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.

Fifteen Ways to Get Your Submission Into My “No” Folder

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

  1. Simultaneously submit. Even once.
  2. Assume that your lack of publication credits will mean automatic rejection.
  3. Assume that your age has any bearing on whether your story is accepted.
  4. Use your cover letter to talk about how little faith you have in your skill/talent.
  5. Mention that you have to submit somewhere because of an assignment and you chose Toasted Cheese just because you liked the name.
  6. Don’t give your story a title.
  7. Describe your character within the first paragraph by using his full name, height in feet and inches, his weight in pounds, his hair color, and his eye color.
Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

  1. If it’s a contest entry, don’t use the genre required.
  2. Don’t proofread.
  3. Write inauthentically about a setting I know.
  4. Use double punctuation on your sentence, like a question mark paired with an exclamation point. One exclamation point pushes it enough.
  5. Have female characters who serve no purpose other than set dressing, being a trophy for the male main character, or to have conversations about the male main characters.
  6. Kiss the word count. Then when you get near the end, chop it off and call it finished instead of rewriting.
  7. Throw in a Shyamalan twist ending.
  8. Respond to a rejection by saying that TC sucks anyway, submit again.

Polishing Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Resolve to write good cover letters. You can use a template and personalize it as needed. Be brief. Refrain from writing more than a sentence or two about the piece you’re submitting. Include any publication credits. If this is your first submission, say so! Editors love discovering emerging writers. Read the “about the author” blurbs at journals to get ideas for a 50-word bio you can use in your cover letters. It’s fine to include your age, especially if you’re a teen or a senior, but don’t presume that your story or poem will be rejected due to your age (certainly don’t include that presumption in the content of your cover letter).
  2. Title every story and poem you send out. Include the title above the work. When discussing submissions, some editors refer to them by the name of the piece.
  3. Read a bit of the journal to which you’re submitting. Unless it’s part of your assignment or part of a journal’s guidelines, there’s no need to include your reason for selecting a journal in your cover letter. That said, including the title of a piece you enjoyed in the journal is a nice way to say you think your work is a good fit. It also shows that you’ve read what the journal publishes.
  4. Proofread your piece before you send. If possible, read it on a device other than the one you wrote it on (ex: Wrote on a laptop? Read it out of your cloud on your phone). Fresh eyes reading fresh screens can catch errors.

What We Were Reading in 2015: Recommended by the Editors

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Last November we shared some of our favorite reads from the year. We decided to do it again for 2015 and as our list came together, we discovered that our suggestions range from audio books to blogs to novels. These were all things we read in 2015, regardless of when they were published. The list includes at least one ARC for a work to be published in 2016.

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Baker’s recommendations:

I read practically all day long, mostly non-fiction and news. I’ve always been a slow reader. More accurately, I’m a reader who likes to savor the read. When I get close to the end of something I’m loving, I read more slowly and in shorter bursts so that it lasts. My recommended reads from 2015 made it impossible for me to throw that brake.

Essays by Charles Pierce

Charlie is my political reading recommendation for 2015. He writes for Esquire, usually from a progressive viewpoint but those on the left aren’t any safer from his laser focus than those on the right. His humor is impossible to hide but when the subject is serious, his wit becomes razor-sharp critique. My feeling about his writing, particularly his voice, makes me think of a line Clark Gable delivers as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind: “We’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd but able to look things in the eyes and call them by their right names.” Nearly every day, Charlie’s essay (or essays; he’s prolific) gives voice to what’s on my mind.

The Last Days of Graceland” by Elise Jordan

I read this article on a somewhat stressful day, when I needed a portable distraction. With free wifi and lots of downtime, I thought Buzzfeed would fit the bill so I headed to the site. Instead of another silly list or meme, I found this fascinating, inspiring account of Paul MacLeod’s life, death, and passion: Graceland Too, a “museum” that was little more than a display of a zealous fan’s collection of memorabilia. The key to this essay is Jordan’s connection to its subject; Graceland Too was the stop-and-point house in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi. By adding her personal experience, she creates the frame of community within which she sketches out a near-Shakespearean tragedy of family, obsession, and murder.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My favorite read of 2015, this is more than a memoir. Coates structures the book as a letter to his son, which makes this reflection on blackness in America an intimate conversation as well as an impetus to a long overdue examination of race in our national history, in our culture, and in our future as well as in our own hearts and minds.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Another memoir, this time by actor Alan Cumming. I liked the “then/now” structure, the suspense and mystery carried throughout, and the theme of fathers, sons, and what we withhold versus what we give and how.

Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence” by Anne Thériault

Women share universal experiences relevant to their sex. Thériault chronicles a handful of instances of abuse, sexism, assault and more against the backdrop of male aggression that’s accepted in our culture. In the final section, she states that she tries not to be afraid yet admits that she is (a piece of bravery in its own right). In an online world where outspoken women receive death threats and rape threats for the simple act of speaking their truth, voices like Thériault’s are rare and deserve to be amplified, not silenced.

Mystery Science Storybook: Bedtime Tales Based on the Worst Movies Ever by Sugar Ray Dodge

On a light note, I loved this comic by Sugar Ray Dodge. Dodge maintains the RiffTrax wiki and is also a talented artist. His unique drawing style fits perfectly with the RiffTrax aesthetic and his story work hits the sweet spot between homage and satire (like its source material). Drawing on the original works that the RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 crews riff(ed), Dodge follows in the traditional by skewering all sides. No one is safe and your sides will pay the price.

pencil

Broker’s recommendations:

Snapshots From Space by Emily Lakdawalla

Lakdawalla blogs at the Planetary Society website about planetary science, and did a lot to piece together the pictures from the Pluto flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (the data are still coming in!), in addition to other space probes out there exploring our solar system.

Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait

Plait is also in the business of making astronomy accessible. Phil’s interests are more wide ranging, including some non-astronomical topics, and he’s great at explaining things in the news.

Widower’s Grief by Mark Liebenow

And to shift gears completely, check out Liebenow’s blog. Mark lost his wife suddenly a few years ago, and he writes honestly (and well!) about the process of coping with grief.

pencil

Harpspeed’s recommendations:

Finding time to read this year has been a challenge. Yet the idea of not reading is so unfathomable.  I met that challenge with a little ingenuity and some stolen time—I’m learning to multitask. My personal reading selections this past year have been exclusively audio books. I generally read about 30 minutes most mornings while running or walking really-really fast. The 30 minutes explains the shortness of my list. It takes several hours to finish a story. And I never do the math when I am contemplating purchasing a story; I never ever calculate in advance how many hours it will take me to finish a particular book. That would be depressing with so many books on my list.

Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Winter People has elements of mystery and historical fiction. It is the story of two women separated by time whose fates cross in a thrilling realization: The dead can come back. Think Laura Ingalls meets Sleepy Hollow. This story is also about the family ties; mothers and daughters are prominent. This is my current listen and McMahon’s story has hooked me with her rural characters and eerie setting. The landscape in this story holds many secrets revealed bit by bit in its folklore. I’ve met some of the historical characters and anticipate meeting their modern counterparts soon.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

This story was recommended by my friend, Lisa, who loves horror and psychological thrillers. She is my go-to-girl for a good thrilling read. Malerman’s story has has elements of both. A realistic fiction story set in an alternate, post-apocalyptic world. This story is terrifying because in order to survive, the characters must keep their eyes closed when they venture outside—outside to where curious and dangerous creatures roam. Much of the story is told in flashback by the main character—a young mother of two in a desperate flight to find a mysterious sanctuary from the creatures and from a hopeless existence. The pacing is excellent. Malerman dials up the terror, chapter by chapter, leading the reader up a very steep climax and over the edge to the very last page.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Gruen’s story, set in Scotland during World War II is a cozy, entertaining read. Three wealthy American socialites cross the Atlantic to hunt the Loch Ness Monster. The characters reminded me of classic old movie characters with their speech, mannerisms and triangle—say Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Loretta Young. Gruen writes great characters and I enjoyed all the discourse and conversations that strayed from what I thought was the main plot. Or was it?  This story is more about the journey than the destination and much is revealed in small moments in the small Scottish village where Maddie and her two handsome friends wait out the war hunting for Nessie.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I love reading stories set during World War 2. This Pulitzer Prize winning story was exceptional. Two star crossed characters—one a brilliant young orphan boy who is commandeered by the German army to fix radios and the other character, a young blind French girl who spends her days in a Paris museum where her father works as chief locksmith. The two characters are drawn to each other unknowingly at first by a legend of an exquisite diamond that the blind girl’s father smuggles out of the museum before Paris falls. The Germans know of its existence and of the legend it promises to its owner. Meanwhile, the French resistance is infiltrating German intelligence and the brilliant German orphan boy finds himself in Paris working for the wrong side when he becomes aware of the lovely, blind French girl with a dangerous secret whom his commanding officer will kill for.

