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Three times this week I have come across encouragement from writers who wrote, edited, and published books at the margins of their lives, and writers who overcame incredible odds to get their stories into the world. It reminded me that we all face some kind of resistance or obstacle in pursuing creative work. Too many times, I let discouragement keep me from making progress. I wondered how to write confidently instead, beating back the discouragement that stops me from writing.

How do we counter our discouragement and get our message out?

The Battle of Discouragement

A couple stories came across my Twitter feed this week that were inspiring, such as the romance novelist who wrote books in a tire store waiting for tire and oil changes.

Two days later, Karen McManus (One of Us is Lying) tweeted about how she wrote her book at night after a full day working and parenting solo full time. YA novelist Jeff Zentner (The Serpent King, Goodbye Days) tweeted out that he still works a 9-5 and writes on his phone during his bus commute.

It reminded me that when we want something enough, we make space for it both in our schedules and our minds.

This is nothing new, but I needed a reminder this week as I have found myself struggling to finish a fiction manuscript this spring. Each time I sit down to work on it, I pound out a couple hundred words and find myself discouraged that something isn’t working, that it isn’t what I envisioned, that it feels like it will never be finished.

Too often, I’ve made the critical mistake of listening to the discouragement inside my head, and I find myself switching to write something else or do the laundry (you know it’s desperate when I’m doing laundry!).

When I focus on why I can’t write (crazy work or family schedules, managing health problems, a dead laptop), I quickly drown in discouraging thoughts that drain my energy and resolve. I have to remember to talk back to that discouragement and keep writing. Here are a few of the ways I talk back to discouragement.

When discouragement says, “You don’t have time.”

This statement used to be a major block for me, until I accepted that I have the same amount of time as everyone else in the world. I don’t need more time; I need more intention. Yes, it feels like I have less time when I have a family or health crisis or when things at work eat up weekends, but if writing is a priority, then I have to make time for it.

I talk back to this statement by saying, “Maybe, but I’m going to write a little anyway.” Just like the author who wrote her book in the tire store, we have time. It’s just not where we think it is. Reclaim those moments when you are waiting. You’ll be surprised how much writing you can get done in ten minute snatches of time.

You have time to write. It’s just not where you think it is.
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When discouragement says, “This isn’t good.”

I’m fighting this voice right now. Quickest response to this critical statement is to add the word “Yet.” This chapter might not be good YET, but I can fix it in revision. This character isn’t good YET, but I can develop her further.

Perfectionism is a great paralyzer. Don’t let the quest for perfection or some ephemeral greatness discourage you from getting words on the page. This isn’t lowering your standards — it is recognizing that all writing and creative work is a process. Embrace it.

When discouragement says, “You’re not a writer.”

Best response to this inner critic is not a statement, but an action. Stop thinking about writing, studying writing, talking about writing, and write. If you wrote even one sentence on your project today, tell that voice of discouragement to stuff it, because you are writer.

You ARE a writer. When you start to believe otherwise, sit down and write—even just one sentence.
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How to Write Confidently

If you are a discouraged writer today, I hope you’ll realize you aren’t alone. Let yourself off the hook. Quit mentally bashing yourself for what you have or haven’t done and just get back to stringing together sentences. That’s how to write confidently: don’t expect perfection; just put words on the page and write!

What do you do to talk back to discouragement? Share your best tips in the comments.


Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Create a scene where a character fights discouragement. Discouragement can take the form of an internal conflict or an external villain complete with tights and a cape. Make the hero beat it! Then share your practice in the comments and encourage one another.

The post How to Talk Back to Discouragement so You Can Write Confidently appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Almost two months ago, we started this journey to find out how to publish a short story. We’ve drafted, we’ve gotten feedback, we’ve edited. If you’ve been following along, you should have a completed short story by now. (Mine’s ready. Is yours?)

This week, you’re sending that story out!

Just getting started on your journey toward short story publication? Look back at parts one, two, and three to find your publication and draft your story. Then, rejoin me here.

NOTE: DO NOT post your story in the comments. I’m going to ask you to submit to a publisher at the end of this post, and posting it here would be considered publishing it. Our Becoming Writer community is a great place to workshop your story before you submit it.

How to Publish a Short Story: Final Steps

Well, we’re here. You’ve planned, written, and workshopped your short story. It’s ready to go. Now it’s time to release that baby into the world!

This is the scary part. You’re looking at the guidelines for the publication you chose week one and you think your story is ready. But how exactly do you go about sending one out? What all do you need? What’s the professional etiquette?

Here are the last steps to submission:

10. Prepare Your Submission Materials

The following may seem a bit intimidating, but it’s nothing compared to writing the story. You already did the hard part.

The most important thing to remember is this: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!

Ninety-nine percent of publications will have specific guidelines they want you to follow. You need to read them. Twice. Make sure you follow them. Some publications will reject you straight-out without reading your story if you don’t follow the instructions.

You’ve got a couple more things to think about before you can send that manuscript:

The Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is pretty much what it sounds like: a one to two sentence summary of your story (what you could get out in the time it takes to ride an elevator). You’ll also hear it called a premise, a summary, or a logline.

IMPORTANT: Not every publication will want this. In fact, most don’t. If they don’t specifically say they want a premise, short summary, elevator pitch, etc. in the guidelines, do not send them one.

I do recommend you prepare one at this stage, though. It’ll be easier later on when you’ve forgotten the exact point of your story and you need to have one. It’s also less stressful to have one prepared before submittal.


