12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Cover Letter & Submission

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


December: Cover Letter & Submission
Exercise #12

So your story is done. Time to write the dreaded cover letter. Fortunately, one third of it’s already done. Remember the synopsis you wrote back in September? There’s your first paragraph. Stick a “Enclosed please find my short story, “~~~~~~~~” at the beginning and you’re onto paragraph two. You can include the word count in this paragraph if it’s needed for where you are submitting.

Paragraph two is a brief biography. Choose three things to say about yourself that are connected to the story you’ve written. For example, if your story is about horses and you grew up on a ranch, mention that. Don’t include information that has no bearing on the story.

In the final paragraph, mention your writing credits. If you don’t have any, don’t lie, just skip it. Conclude any business in this paragraph: is this a single or multiple submission? How long before you submit to someone else? Have you enclosed an SASE… and is it just for a reply or do you want your story back as well? Finally, don’t forget to say thank you.

Add a salutation (Dear —–,) and closing (Sincerely, —–). Now, post and ask for feedback. Polish it using any suggestions you get. Now print off a fresh copy of your letter and story, pick one market from your five finalists and SUBMIT!

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Third Draft

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


November: Third Draft
Exercise #11

Re-read your synopsis. Now re-read your second draft. Do they match? Is there anything you want your story to say that’s somehow not getting across? Now’s the time to say it. Polish your prose: agonize over the perfect word, dig for that unique metaphor. Use the feedback you received and tweak your story till it’s threadbare like the butt of your favorite pair of jeans. When in doubt, cut. You may have a sentence you love, but it doesn’t work or it’s superfluous, but you’ve been hanging onto it cause it’s such a great sentence. Cut it. Maybe it will find a home in another story, but it doesn’t belong here. Be ruthless. Pare your story to its guts. It should say what you want it to say and nothing more. When you can’t stand looking at it anymore, post it. Expect the feedback you get to be mostly UPOP this time. Enjoy! You’ve earned it.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Choose Your Market

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


October: Choose Your Market
Exercise #10

Narrow down the genre of your story or essay. First, is it fiction or non-fiction? Then, mystery or romance? Travel or parenting? Sometimes a story/essay may fit in more than one category, so list all that are possibilities. Now you’re going to do some research. Get a copy of the Writer’s Market and look through the appropriate sections for magazine titles. Make a list. Look them up on-line and see if they have websites. Read the guidelines and any content they have posted. Look for e-zines (magazines that are exclusively on-line) that cater to the genre of your piece. Browse your bookstore or library’s magazine section. Pick up a few copies and bring them home to read. As as you find out more about them, add or subtract titles from your list. At the end of the month, narrow your list down to the five most promising.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Synopsis

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


September: Synopsis
Exercise #9

Write a ONE paragraph synopsis that explains what your story is about. Keep it brief (no more than 5-10 sentences/100-150 words) and make it interesting. A person reading this paragraph should be hooked – they should want to read your story.

Have someone read it who hasn’t read your story and doesn’t know what it’s about. What’s their reaction? You may want to try this with more than one person. Incorporate any suggestions into your synopsis, then post and ask for feedback on it. Polish your synopsis using the suggestions you receive.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Second Draft + Nit-Picky Critique

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


August: Second Draft + Nit-Picky Critique
Exercise #8

Re-write your story (or chapter), incorporating the changes you’ve outlined in your plan. Concentrate on the finer points this time – choosing the right word, eliminating cliches, smoothing out transitions.

When you finish, print a copy and read it aloud. As you read, note if anything looks or sounds awkward. Make changes if necessary, then post and ask for NIT-PICKY feedback on it: Are there any grammatical errors? Have I used the same adjective too many times? Do I use names where he or she would sound better? Does my dialogue sound natural? Are there any continuity errors? etc.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
The Plan

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


July: The Plan
Exercise #7

Vacation plans? Want to be outside, rather than hunched up in front of the computer? Here’s an exercise you can take with you.