pencil

Billiard’s recommendations:

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

As I wrote on Goodreads, I really, really loved this. I saw that another reviewer described it as “If there were a Girl Scout camp in Gravity Falls,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s about right.” If paranormal weirdness isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this one. Some people seem to be put off by the art style, but I thought it was cute and suited the story quite well.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Published in 2014, but I read it in 2015. Delightful.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler: SNL alum, Tina Fey bestie, Leslie Freakin’ Knope. Amy Poehler is an awesome lady who does awesome things, of which this book is just one of many, many examples.

Reflections (Indexing #2) by Seanan McGuire

Indexing is a Kindle serial. It combines a procedural with fairy tales and I often wonder how no one has optioned it for a TV series yet.

pencil

Bellman’s recommendations:

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

This latest installment in Bujold‘s Vorkosigan series is a change of pace from the usual, so it may not appeal to someone expecting her usual fast-pasted adventures. Described as “a book for grownups”, I’d classify it as a pastoral story, and I found it a delightful change of pace. One of the reasons I return to Bujold over and and over is for her persistent message of how it’s never too late. It’s never too late to turn your life around, or to find your life anew, or to change. That’s a message I never tire of, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a trumpet of defiance in the face of the constant “You’re too old…” messages society bombards us with.

The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

The world-building premise of The Glass Sentence is that time and space have fractured and resettled in unconnected pieces. So 1890s Boston and the prehistoric ice ages coexist side by side. In addition, the “Great Disruption” that shattered the world caused many of these eras to develop alternate histories to the ones people were familiar with. Map-making is half science, half magic, and the various maps include maps to people’s memories. It’s a fascinating world, and the adventures of Sophia Tims, the thirteen-year-old heroine of the book, create a solid story within it.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This is a dark book for middle grade readers. It looks at friendship and trust through a very twisted lens. Alistair is approached by his grade-school friend Fiona, who tells him about a world where kids’ daydreams are made real, but that the kids there end up disappearing from the real world when they are taken by The Riverman in the other world. Starmer does a really good job of creating a truly creepy and disturbing atmosphere where it is hard to tell what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s good or bad.

pencil

Beaver’s recommendations:

The way we tell stories is evolving along with our smartphones” by Kate Pullinger

Pullinger is both a traditional novelist and author of digital fiction. She co-created the ongoing digital novel Inanimate Alice.

As well as using our phones more, we are also accessing multiple forms of content on these devices. We make and watch videos, we take and share photos. We chatter. We play games. We watch movies and TV. We listen. And we read. We read texts and messages, we read social media feeds, we read journalism, we read gossip, we read commentary. A lot of the time we spend staring at our phones we are reading.
And yet most of us don’t consider our phones to be our primary reading device, despite evidence to the contrary; when asked “what are you reading?” (does anyone ask this question anymore?) we might look a bit guilty, as the title of the last book we finished escapes us.

Humans of New York. “HONY provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City.” Yes, there’s a book, but the best way to read/view these snapshot stories is in their original form on social media. The typical story is a one-shot, but others are serialized over multiple posts. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Where Love is Illegal. “Documenting and sharing LGBTI stories of discrimination and survival from around the world.” Similar in format to HONY—glimpses into the lives of people around the world through a single photograph and brief story. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

What Would You Grab in a Fire?” by Megan Stielstra

There’s a Tumblr I’ve followed for years called The Burning House. It’s a hypothetical exercise in what you’d grab if your house was on fire. Stielstra’s piece is The Burning House come to life—the decision-making moments after she finds out her home is on fire. I read it in January, but the piece took on added weight a few months later when I woke in the middle of the night to shouts of “fire!” It turned out it was the building next door, but it was a close enough call that I did learn for myself what I’d really grab in a fire.