Again, follow the guidelines for the publication you’re submitting to. Some publications will have their own formatting requirements, but most will use standard manuscript format (Shunn).

I recommend formatting all your stories in the Shunn format as you write them. Tweak them for any specific needs later on. It’s just easier to already have it ready to go.

The Cover Letter

Ah, the dreaded cover letter. What is it, how do you write it, and what’s the point, anyway?

Cover letters are not nearly as daunting as they seem. They’re really just a few sentences introducing yourself and your story.

You don’t need to fill a page with several paragraphs. In fact, don’t do that! Editors don’t want to spend more time reading your cover letter than they do reading your story, and they don’t need to know what made you want to write or how many pets you have.

Here’s what you need in a cover letter:

  1. Salutation (Dear Editor is normally fine)
  2. Story title and word count
  3. Optional: Elevator Pitch (Again, DO NOT do this unless the publication asks for it.)
  4. Any previous publications
  5. Thanks and sign

That’s it! See, not so bad.

11. Submit!

Most publications take email submissions. Some use other systems, like forms on their site, Moksha, Hey Publisher, or Submittable. You’ll find where and how to submit your story in the publication’s guidelines.

Pay special attention to the guidelines. (I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t stress this enough.)

Paste your cover letter in the body of your email. Most likely, unless your story is a piece of flash or you’re submitting poems, you will attach your story to the email. This is the standard way to submit, but make sure that’s how your chosen publication wants it.

Make sure you take note of what kind of file the publication wants. Some are okay with a simple DOCX format, but some want an RTF. You can change how the file is saved in the SAVE AS menu.

Make sure your story is attached before sending the email! (Seems ridiculous, but I’ve sent emails without attachments several times.)

If the publication requires a “blind read,” make sure you don’t have any identifying information on the document.

Make sure you have the correct email subject line typed. (Guidelines, again.) If you don’t, it might get lost in a spam filter. If there are no specific guidelines regarding the email subject, go with: SUBMISSION — Your Story Title — Your Last Name.

Proofread your email!

After you’ve done all that, take a deep breath. It’s time.


What to Expect After Submittal

So you’ve sent off that email or pushed the submit button in Submittable. Now your baby’s flying over the internet and landing in an editor’s slush pile. Now what?

First, make sure you record your submission somewhere. Whether it be on an online site like The Grinder, a spreadsheet, or a notebook, you need to keep track of where you send.

Now, you will wait.

And wait.

And wait.

It’s not a quick process. Most guidelines will tell you when their expected response time is, so you should have some idea of when they’ll get back to you.

But they’re often late. So be patient. Have some understanding. They’re reading hundreds of submissions and weighing them against each other. It’s not an easy job.

Do not email them over and over to ask for a status update! Be professional.

The waiting is agony, but it’s part of a writer’s job.

Submit your story to a publication! Then, have patience while they consider it.
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Submit your story to another publication if they allow simultaneous submissions. Trust me, you don’t want to wait months for a response only to be rejected and have to find another place to submit. You’ll never get published that way.

[A note on terminology: Simultaneous submissions allowed simply means they allow you to send your story to other places while they’re considering it. Multiple submissions allowed means they will take more than one story from you at once.]

The easiest way to ease the agony of waiting is to go write another story! Don’t stop with this one.

If you get rejected, don’t give up! Send it out again. Write another story and send that one out. Keep going!

Write a story, submit, and repeat: that’s how to publish a short story.

How to publish a short story: Write, submit, repeat.
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Have more questions about the process? Let me know in the comments.


Today, I want you to take fifteen minutes to tweak your “elevator pitch” and craft your cover letter. Then I want you to submit your story.

I know! Scary. Do it.

Then pop back over here and share your fears, excitement, or any other thoughts on the process in the comments. Don’t forget to send some encouragement to your fellow writers!

Congratulations! You’ve just submitted your short story! YOU ARE AWESOME!

The post How to Publish a Short Story: Submit Your Story appeared first on The Write Practice.

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If you want to become a better writer and eventually get published, you should join a writing contest. Here’s why: writing contests are one of the best ways to practice your writing (and as I’m sure you can imagine, we’re pretty obsessed with writing contests over here). Even better, at the end of this post, I’ll tell you about a new writing contest you definitely will want to be a part of.

Can’t wait to join? Click here to enter the contest. Or, read on to find out what makes this contest special.
The Magic of Writing Contests

If you’re anything like me, when you see the word “contest,” you want to win. Isn’t that what we’d all love? To win every contest we enter.

And here at The Write Practice, we put together some amazing prize packages to make winning the Spring Writing Contest a sweet victory. The grand prize winner will receive a year of membership to Becoming Writer, our premium writing community. They’ll also receive a cash prize of $300.

Best of all, they won’t simply be featured on the front page of Short Fiction Break: they’ll be invited to become a monthly contributor to the literary magazine.

But as amazing as all that sounds, you might read it with some hesitation. Because here’s the thing: you know you might not win.

Knowing that you didn’t win — that the judges didn’t choose your story — that they read one, ten, or a hundred stories that they considered “better” than yours — well, I’ll be honest. It’s disappointing. It hurts.

(I know, because I’ve lost writing contests before . . . and then lost them again.)

The thing is, though, I believe winning a prize is not the best thing you can get in a writing contest.