Write ½ – 1 page that outlines the changes you’re going to make in draft #2. Post and ask for feedback on it. Tweak it if necessary and get ready to write draft #2.

This month’s exercise is short and sweet, just like summer. 😉 Missed a step? Fallen behind? Now’s the time to catch up!

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Kudos & Suggestions

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


June: Kudos & Suggestions
Exercise #6

Set your story or chapter aside for a week (minimum) after receiving feedback, then print a copy and read it over. Taking a break from your work, so that you come back to it with fresh eyes, as well as seeing it in a different format, on paper rather than computer screen, will help you pinpoint and solve problems.

Print out the feedback you received and using it, list your story’s strengths and weaknesses. List as many as you can and in as much detail as you can. Post your lists, making a note of which problems are your stickiest. Ask for suggestions on how to solve them. Now set your story or chapter aside for a bit while you let all these ideas ferment.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
First Draft + General Critique

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


May: First Draft + General Critique
Exercise #5

Write your story – the whole thing if it’s a short story, chapter one if it’s a novel. Start at the beginning and end at the end. Don’t worry about how much it sucks. Don’t revise or edit-as-you-go. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just write. Get it down. This a rough draft; it’s not meant to be perfect. Reward yourself when you finish.

Correct any glaring spelling/grammar mistakes, but otherwise leave it as is. Post and ask for GENERAL feedback: Does the story make sense? Are the characters likable? Did the first paragraph hook the reader? Was the ending satisfying? etc. Don’t worry about doing anything with the suggestions for now, just thank your readers for their feedback.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Dialogue/Voice

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


April: Dialogue/Voice
Exercise #4

Write a page of dialogue between your main character and at least one other character. This must be pure dialogue: no description, no tags (tags are he said, she exclaimed, Bob yelled, Jane cried, etc.) This piece of dialogue doesn’t necessarily have to fit into your finished story; what you’re working on here is getting to know your characters and their speech mannerisms.

Some things to consider: What kind of education has your character had? Is English their first language? What sort of regionalisms does your character use? For example, does your character say “pop”, “soda” or “coke” when asking for a carbonated beverage? Does your character have a pet word or phrase, e.g. do they start every second sentence with, “Look, ….” or do they have a favorite expletive? What sort of slang does your character use (think about what year it is, where they live, what group(s) they belong to)? Are they trying to portray a certain image when they speak? Are they hiding anything?

Concentrate on making each person’s voice sound unique and identifiable. Read your dialogue aloud to hear how it sounds. Post and ask for feedback on it. Readers should be able to tell your speakers apart and identify who’s speaking without you telling them. Make changes incorporating the suggestions you’re given.

12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story:
Setting

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.


March: Setting
Exercise #3

Describe your setting. Write 1 page describing the location of your story. This is not just “New York City” or “the Australian outback”. Imagine that you’re looking through a camera and gradually narrow your focus. Concentrate on details and remember to use all five senses.

For example, say your story takes place in a cafe. Instead of just naming the city the cafe is in, narrow it down to a specific neighborhood and describe what that neighborhood is like. You might describe the street the cafe is on, what businesses are next to it, what the people on the street are wearing, what time of year it is, what the weather’s like, etc. Go inside the cafe and describe what it’s like. Is it tacky or trendy? Unique or a chain clone? Does the food smell delicious or disgusting? Is the restaurant crowded or empty? Narrow your focus even further and describe the table your character sits at. Do they always sit in the same place or is this the first time they’ve been here? Booth or table? Maybe their chair wobbles or the table is stained with sticky rings. What’s on the table? Salt & pepper shakers, a menu, the tip from the last person to sit there? etc. Keep narrowing your focus until you run out of things to describe.

If your story takes place in more than one location, choose the most important or central location for this exercise. Post and ask for feedback on it. Find out if your setting seems real. Can your readers see/feel/taste/smell/hear it? Make changes / additions incorporating the suggestions you’re given.