the obvious”
  5. New fireworks lighting up the smoke from old ones
  6. calling someone by a sibling’s name
  7. Working together to figure out what’s wrong
  8. Use these 5 words: reconciliation, journey, expat, insularity, activist.
  9. Many years later, on the same date…
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: silent, song, fatalistic, sailors, doves.
    2. Write about turning off the news.
    3. Use the phrase, “I wanted to strangle him/her.”
  11. Substituting ingredients in a recipe
  12. Start with a character saying: “I actually did a double-take.”
  13. Obsolete technology saves the day
  14. a publicity stunt
  15. “What did we actually do, back then?”
  16. Use these 5 words: magicians, roller coaster, inhalers, key, prison.
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, lunar, ranklings, snarl, misused.
    2. Write about a street musician playing something beautiful.
    3. Fill in the blank: “The ______ made in hell.”
  18. Use this line: “I’ve been observing the pattern…”
  19. Late additions to the schedule
  20. a deleted tweet
  21. Repeat until you can’t remember how.
  22. Use these 5 words: engulfs, crashed, emotional, cloud, overturned.
  23. Wrong word comes out when flustered
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: crossing, windy, woman, waterski, twists.
    2. Use the phrase, “I broke for egg rolls.”
    3. Write about forgetting to do something important.
  25. “I really didn’t change anything. Except…”
  26. Start with a character saying: “That’s not fair!”
  27. “I’ve been expecting you,” said to a stranger.
  28. the field of shark research
  29. People watching with an unlikely companion
  30. blue is the new pink
  31. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: strength, believe, those, shore, attempted.
    2. Use the phrase, “I don’t think anybody else knows that either.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “I was just brushing my teeth, when _________.”

Choose Your Own Adventure!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Write a “choose your own adventure”-style story. That is, start writing your story, but when you get to a point where your main character has to make a decision, first continue the story with the character making one choice (up to the point where another decision has to be made), then go back to the fork in the road and write the story with the character making a different choice.

Pick at least three points in your story where it could go in two or more directions and write each of the versions.

A simple version of this exercise would go something like this, and result in eight different versions of the story:

  • Original story 📝 at the first fork, choose A or B.
    • A story 📝 at the second fork, choose C or D.
      • C story 📝 at the third fork, choose G or H.
        • G story 📝 continue to the end.
        • H story 📝 continue to the end.
      • D story 📝 at the third fork, choose I or J.
        • I story 📝 continue to the end.
        • J story 📝 continue to the end.
    • B story 📝 at the second fork, choose E or F.
      • E story 📝 at the third fork, choose K or L.
        • K story 📝 continue to the end.
        • L story 📝 continue to the end.
      • F story 📝 at the third fork, choose M or N.
        • M story 📝 continue to the end.
        • N story 📝 continue to the end.

Of course, stories can get more complicated than this, with more options and storylines backtracking and crisscrossing on each other. Play around and have fun with it.

While a choose-your-own-adventure story can be meant to be read as-is, this is also a good exercise for exploring your options when working through the plot of a longer story or novel.

It’s also a great way to complete a challenge like NaNoWriMo if you “run out of story” before reaching your word goal. Go back through your story and look for points where it could have gone in a different direction and write those versions. You might find you like one of the alternate stories better than the original.

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.