The best thing you can get in a writing contest is practice. And not just any practice: disciplined, focused practice, with the feedback you need to grow as a writer.

How This Writing Contest Will Help You Grow

Because practice is essential for writers, we’ve built our writing contests from the ground up to help you grow. Here are a few of the features you’ll find in this contest, and all the contests we host:

You’ll start with a prompt. The best practice happens when you challenge yourself to write something new. We’ve put together a prompt that will inspire you to write an amazing story.

Deadlines will keep you on track. It’s easy to want to practice writing, but never actually do it. The contest deadlines will hold you accountable to finish your first draft, and later, submit your story to the judges.

Feedback will help you write your best story. Feedback is essential to grow in any skill, and writing is no different. You need supportive, challenging, insightful writers to share with you what’s working and what’s not in your story. Our community of writers will help you polish your story into something you’re proud of — and you’ll help them, too!

Your story will be published. You’ve worked hard to write an amazing story, and we want it to get the recognition it deserves. Every story entered in the contest will be published, whether it wins or not. (And if that’s not exciting to you, don’t worry: you’ll have the opportunity to opt out of publishing if you’d prefer.)

You can get feedback directly from the judges. Want a professional opinion on why your story did or didn’t win? Sign up with a premium entry, and you’ll get personalized feedback directly from the judges after the contest. More on why this is an amazing opportunity below!

And did we mention prizes? You already know what the grand prize winner will receive. There are more prizes for the runners up and honorable mentions, too!

And in addition to all that, in each contest, we add something special to make this a fun and unique experience.

Story Grid: The Best Part of This Contest

Our Spring Writing Contest is truly something special. This time, we’re doing something we’ve never done before: we’re partnering with Story Grid and a team of Story Grid Certified Editors to give you an unparalleled opportunity to grow.

If you’ve heard of Story Grid, you know what an amazing resource it is for writers. Here’s why this is exciting for you:

First, because Shawn Coyne knows his stuff. He’s an editor with twenty-five years of experience in both traditional publishing houses and independent publishing. He wrote the book The Story Grid to help writers develop their craft. The system he teaches in The Story Grid is the one he developed through his career as an editor and has used to turn manuscripts into bestsellers.

Second, because you’ll get a copy of The Story Grid when you enter. This is an incredible deal: The Story Grid is normally $35, but when you enter this contest, you’ll get your copy for free. That’s more than the entry fee for this contest, and that’s not even counting all the other bonus resources you’ll get when you enter.

Third, because you’ll get to apply The Story Grid right away. We’ve picked a prompt that’s perfect for practicing Story Grid principles. Throughout the next month, you’ll get to write a story and workshop it in our community, using The Story Grid to troubleshoot problems along the way. And it doesn’t end when the contest is over: you can continue to learn from Shawn Coyne’s wisdom, using The Story Grid to help you write the stories and books you begin next.

Fourth, because certified Story Grid editors will judge your story. We’ve asked a team of professional book editors to judge this contest. Shawn Coyne trained them himself in Story Grid principles, and they’re bringing their vast story wisdom to this contest. When you sign up for judges’ feedback, you’ll get expert critique from these sought-after editors.

This contest is so much more than simply an opportunity to win. It’s like a mini-writing course, complete with course materials, community feedback, and expert critique.

My Promise to You

We all want to win writing contests. But of the hundreds of writers who enter this contest, only a few will win a prize.

Maybe you’ll be one of them! Maybe not, though.

I can’t promise that you’ll win this contest. But if you enter, write a story, and submit it to the judges, I can promise something better.

I promise that by the end of this contest, you’ll become a better writer.
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You’ll have written a story you’re proud of. You’ll have feedback on what’s working in your writing, and what you can practice moving forward. If you sign up for judges’ feedback, you’ll have expert critique from professional editors.

You’ll even have your own copy of The Story Grid to help you plan and edit this story, and the next one you write, and the one after that.

And you’ll have a publishing credit, a story published on Short Fiction Break where you can point your readers and build your audience.

And really, if you’re becoming a better writer and growing in your craft, I’d call that winning.

Are you ready to become a better writer? Enter the Spring Writing Contest now.

Have you entered a writing contest before? What was your favorite part of it? Let us know in the comments.


The best practice is to write a new story, so why not start one now? Here’s the prompt for the Spring Writing Contest:

Best Bad Choice. Your character is faced with a tough dilemma, and neither option is a good one. Write a story where someone must make a best bad choice.

Take fifteen minutes to start writing a story based on the prompt. When you’re done, share your story in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.

And while you’re at it, why not join the contest so you can submit your story to the judges?

The post How This Writing Contest Will Transform Your Writing appeared first on The Write Practice.

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In a recent episode of Jane the Virgin, the main character, Jane, is stumped for story ideas. She already published one book, but that was inspired by her dramatic telenovela-like life. She’s convinced that she has no other story to tell.

When she shares her dilemma with her fellow writing-class students, they assure her that what she described is not a problem at all. She doesn’t need new story ideas. Why?

Because she can retell the same story.

Follow the Heat

Cheryl Strayed calls this “following the heat.” Her most famous book is Wild, a memoir about the hike that help her deal with her mother’s death.

But she wrote about that period of her life and the loss of her mother repeatedly. She wrote personal essays about it and fiction inspired by it. She told and retold her story as many times and as many ways as she could.

That’s following the heat.

