‘Holiday assignment: a questionaire for modest story-tellers.’

See how many points you can score in this self-measurement test…

Question 1.


Are you going to do anything with that story you’ve written?  You know, the one at the bottom of a box/drawer/file list, where you put it some days/weeks/months/years ago.  You edited it, and made it work, you might have shown it to a friend who said they liked it, maybe two or three friends.  Then you put it away.

Question 2.

Why?  Was it really enough to know that your friends think you should be published?

It’s all very well being modest in some circumstances, but not with fiction.  I’ve just put on my pink tweed skirt and the frilly shirt like my infant school teacher used to wear, and I’m about to use my Joyce Grenfell voice, so I know you’re going to take notice of what follows.  Besides, you can be sure we’ll go over this again sooner or later.

small_2711240606Are you sitting comfortably?  Then we’ll begin.

Question 3.

Today we’re going to take out that piece of writing, dust it off and read it again, as if you’ve no idea who the author is.

Done that?  Good, now answer the following, truthfully:  Did it grab your attention from the first line?  Did it keep you reading all the way through?  Would you like more stories from this author?

Or are there a few changes you need to make?

Not many, I’m sure, perhaps a clumsy metaphor to trim, a repetition that nags, or line that just isn’t really necessary.  You know, the kind of niggling details that require the view of a fresh honest eye.

Question 4.

Actually, on the whole, you’ve surprised yourself, haven’t you? Bin modesty for the moment, doesn’t that story work well?  I bet it says more than you realised at the time.

Question 5.

So, why is it in that drawer?small_6059284197

Look around you, people are getting published every day.  Some have agents and advances and contracts with the publishers; others self-publish and a lot of us send our work out to magazines and competitions – yes, it is a bit of a lottery, but have you never bought a ticket?  Not even a raffle ticket for a hamper?

Well this is a bit less of a gamble than any of those.  Why?  Because writing competitions and submissions are not about a machine flicking up a series of random numbers.  Unlike the lottery, in this game there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting on the long list, and the first is in attention to detail.

Question 6.

You didn’t really think that having a good story would out-weigh sloppy presentation, did you? I suspect most of us have at some point.  Sadly, that’s far from the truth.

The first thing you need to do when sending work out, is to make sure you fulfill the entry requirements for competitions or submissions. Read them through carefully, because there are often variations on particulars.  Those in the know say that there are always manuscripts that don’t get read because the author has laid their text out wrongly.  So nitpick your manuscript and you’ve already increased your odds of getting noticed.

Along the same lines, is the advice to print-out a pristine new copy for each submission, if it calls for hard-copy.  Find another way to pay your dues to recycling, if this offends your principles.  Tired pages, especially with dog-ears, do not inspire the reader with the same confidence a well-read book might.

Question 7.

Okay, so one set of judges or editors may not like your story.  Then again, how will you know if you don’t submit it?  The real trick here, is to spend some time on research.  It’s been said before, but I’m happy to repeat this.  Check out who the judges are, and what sort of stories won or were placed in previous years.  If there’s nothing on the internet, buy or borrow a copy of the winning stories or a previous publication and read it through.  Be honest, are these the sorts of writing that you feel at home with?  Then what have you got to lose?

Some entry money, maybe, although there are still a few free competitions about. Other than that there’s only printing and posting, and if we’re talking short stories here then neither is so very much.  Over a year it would probably add up to less than you would spend if you did play the lottery every week.

Question 8.

You’ll probably have some rejections.  Most of us do.  Is it worse to receive a polite rejection-letter or to reach the results date and find that you’ve not made it to the long-list?  Who can say?  One way to alleviate that pain is to submit multiple stories to sites, comps and calls from magazines – just note that I’ve said ‘multiple stories’ here, not the same story to a variety of outlets, unless the submission guidelines allow that!

For each submission, make a note of the long/short-list announcement date in your diary, then forget about it.  Go away and write another story to submit somewhere else.


Question 9.

On the other hand, you could just leave your story in that drawer, but if it is finished, I’ve a final question:  Why would you?

Photo credits:

typed page – http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/93821727/

Blackboard – photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lapstrake/2711240606/”>Tom Gill.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Drawers photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/caliorg/6059284197/”>cali.org</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Typist from: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/spike55151/32374451/”>spike55151</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

2 thoughts on “‘Holiday assignment: a questionaire for modest story-tellers.’

  1. Hmm, clever Cath. Resonating rather uncomfortably with this particular drawer-stuffer. Tomorrow I’m going to immodestly read through some of my old efforts before checking out some competitions….after I’ve walked the dog…and taken him for his booster…and had a coffee…and made my holiday list….and…and…no really I am…


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