Farewell to America” by Gary Younge

Of the many things I read this year on the current state of affairs in the US, this piece lingered with me, perhaps because of Younge’s outsider/insider perspective.

This is the summer I will leave America, after 12 years as a foreign correspondent, and return to London. … [W]hile the events of the last few years did not prompt the decision to come back, they do make me relieved that the decision had already been made. It is why I have not once had second thoughts. If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one. Another season of black parents grieving, police chiefs explaining and clueless anchors opining. Another season when America has to be reminded that black lives matter because black deaths at the hands of the state have been accepted as routine for so long. A summer ripe for rage.

The Chef Who Saved My Life” by Brett Martin

A story about life and food and writing…

Meanwhile, through the years, I told the story of my own meal with Jacques. Often. It’s a good story—heavy but not too heavy, semi-confessional, a dash of celebrity, a happy ending. One evening, occasioned by a shared plate of prosciutto at The Tasting Kitchen, a restaurant in Venice Beach, I told it to an especially sharp friend. When I was done, he looked at me for a long time. You should write about that, he told me. Sure, I plan to, I said.

Then he said, ”Don’t make it an obituary.”

What Do You Recommend?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

5 Tips for Perfecting Your Writing Contest Entry

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

How can I do better in contests?

  • Keep story pacing in mind
  • Use familiar characters or settings to save time
  • Go with the idea you feel passionate about

Toasted Cheese sponsors four contests each year, with deadlines at the change of the seasons. There are similarities and differences among the contests. Writers have entered the same contest for years, sometimes placing and sometimes not. Some writers enjoy the challenge of working within parameters or against a deadline. Some are trying to publish for the first time and some publish frequently.

For a lot of authors who try contests, it’s enough to finish and submit the entry. For others, winning (or placing) is everything. Placing in a contest can mean a publication credit, a prize, or a networking opportunity. So if you’re past the “it’s enough that I sent it” but you’re not placing in the contests you enter, here are a few tips based on entries we’ve judged over the years.

Background Image: 2day929/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: 2day929/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

1. Follow the guidelines

Is the contest for a specific genre? Is there a theme? Is there a word count range or a maximum word count? Does the contest happen with regularity (every month, once a year, etc.)? Are the guidelines you’re reading for an old incarnation of the contest? When is the deadline? Is there a time of day (and time zone given) that entries must be sent by?

As you work on your story, you might find it breaking through the parameters (for example, it doesn’t want to resolve within the word count). Let your story flow naturally. No matter your time limits, there’s time to edit (even in a one-hour contest). Budget your time according to the way you work. If you like a lot of prep time and planning with a little writing but a lot of editing, you don’t need to divide your available time into thirds.

If your story gets far from the contest guidelines, set it aside and try something new if you want to continue to work on something for the contest. Use the story that expanded beyond the parameters for your next project. If you’re inspired, keep working on this piece and try a contest another time.

2. Stretch, don’t break; push, don’t puncture

Judges are looking for entries that take risks, not liberties, with the guidelines. Stretch them and think in different ways but don’t stretch the guidelines so far that the judges will have difficulty seeing how you used the themes. If you feel bold, push your own limits as well as the limits of the contest. Write whatever you’re inspired to write. If it goes outside the boundaries of the contest, you can either edit it to fit or use it for a regular submission.

Keep in mind that the clever twist on the theme that you thought of in the shower is exactly the same twist that someone else has been working on since the contest was announced. It’s not enough to throw in the tweak. You have to write the best possible version of it. Don’t rest on the fact that you came up with the great idea. Someone else did too and you have to have the better entry.

3. Write fresh

Never, never blow the dust off an old story and submit it, even if it meets all the parameters. Judges always know and they don’t appreciate it. Usually entries like these are the first to come in and they reek of stale writing. If you already have a piece you think is perfect (and it’s never been published; we check that too), rewrite it. Change some character names. Change the setting. Start the story two paragraphs later. Flesh it out or trim it. Add new technology, if relevant. Add a new obstacle. Change the ending. There’s always something you can do to make your story fresh and new.