There are so many examples of authors rehashing the same story ideas and telling stories about the same thing over and over again. Philip Roth is one of the most prolific American writers ever—somehow Newark, NJ manages to find its way into most, if not all, of his books. In the show, Jane’s fellow classmates astutely point to Jamaica Kincaid and John Updike and their tendency to return to the same themes or characters.

Tell your story in as many ways and as many times as you can.
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Tell and Retell

So, do you feel like you’ve already told your one great story?

No problem. Tell it again.

Tell it from a different perspective (e.g, a side character). Zoom in on a specific moment or zoom out to show how it fits into something bigger. Try telling your great story in a different format: perhaps a personal essay instead of a novel, or vice versa.

It’s OK to take the same story ideas and tell your story again and again and again.

Can you think of other writers who have told and retold the same story? Let us know in the comments.


Think of something you’ve written and loved. Or, think of your favorite dinner party story that you’ve shared a million times. Now take fifteen minutes to tell the same story in a new way.

When you’re done, share your story in the comments, and remember to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Stumped for Story Ideas? Try This One Tip appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Spring is almost here, which means it’s almost time to spring clean. Spring cleaning isn’t only good for cluttered houses, but for cluttered minds, as well. As writers, it’s important to learn new skills so long as it’s not at the expense of polishing old ones. Spring is the perfect time to do take a look at your writing habits and do some review.

5 Steps for Spring Cleaning

Here are five things you can do to avoid falling into bad writing habits.

1. Get rid of adverbs

As Stephen King said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” If you’ve ever taken a class on writing or read a few articles, you’ve probably heard that adverbs are the devil’s tool. It makes for lazy writing. If a man can walk quickly, he can march instead, or jog, or trot. Expressing those movements with adverbs is a bad writing habit.

If you feel the urge to use an adverb, take a look at your verb and see if there’s a stronger choice available to you, then go with that one.

Spring clean your writing habits: before you use an adverb, look for a stronger verb to replace it.
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2. Brush up on your vocabulary

You don’t have to pepper all of your paragraphs with SAT words—in fact, please don’t, as that usually makes your writing look pretentious and turns readers away—but it doesn’t hurt to throw a doozy in there every now and then.

Just make sure your ten-dollar words are well placed, somewhere that will allow them to make the greatest impact. If you call a show, for example, “bombastic” rather than “grand,” it conveys something much different.

3. Simplify your sentences

There’s a fine line between interesting writing and convoluted writing. Yes, make your prose sing, but also remember that what a reader wants most of all is to get right to the point and move on with the story. Don’t dwell on any one thing for too long for the sake of showing off your poetic phrasing or using the aforementioned ten-dollar words.

Don’t flounder. Keep things moving at a steady pace

4. Spruce up your description

There is nothing more boring than reading a tired, cliché description. As a poetry instructor of mine once said, “get weird.”

During a class all about similes and metaphors, he asked us which was more interesting to read: “Love is like a rose” or “love is like a dog from hell?”

Obviously, we all said the second one was more interesting. Why? Because it was weird, unexpected, and creative.

Don’t be afraid to be bizarre. Your writing will thank you for it.

5. Reorganize your workspace

A reliable workspace is important for any serious writer. It doesn’t have to be big or flashy. It can be as simple as a place as your kitchen table. Wherever you write, take a look at that space and make sure everything is in order.

Do some literal spring cleaning by tossing trash where it belongs, putting books back on their shelves, and making your desk as neat and tidy as possible. Orient the furniture differently, if you want. Change things up so you have room to focus and stay refreshed.

Clear the clutter from your writing space so you can focus on your stories, not the mess.
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Clearing the Clutter

Our minds are full of thoughts, worries, and questions about our busy lives, all the time. With all of those preoccupations racing through our brains, it can be hard to focus on our creative pursuits, but easy to fall into bad habits. Take this as your sign to stop, inhale, exhale, and ask yourself what you can do to improve your writing habits.

What aspects of your writing do you want to polish? What writing habits do you want to develop? Let us know in the comments.


Get rid of the dust bunnies in your head by free writing for five minutes. Allow yourself to make mistakes so long as you’re getting as many words on the page as possible.

Once you’ve cleared your mind, write for another ten minutes by describing some place or object that you can picture clearly. It can be your favorite library, a beloved childhood toy, anything you want. As you describe the place or object, pay careful attention to your descriptive words and imagery. Paint an interesting, creative, unexpected picture.

When you’ve finished, feel free to share your work in the comments. Don’t forget to give your fellow writers some love, too!

The post 5 Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Writing Habits appeared first on The Write Practice.

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The Spring Writing Contest is coming soon!

If you haven’t heard of them, the Write Practice’s seasonal writing contests are a great opportunity to get published and possibly win fame and (a small) fortune.

Perhaps you’ve entered before, but haven’t found the winner’s circle. Rejection is a familiar badge of honor amongst seasoned writers, but for many of us it can be tiring, and even tempt us to stop entering contests or submitting to publications.

But what if there was one thing you could change about your writing that could almost instantly make it better?

There is! There is a storytelling element that I’ve seen as an entrant and judge of multiple fiction contests that makes stories work and win, standing out above the rest.

And that single, difference-making element is a Powerful Choice.

When We Forget “Choice”

Unfortunately, this element isn’t as simple as it sounds. Characters yelling and screaming and fighting and kissing doesn’t necessarily count as a powerful choice. Sometimes it’s just noise, not a dilemma.

