Shelley Widhalm

Overwhelming Outlets for Writing and What To Do

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing on August 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

When it comes to entering contests, submitting stories for publication and finding a literary agent, I find the options overwhelming.

In my writers’ magazines, especially during special issues about contests and publications, the lists of potential places to submit work often span several pages. How do you figure out which places to submit without straining your wallet or spending excessive time and energy with little result?

First, figure out your goals and come up with a plan. Part of this plan can include an artist’s statement of why you write and your specific writing goals—what are they daily or weekly and for the year? The statement can serve as a reminder of why you write and what you hope to achieve.

Make sure your goal, or goals, is challenging and specific.

Do research of what’s out there—such as short story, poetry, book, genre and essay contests— and narrow down based on the factors you identify as most important. Do you want to win a cash prize, have your writing evaluated, get recognition, be published in a high-profile publication, meet literary agents or have your conference fees paid?

As you conduct your research, make sure the contest has a Website. Also, large contests may have a higher entry fee and because contests always are located within a region, the judges may prefer writers from that area, or they also may be looking for certain genres and quality of writing.

What are some places to look for contests and agents? Try writers’ guides, classified ads in magazines and special sections in writers’ magazines that include lists of contests (which have the notoriety to be mentioned) and agents now accepting work. Other places to check are literary journals, specialized magazines, anthologies and short story collections to see what and how they publish writers’ work.

Set a deadline of how many stories or poems you want to submit each week or month and how many agents to send query letters and sample chapters, making sure to follow their guidelines.

Measure your progress by marking how many submissions and letters you send off each week or month or by filling out something like a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet can include sections for story titles or literary agent names, journal names, dates submitted and the results.

As for the writing, I find that if I get overwhelmed with finding outlets for getting my work out there or doing the work in the first place, I need to start small.

Typically, when I’m in the midst of a writing project, I try to write 1,000 words a day three to four times a week. But if I’m stuck, I’m happy with 300 to 500 words once a week. I tell myself to do one thing at a time and to have a “to do” list, so I can check things off and have a feeling of accomplishment.

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