4. Edit the entire work

We see a fair number of contest entries that fall apart in the middle or the end but we very rarely see it in regular submissions. We have two theories about why this happens. One is “kissing the word count.” Writers see that the word count limit is approaching and they feel pressured to wrap it up. The other theory is that writers edit their entries more fervently at the beginning and less so in the middle and at the end. It could be that the writer is tired. It could be that that’s where the story really takes off and it’s pleasing the writer so much that she gets caught up as a reader (which isn’t a bad thing) and forgets to edit.

Our advice is to make sure you edit the entire work. Do you have as many notes at the beginning as you do at the end? Why? Is it because you stopped editing your story? Did the story really take off about 1000 words in and you didn’t have much to change? In that case, do you need to chop about half of the opening?

5. Stay true to your voice

When writing for a specific purpose or audience, it can be easy for a writer to lose his voice. He might emulate previous winners, use different language than usual, or try too hard to impress. It may be accidental or it may not. There’s no simple trick to retaining your voice. Just be aware of it. When you reread your finished story, does it sound like your other work? Could your ideal reader pick it out of a lineup?

(Don’t) Enter

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

Writing contests can inspire and motivate you, but stories don’t always turn out as planned. As you work on your story, you might find it breaking through the parameters. Let your story flow naturally.

  1. Enter: Set it aside and try something new if you want to continue to work on something for the contest. If you’re set on entering the contest, don’t get too attached to a single idea until you find something that really works with the parameters. You’ll know it when you find it.
  2. Don’t enter: If you’re inspired, keep working on this piece and try a contest another time. Just because you started a story for a contest doesn’t mean that’s where it has to end up. A finished story is a win regardless of whether it ends up being your contest entry—just make sure you submit it somewhere.

Organize Your Story Online

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

This time last year I was writing a story for Wicked Women Writers, a horror fiction contest sponsored by Horror Addicts. In addition to time parameters, which translate to word count) and the need to record my story for the podcast, I had to make use of elements that were assigned to me: setting, a beast (from the Chinese zodiac), a blessing, and a curse. I was lucky enough to have a story set in New Orleans, complete with a voodoo potion and a gris-gris bag, during Mardi Gras. I wasn’t so sure about the goat.

ab_15-05_pinterest

I began working through ideas without writing much. In a paper notebook, I jotted ideas for the plot but nothing was coming together except for character sketches. I made a playlist of old Southern spirituals, live Dixieland performances, and early blues recordings and played it while I learned more about voodoo and studied maps of the French Quarter. I spoke to friends who’d lived in New Orleans; the only time I’ve spent in Louisiana was a childhood visit to family in Baton Rouge.

As I browsed online, I was inspired by Chagall paintings that featured goats, the architecture of New Orleans (including the tombs in St. Louis cemetery #1 and Metairie Cemetery), and stories of the community following Hurricane Katrina. I bookmarked the links I found but many of my inspirations were just images so I hit upon the idea of creating a private Pinterest board for what I’d found so far. The board helped me organize, picture my setting, and narrow my many ideas into a workable story. After the story came up for voting, I made the Pinterest board public and included a link to it.

Stephanie’s “The Gray Girl” Pinboard

Creating a Pinterest board as a modern “idea book” worked so well for me that I’ve done it again and am currently gathering ideas for a new project. If you’re a visual person, if you like to organize online, or if you get a story idea on the go and you’d like to have an app for that, you might like to create boards like these.

What’s all this Pinterest stuff?

I think of Pinterest as a big corkboard. Some people think of it like a scrapbook or notebook. Early adopters used Pinterest to gather and save recipes, knitting patterns, or ideas for weddings. It’s basically a visual blog that lets you link to content via images. Whereas platforms like Tumblr allow you to use text only, you must use images or videos on Pinterest. If the page you want to pin to doesn’t have an image, you can add an image of your choosing and then link it as you choose.