Other times writers fill their 1,500-word submission with lyrical prose and vivid imagery, but nothing happens. There are no dilemmas to be found. And though it always saddens me to do, as a judge I had to move on from such pieces.

Stories contains many elements that may be fun to write or read. But a story cannot possibly work without a powerful choice. It is central to any successful narrative.

A story cannot possibly work if your character never makes a powerful choice.
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In the same way, a house may be more valuable if it comes with marble countertops or vaulted ceilings. But without a solid foundation, the house is worthless, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it may be.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he defines dramatic tragedy as “the imitation of an action.” And while the stories you write are not all tragic, they are dramatic, in that they seek to create an impression of life.

In other words, they imitate life.

And when we imitate life, we are imitating the most basic act of life: a choice, or an action.

A story without a choice may be beautiful for its language or description. It may be memorable for any number of reasons.

But it won’t be remembered as a contest winner, because it will fail to do the most important storytelling job: To imitate the action of choice.

How to Imitate an Action

Imitating an action may seem like a simple chore. After all, “action” is a lot of fun to write, isn’t it?

But genuine choices aren’t just about the action or motion that takes place. Often most of the energy is potential — it’s in the build-up to the action.

And that is where you need to focus your storytelling energy, at least at first. Then, once your character has made his or her choice, you need to spend time on the fallout from this choice. Consequences are massively important to a well-told story, and your reader will want to know how a character’s choices play out.

So let’s look at the four steps to a powerful choice that will make your story a winner!

1. Desire & Goal

Before any choice is made, the protagonist must have a Desire.

Without desire, a choice doesn’t have any meaning. It is simply an item on a grocery list. And story desires can never be so trite and hope to win over a reader.

Then, the desire must be formed into a Goal, a stated or thought objective in the protagonist’s mind. If it isn’t clear to the protagonist — and therefore the reader — that this goal is the “Why?” behind everything he/she is doing in the story, then the story will be confusing and the reader will struggle to follow it, even if it makes sense to you.

So despite how “deep” we want our stories to be, two things must be abundantly clear: What the protagonist wants (Desire) and how he/she plans to get it (Goal).

2. Resistance & Conflict

The next step in a powerful choice is Resistance and Conflict, two forces that will make your protagonist’s goal interesting and worth reading about.

After all, if the object of desire (money, a lover, a new job, getting home, etc) is easily attainable, then it will fail to produce a story that your reader simply can’t put down.

So there must be a reason, or reasons, why the protagonist cannot achieve the goal and get what he/she wants right now. And those reasons must seem insurmountable.

The resistance and conflict can come from diverse places, too. The setting can push back. Family and society can dissuade and even forbid the protagonist from advancing. And a villainous antagonist (and his/her minions or servants) can make life hell for our hero along the way.

Without brutal resistance and difficult conflict, the protagonist cannot be faced with a tough dilemma and driven to the point of making a powerful choice. Devoid of this pushback, the choice would be easy, predictable, and obvious. That’s the last thing you want!

So make sure that the resistance and conflict push your protagonist as far as he/she can go without completely breaking.

3. Risky Choice

Finally, the moment must come when the protagonist imitates the greatest action in all of humanity: the Choice with unimaginable consequences!

But it requires lots of set-up. It can’t be done without a relatable and clear Desire/Goal, or a highly antagonistic pairing of Resistance/Conflict.

To make the choice work, the hero can’t simply choose between an obvious “Yes” and equally apparent “No.” Choosing to kill the bad guy versus choosing to run away like a wimp isn’t really a dilemma.

No, choosing to kill the bad guy who is the hero’s brother or not kill the bad guy who will probably retaliate anyway is a high-risk choice. It’s powerful because of the implications.

And it will have your reader turning pages like lightning!

Shawne Coyne’s The Story Grid teaches about two types of crises that produce amazing moments of choice: The Best Bad Crisis, and the Irreconcilable Goods Crisis. The “bad guy is your brother” anecdote is an example of the “Best Bad Choice.”

Risky choices are just that because there’s almost always something to lose. There are few moments in life when everything turns out okay, and there are no negative consequences.

Which is why the fourth and final step is so important.

4. Consequences

Readers want to know “What happens after …” your protagonist’s risky choice. And if they don’t get a satisfactory answer, they’ll leave your story feeling cheated and bitter.

This doesn’t mean you have to give them an ending that rivals Return of the King, but you need to make it clear exactly what the Consequences of the risky choice were.

  • What did he/she gain? At what cost?
  • Did he/she commit any sins or grievous offenses in pursuit of his/her goal? How were these paid for, if at all?
  • And what did he/she gain, and how is it affecting life now, after the story journey?

You don’t have to tie up every single loose end the story may have — especially if you intend to pen a sequel! In fact, leaving one plot strand dangling while all the others are snugly knotted can be a great way to keep readers around, ready for your next release.

Make sure you thoroughly address how the action ends up, though. Because this, too, is a part of the imitation of an action. Every action has a reaction, and readers know it. They’ll be expecting it your story, too.

Time for Action!

Whether you’re planning to enter the Spring Writing Contest or not (though you really should!), I hope that the value of a well-written action will be central to your stories.

Not only is it solid storytelling, but it’s exactly what readers want. And the best part is that this isn’t genre-specific. This is precisely the kind of journey that readers crave, whether they’ve picked up your Cowboy Romance novel or your Sci-Fi Horror short story collection.

