Monthly Archives: January 2011

To Contest Or Not To Contest

I recieved a nice little form letter from a literary journal. They encouraged me to enter their annual fiction contest. Four years ago I sent my story “Summer Sublet” to the Eden Mills Writers Festival. This was my first submission ever, to anything. I call it my “masturbation story” and don’t know why I thought it stood a chance. Greener than green created bravado, I guess. The funny thing is it went on to be my first published story a year later.

After reading Matthew Firth’s: No More Prizes, No More Contests! a couple years back I stopped entering. I wouldn’t mind a bit of money, sure, but most of my stories are not the canlit pablum for the masses that often wins. The aforementioned journal also wants $40 to enter, albeit with a free subscription. I could go from a struggling to starving writer in no time.

I thought about entering the Writers’ Union Postcard Contest, 5$ fee, not bad. I took a 600 worder and whittled it to 250. In the end, I didn’t like the shorter version so much. Also, the WUoC are hosting a symposium about the changing literary landscape. I thought cool, but they only accept payment through VISA. What if you’ve never owned a credit card? So no, I don’t think I will enter their contest or attend their lecture.

Reading is Writing

‘Everywhere I go I am asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.’
-Flannery O’Connor

When I began researching literary publications I would turn to read the author bios. It was MFA this and MFA that. I prefer the funny bios, and think mentioning higher education to be showy. I often wonder how I know how to write at all, given that high school classes are a blur and the college courses eighteen years after have been brief in discussing craft components. Reading is writing, or this is how I primarily learned to write – things that are interesting to me, and sometimes others. Of course, everything helps – classes, workshops, discussions with writers, books on writing. But, I do think too much academic study on the craft can quash one’s voice or vision.

My first publication bio reads: Julie McArthur lives and writes in Parkdale with her three kids/cats, Annabelle (Superbubs), Harold and Mona. I couldn’t resist the chance to immortalize my cats. Still working on a clever biography.

Story Retirement

I now retire stories that I once thought were good. I’ll blame it on naive delusions of grandeur which still help to push me along in my writing career. I feel embarrassed that I once submitted stinkers to magazines/journals. The more I write the better judgement I have of knowing when a story is about developing craft (practice, practice, practice) or if it’s worth sending out to the world. Writing, good or bad, is never a waste of time because even a retired story usually has lines, dialogue, or scenes worth harvesting and planting into future stories. I transplanted passages from my very first short story (long retired) to my most recent piece, the two seemingly unrelated.

What if a story is a favourite? I have work I am determined to get published, but wonder if my personal attachment outweighs its merit. How many rejections are too many? One has ten rejections thus far, but I haven’t lost faith so I continue to send it out. And, if no one wants it? I’ll put it in a book if I still love it down the road, fuck it if the editor doesn’t like it (positive delusion). Or, maybe I’ll think it’s crap by the time this happens.

Before you retire a beloved story have one last look. Have you responded to feedback from editors, teachers, and peers in rewrites? This worked for one of my published stories. Perhaps, re-workshop or have a trusted writer/friend have another look. Ultimately, intuition is your best guide. When you lose interest in reworking or submitting a story it is time to put it to rest.