Creating pins is simple. If there’s an image or video on a page, you can almost always pin it (even gifs). You can create your own images and upload them to your board. Don’t be surprised to see your own created image come back to you (mine did).

If you want to pin a page and there’s no image, you can upload any image and put the URL of the page you want to pin into the link box (use your computer to do this instead of the Pinterest app).

How can I use it?

There are a lot of ways, none being right or wrong. Your board(s) may be public or private, maintained by individuals or groups. You can have one board or many (sub-boards aren’t yet available).

The question becomes: “What do I pin?” Here are some basic ideas for writing-specific boards, which could be used generally or for a specific project:

  •         Story (plot ideas, research)
  •         Character (inspiring images, clothing, traits)
  •         Setting (architecture, landscapes, rooms)
  •         Theme
  •         How-to graphics (plotting, character creation)
  •         Prompts (these are one of the most prolific types of pin)
  •         Favorite books and journals
  •         Writing advice
  •         Exercises
  •         Worksheets
  •         Generators (character names, traits, prompts)
  •         Articles
  •         Challenges
  •         Quotations & sayings (writing. books, character, jokes)

Does this look familiar? It should if you have a “writing” folder among your bookmarks. Clearing out your bookmarks is a great way to get started using Pinterest as your central writing resource.

Stephanie’s Writing Pinboard

I’m not into Pinterest but I read this far

You can use other apps in the same way, taking advantage of their particular features. Tumblr might be less visual (depending on the template you use) but if you like searching your own collection via tags or recycling and repurposing ideas from other users, it might be more to your taste. Whereas Pinterest limits you to 500 characters on a pin, Tumblr will let you write and post an entire story (without the need for images). You’re not going to find explicit adult content at Pinterest. Meanwhile it’s plentiful at Tumblr, which can be useful if you’re writing erotica or using other adult inspiration for your story. Tumblr has settings that can keep adult content off your dashboard if you choose.

I keep Evernote on my devices because I never know when I’ll overhear a conversation I want to save or a name I want to use. It’s replaced the old memo pad I carried since high school, as well as the “I’ll jot this on my arm” method of notetaking.

I like Pinterest because I’m visual and I like having everything on a single page with small images that catch my eye differently every time I visit said page. Someone else might have an established system for story creation but needs help with organizing writing time.

Give me some options other than Pinterest

Other platforms you can use to create your online idea book include:

  • Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, and other traditional blogging applications
  • Evernote and OneNote (these are similar programs. Like Pinterest, Evernote clips online content and works best as an app. OneNote is better on PC and is an organizational junkie’s dream)
  • Instapaper (syncs across devices; use with friends)
  • Thoughtboxes (think Post-Its in folders)
  • Licorize (you can transfer your Delicious links; has an “add” button for browsers)
  • Bundlr (has a paid “ad-free” version)

Check these out and see which works for your purposes. When browsing apps like these, think of how, when, and where you’ll use them. Many are listed as “productivity” apps, designed for balancing work and personal life. As a creative person, you’ll discover new ways to use them to organize not just your writing life but also your writing projects.

 

Writing Inspiration Boards

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Create a “writing” Pinterest board (a.k.a. “pinboard”). Use it for inspiring/funny quotes, links to favorite books or authors, jokes, comics, prompts, worksheets, and articles (like our May 2015 AB).
    1. Instead of Pinterest, try Tumblr or one of the other platforms suggested in the article
  2. Create a Pinterest board for a project you’re working on or one you have an idea for. If the idea is all you have, find an image to represent your idea and work from there. If someone else has previously pinned your image, you’ll get a notice about it when you pin. Follow the links and find further inspiration.
  3. Begin to create a character by imagining her pinboard and making it. What do her pins say about her? What do her pins reveal that she doesn’t want people to know? What does she try to say with the things that she pins? Make notes right in the description of the pin.
  4. Pinterest prompt: in the search bar, type something you ate or drank as part of last night’s meal. Click on the name of the pinner of the first result; doing that will take you to the pinboard where you can find the pin. From that pinboard, click on the board owner to see her other boards. Use her board titles as a basis to create a character, story, or poem. If there aren’t enough boards to work with, go back to the recipe results and try a different pinner.

Stephanie’s Writing Pinboard