So plan your next story with these four steps in mind. It’s time for action!

What’s the toughest choice you’ve ever made your characters make? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to plan a new story, or a rewrite of an existing story, listing how your protagonist will take the Four Steps of a Powerful Choice. Share your plan in the comments below, listing how your protagonist will form a Desire/Goal, face Resistance/Conflict, make a Risky Choice, and then suffer Consequences. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Dilemma: 4 Powerful Steps to Make Your Characters Choose appeared first on The Write Practice.

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Writing sequels is difficult. The Marvel Cinematic Universe currently consists of nineteen feature films, four network television weekly TV shows, and eight online streaming shows. Writing sequels to a genre-stretching side story that exists in a massive universe beloved by fans must be near impossible.

This weekend Jessica Jones season two dropped on Netflix. Whether you enjoy the show or not, there is a lot it can teach us about storytelling.

Jessica Jones‘s 5 Sequel Secrets

In April, book four in my current series of novels will be published. As I work on plotting book five, I’m struggling to keep my characters fresh, plot lines intriguing, and my characters evolving.

Which is why, when I watched season two of Jessica Jones, I was surprised at how well they did these things and encouraged that it is possible to tell an engaging and new story in a full packed universe of characters.

There are five things about writing sequels I think the Jessica Jones storytellers did really well. (Don’t worry; there are no spoilers ahead!)

1. Characters

Even if characters are established, they can still evolve.

The writers of Jessica Jones were in an interesting predicament: the characters of the series were already well explored. Fans have lived with Jessica now through a full season of her own show and a season of the show Defenders.

Her character seemed pretty set in stone. She drinks hard, distracts herself with from her pain with sex, avoids personal relationships, and struggles with the implications of her having super powers. Before season two, it was difficult to see where they would take this character.

Without giving anything away, the writers didn’t just evolve the main character; they evolved all the supporting cast as well.

Character evolution is critical to telling a good story. We have to remember that if our character is the same at the beginning of the story as they were at the end, then nothing actually happened. At a minimum, the characters need to learn something about the world and how they function in it.

Storytelling is taking a journey with a character. We must make sure we actually take our readers somewhere and don’t just walk in circles.

2. Cliffhangers

Ending scenes on cliffhangers will ensure readers keep moving through the book.

At the end of each episode of the second season of Jessica Jones, there is a cliffhanger that drives viewers to continue watching. Those cliffhangers are what caused me to binge the entire season in a weekend. I kept telling myself I was only going to watch one more, but then the final five minutes forced me to tune back in.

It’s important as writers for us to keep in mind that our stories are made up of smaller scenes. If we can end each scene with a cliffhanger, we will keep readers engaged in our books. They will continue reading all the way to the last page.

3. Villains

Good villains will make a story stand out.

Killgrave, the villain of Jessica Jones’ first season played by David Tennant, was pretty amazing. He was everything a supervillain needed to be. I was nervous when the Marvel team announced season two of Jones, uncertain they could match David Tennant’s monster.

Without giving any spoilers, I’m happy to say they did a wonderful job.

Heroes are only as great as their villains. Without Lex Luther’s intellect to battle, Superman is just a bully in a cape.
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Without the Joker’s insanity to deal with, Batman seems absolutely crazy and over the top.

Every hero needs a great villain who is relatable, understandable, and has the ability to beat the hero.

4. Theme

A relatable theme will make even supernatural plots feel real.

Season two of Jessica Jones centers on “family drama.” Throughout the series, we learn the ins-and-outs of every character’s family history. Even though the characters evolve in very different ways and have different story arcs, this central theme holds the narrative together.

This is important for us to remember as writers. A central theme our characters struggle with can work like glue in a story, holding together separate story arcs that otherwise only vaguely touch.

5. Joy

Always end in joy.

This is something my preach teacher in seminary used to say. He believed that if you want people to come back to hear your next sermon, you better end in joy. When people leave feeling heavy, they will be less likely to return.

Jessica Jones season two does this well. Even though the series is dark and the main character is a hard-drinking tortured private eye who dislikes people, the season manages to end on a high note, which leaves viewers with a positive feeling about coming back for the next round.

This is true of all storytelling. If at the end of the story, the reader feels like she has been punched in the face, then she will likely not return for the next installment.

It’s important as authors that we give our readers resolution. That doesn’t mean our stories can’t end with unanswered questions. But it does mean that there needs to be some sense of finality to this installment of the story we are telling.

From Jessica Jones to Your Page

As I rework the plot of the novel I’m currently working on, I’m trying to keep these five things I saw in Jessica Jones in mind. I think my story will be better for it. I hope these tips help your writing as well.

Have you seen the series? Without giving away any spoilers, what did you like or not like about its storytelling? Tell us in the comments.


For today’s writing practice, practice writing “sequels.” Pick an existing universe you love: maybe it’s the world of Pride and Prejudice or the Batman universe. Then, spend fifteen minutes writing about a character in that existing universe. See if in your story you can apply some of the five things we’ve mentioned above.

When you’re done, share your story in the comments for everyone to read. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Writing Sequels: 5 Sequel-Writing Secrets From Jessica Jones appeared first on The Write Practice.

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When I was a kid, I loved reading Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels that had alternate paths written into the story. If you aren’t familiar with them, they were elementary or middle grade chapter books that begin a story and at key moments, offer the reader a choice: “To go through the portal, turn to page 37. To run away, turn to page 45.”

I loved seeing the story change with the choices, and I reread the books making different choices each time to experience a new story. I’ve channeled my inner adventurer to put together a fun writing prompt.

The Choose Your Own Adventure Writing Prompt

Today, I have a writing exercise that puts some choices in your hands. Have fun with it. If you get stuck, go back and swap out one of the elements and try again. The joy is in the journey, not in the destination (although a finished story is an accomplishment, too).

The Choose Your Own Adventure Writing Prompt: Build your prompt by making choices, and see where the story takes you!
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To build your own writing prompt, begin by making choices from categories. I teach my students to write a simple premise before they begin writing a draft, even if they haven’t outlined before. Here are the key components, and they should look familiar if you’ve been following Sarah’s great series on writing and publishing a short story:

A character {usually with a problem}
wants {goal}
But {obstacle / conflict / complication}
So {action he or she takes to overcome obstacle to get goal}

Build Your Writing Prompt

Now, here are the choices. Choose one thing from each category and make your character act to get what he or she wants!


Choose one and decide whether you want them to be a hero or anti-hero. (A too-reductive hint: hero — admirable; anti-hero — not so admirable.)

  • A sailor
  • A bartender
  • A teacher
  • A musician
  • To contact an old friend / partner / lover
  • To become anonymous
  • To avoid arrest / detection
  • To accept an inheritance
  • A flat tire or bus / car malfunction
  • Missed an important meeting or rendezvous
  • Exposed secret or miscommunication
  • Attacked by villain / bees / bears / barracudas

No choices here; let the action follow the other choices you made!

Two Sample Writing Prompts

I’ve put these elements together to show you what a premise might look like. Try these out for size:

Sample prompt premise: A bartender wants to become anonymous but her ex-boyfriend exposes her real name, so she quits / seeks revenge / runs off to . . .

Swap it out: A hometown hero bartender wants to avoid arrest after he’s caught in a drunken brawl, but he accidentally overhears his boss on the phone reporting him. He . . .

As you can see, there’s incredible variety to be found even in these short lists of characters, goals, and obstacles. You’ll likely come up with something completely different. And even if the elements you choose are the same as mine, the actions that follow will make your story unique.

Sometimes working from a few choices gets the creative juices flowing. Where will your Choose Your Own Adventure writing prompt take you?

What’s your favorite combination of the elements above? Share in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to build a writing prompt and write a story based on it. Share the prompt you built and the story or scene that came from it in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

The post Writing Prompt: How to Choose Your Own (Writing) Adventure appeared first on The Write Practice.

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A month ago, I urged you to come on a publication journey with me, one where I walk you through the process of planning, writing, and submitting a short story. This is the third post in the four-part series on how to publish a short story. By the end, you’ll have a story ready to send out to publications!

If you’ve been following along week by week, by now, you have a complete first draft. Just getting started? Look back at part one and part two to find your publication and draft your story. Then, rejoin me here.

This week, we’re going to concentrate on getting feedback and completing your last edit.

NOTE: Throughout this series, DO NOT post your work in the comments. I’m going to ask you to submit to a publisher at the end of this series, and posting it here would be considered publishing it. Our Becoming Writer community is a great place to workshop your story before you submit it.

Almost Done

By now, you should have a second draft. We’re in the homestretch now! Wipe your brow, pat yourself on the back, have a little dance party. Celebrate. A lot of writers don’t make it this far.

Ready to dive back in? Here’s what to do next:

6. Get Feedback

Stephen King has what he calls a “closed door” policy up to this point, meaning he writes his first couple drafts just for himself. Then he opens that door and lets others in to read it.

It’s time for you to open that door!

I know you’re all cringing right now. You mean I actually have to show this to someone? Yes. You do.

Feedback is the most important part of writing. Seriously. There is no substitute for getting someone else’s eyes on your work. You can go over it a hundred times and you’ll still miss things. Trust me. I see it all the time with pieces I post in our Becoming Writer community.

Whether it’s something simple like a missing word or misplaced comma, or something glaring like a character snafu or a world-building misunderstanding, your beta readers will catch it. But they can’t catch it if you don’t show it to them!

Feedback is the most important part of writing. Share your story with others and ask for their critique!
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I recommend finding people other than family and friends to read your work. People who know you are less likely to give you any real criticism. Mostly you’ll just hear, “Oh, I like it!” and that’s it.

This isn’t only because they’re afraid of upsetting you, but they’re also probably not trained as an active reader. They might like or dislike your story, but can’t find the words to tell you why they feel that way.

If you can’t find a writing group, that’s fine, but make sure you try to push your beta readers to give you useful feedback. If you’re not sure how to ask for useful feedback, try taking a look back at the short story musts and mistakes I listed in the first post to get ideas on what questions to ask your betas. Specificity helps here, so don’t go with something simple like, “Did you like it?”

Pro tip: Don’t watch them while they read. I know it’s tempting (Are they going to laugh at that funny line? Are they going to tear up when that character dies?), but don’t. That’s too much pressure on them, and WAY too nerve-racking for you.

During this stage, just like I suggested between drafts one and two, you need to put your story away. You’ll be tempted to rewrite as your feedback comes in. A quick word change there, a sentence deleted here, and then you feel like you’ve got a whole new draft. Which makes you want to send all your friends your “new” draft.


There is nothing more annoying than having to start reading something from the beginning when you’re in the middle of critiquing. Sharing every little edit is a great way to lose beta readers. Let it lie.

Whether you have a writing community like Becoming Writer or you just have friends and family read your work, you MUST open that door.

7. Edit (Yes, AGAIN)

You’ve lived through the torment of waiting on betas. Congratulations! Now it’s time to take a look at all that feedback.

Your first instinct is going to be to get defensive and do a lot of groaning about how stupid your friends are and how they just “don’t get it.” Get that out of your system. Throw a toddler fit and jump up and down in frustration if you must. Then reread their feedback.

I’m going to tell you something you probably don’t want to hear: Your betas are most likely right.

Remember you’re writing for people to read it. That means your readers have to like it. If they don’t, you’ve got a problem.

Reread their feedback with an open mind and apply it as needed. This is often a frustrating and disappointing time for writers, but try not to let it get you down. (Again, your writing does not suck!) You’re learning, and feedback will only make you better in the future.

8. Final Draft: Line Edit

After you’ve implemented all the beta feedback, it really is down to the final stages. Your third (and final!) draft needs to be as clean as possible. An editor will let minor mistakes slide, but the story as a whole needs to be readable.

We’re not all grammar know-it-alls, and in truth, we don’t need to be. But you do need to work on the basics.

Now it’s time to get down to the nitpicky edits. You’re going to look for things like misplaced commas, split infinitives, icky dialogue tags (i.e. too many words that aren’t “said”), -ly words, -ing words, and passive writing. I like to print my stories out at this stage so I can make editing notes and highlight until it looks like a sick and bleeding rainbow. I think it makes this tedious process more fun.

Run the story through Grammarly and Hemingway. Don’t just change everything these programs tell you to, though. Think about what they want you to change and then decide if the suggestion is right for your story.

For example, Hemingway loves to point out sentences that are hard to read. Those sentences aren’t necessarily wrong, though. You have to decide if you want to simplify the wording or leave it as-is.

You don’t have to be a grammar know-it-all to write a great story. But do take the time to polish it carefully.
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Read your story aloud. Read it backward. (My editor sister swears by this one.)

Reading aloud can help you pick out missed words, weird wording, and where commas (a.k.a. pauses) should go. Reading it word-by-word backward is something I admit I don’t do, but my sister says it helps her take the words out of context so her brain doesn’t get tricky and fill in things that aren’t there while she’s reading.

Try it backward if you want to, but definitely read it aloud forward.


You’re finished writing! Now it’s time for another celebration! I prefer dancing maniacally (read: badly) to overloud 90s music, but you do you.

Your story is now ready for publication. Two weeks from this posting you’re going to send that baby out! (I expect most of you have been waiting with bated breath for that post on how to publish a short story.) I’ll take you through all the crazy formalities of the submission process next time, so spend the next two weeks getting that manuscript to shine!

Do you have a writing group? Will this be the first time sharing your work? Let me know in the comments.


Today you’re going to focus on getting feedback. Take five minutes to write down the names of people you’re going to send your story to. Then take ten minutes to brainstorm questions you can send them. Again, be specific in your questions. You can revisit this post to get ideas on what to ask.

When you’re finished, come back here and let me know what your questions are. You may help others by listing yours or get a few ideas. (Remember: Don’t post your story in the comments! You can share it in our Becoming Writer community instead.) Feel free to tell me how you feel at this stage as well. Excited? Nervous? Confident?

Don’t forget to jump in the comments and offer some encouragement to your fellow writers!

The post How to Publish a Short Story: Get Feedback and Edit Your Final Draft appeared first on The Write Practice.

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If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Reading amazing stories is the inspiration you need to write your own. And the stories you write are your gifts to other readers.

This week, we’re giving away something that will be a boon to both your reading and writing.

Enter the giveaway now! Or, read on to get all the details.

Win a Fully Loaded Kindle Paperwhite

We love the Kindle Paperwhite for reading all our favorite ebooks. So we’re giving one away to one lucky writer!

But that’s not all — we’ve loaded this Paperwhite with the entire Write Practice library. The winner will receive our full collection of writing guides, amazing references for writing any story.

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Let’s Write a Short Story, the bestselling guide to the craft of short story writing
  • 15 Days to Write and Submit a Short Story, the companion workbook
  • How to Win a Writing Contest, a behind-the-scenes look at what judges really look for in winning short stories
  • Scrivener Superpowers, the no-nonsense guide to getting the most out of Scrivener
  • And of course, a Kindle Paperwhite!
How to Enter the Giveaway

Want to enter the giveaway? Here’s how to maximize your chances of winning:

  1. Click here to go to the giveaway page.
  2. At the bottom of the page, answer the (easy!) question, which is really just there to make sure you’re a human. (You are a human, right?)
  3. Then, enter your email address to enter.
  4. Check your email and click the link in the confirmation email to confirm your entry.
  5. After you enter, share the contest page with your friends. For each friend who enters, you get 3 more chances to win.

You have a week to get as many entries as you can. The giveaway will officially close on Tuesday, March 13, at midnight Pacific time.

Then, we’ll choose the winners on Wednesday, March 14, and notify them by email. If you’re ready to enter, click here.

What are you waiting for? Enter to win a Kindle Paperwhite now!

How do you make time for reading as well as writing? Let me know in the comments below.

The post Giveaway: Win a Fully Loaded Kindle Paperwhite! appeared first on The Write Practice.

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