What To Do When You Write Yourself Into A Corner

In an interview with Ali Abdaal, Brandon Sanderson, the author of Mistborn and The Way of Kings, shared productivity tips for writers. One that stood out to me was “outline backward, write forward.” By outlining backward, he knows how his story will end, and he can work to fill in the middle and the beginning to get there. This way, when drafting, he will always have forward momentum. 

I love this tip because it’s so effective, especially when working on a complicated storyline like a murder mystery or a thriller with a big reveal. This method allows you to lead your readers to that critical moment while misdirecting them with red herrings and weaving a story full of twists and turns. The better you know your direction, the better you can deliver a satisfying yet surprising ending. 

By outlining backward and writing forward, you have a destination on a map, which is what you want before you leave for a big trip — or start a big project. 

This links with another piece of advice I love, which is that “writing is like traveling at night, all you need is for your headlight to see a short distance ahead, and gradually you will get to your destination.” 

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

As a pantser, I’ve written many stories traveling by a dim light. All I needed was to know where the next chapter was going, and eventually, I’d get to the end. When I write, I don’t always have a destination. I just set out and go. I like it. It’s exciting. When traveling, I like getting lost in a new city. Sometimes that’s the most thrilling experience. Other times you wander into a sketchy neighbourhood and need to get out quickly. The same goes when writing without an outline. It could lead to fun exploration or anxious backtracking. 

Most recently, I’ve been using outlines when I get stuck and write myself into a corner. When people ask me what’s the hardest part of writing, I like to say “Act 2”. The beginning flows easily, and the ending is exciting to write, but the middle is the bridge that holds the whole story together. The thing about my bridge is that it can split off into a bunch of exits, causing me to stray off course. That is if I didn’t have a map. 

When I get stuck, that’s when I’ll outline and figure out how to reach the end from the midway point. Often, I find that I’m not too far off. I’m usually four to five major scenes from getting to the climax or conclusion. What a relief. I’m not as lost as I thought. Thank God for the map for that peace of mind. Otherwise, I might’ve given up. 

Outlining backward and writing forward is not only a great method for starting a project, but it’s also a great tool for getting unstuck. It’s a lifeline that I rely on, regardless of the scope of my story. 

As a discovery writer, I can work on a story forever. I can keep sending the protagonist off on bigger adventures, adding more characters, and giving them more obstacles to overcome, but what’s the point if it doesn’t lead anywhere? 

If you’ve ever watched a tv series and found the first few episodes encapsulating, but then in the middle, it felt repetitive, and by the time you reached the end, your interest was gone? That’s usually the cause of a meandering second act. If you’re not careful with your second act, you can go from building tension and increasing the stakes to repeating scenarios that don’t add to your characters or plot. 

The second act is an excellent point to outline backward and ensure you’re on the right track to wrap up your story. I believe that a piece of solid advice can work in balance with another piece of solid advice. You increase your arsenal of writing tools and knowledge, so regardless of what you want to use, you are well-practiced in using them. 

If you’re a discovery writer like me and you sneer at the idea of starting with a complete outline, consider this: start writing, go as far as you can and discover all the twists and turns along the way, but once you reach the middle, once your character is deep in a crisis, jump to the end and outline backward. See where you want to finish, and wrap up your story. 

Much like being lost in the real world, sometimes it’s better to stop and think. We can keep writing and writing, hoping that more words can get us out of a jam, but even if we do, it’ll be a pain later during the editing stage. To avoid cutting out large passages, outline backward and write forward from the midway point. When it comes to stories, it doesn’t count unless they are finished. So get to the finish line and bring your story home. 

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5 Productivity Tips For New Creative Writers

New creative writers, if you’re struggling to find the balance between living life and writing, I’m with you. I’ve been chipping away for a while, and most recently, I got into a good writing flow, producing a lot of work and making solid progress. I wrote these five tips as a reminder for myself in those moments when I need to grind, but I hope you get value from them, as well.

1. Don’t Wait:

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to write? Don’t. A perfect time may never come. You’ll need to work with imperfect time. The time you can sneak in. That’s the best way to finish a big project, bit by bit, a little every day. Be consistent, and over the course of a year, those hours will add up, and you will look back and see the progress you’ve made. But you won’t make any progress if you wait.

2. Always Be Learning:

At many points in the journey, you’ll feel doubt, like an imposter, but I assure you, those feelings are normal. In those moments, don’t be discouraged. Stay humble. There is no secret formula for what you’re pursuing, and it’ll take experimentation: trial and error. Through the successes and the failures, you’ll learn. And from there, your craft will improve. Have compassion for yourself and always be learning.

3. Schedule It In:

When working on a personal project, you’ll need free time. The thing about free time is that it can fill up fast if you don’t prepare for it. When Saturday comes along, and you don’t have any commitment, it’s easy to get distracted by chores, errands, and outings with friends. While you can still do those things, you must set aside time to work on what you had wanted to do all week. Be disciplined with the time you’ve set aside for your side project. Schedule it in. If you find that your free hours are constantly slipping away, mark them down in your calendar and block them off.

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

4. Set Small Milestones:

Chipping away at a big writing project can mean going days and weeks without seeing any progress in your work. That can be discouraging. Too many days where you feel like you’re going in a circle can cause you to quit. But don’t. Instead, take a step back and view your project as a whole. Then break it up into smaller, manageable milestones that you can hit on a foreseeable deadline. Once your start reaching milestones, you gain confidence and see progress. By seeing progress, you will have evidence that you can achieve your goals

5. Be Unborable:

In any Rocky movie, the training montage is the shortest part of the film. When in fact, it should have been the longest part of the film. Imagine if Stallone decided to make that sequence in real time. You’d probably be bored. That’s the thing about training: it’s long and tedious. But it’s an essential part of the journey. Life is not a movie, and you can’t just have Eye of the Tiger playing in the background, and once the song is over, you’ll have reached the next level. You cannot expect your work to exist in a short montage burst. You must be present, enduring the struggle, battling the bureaucracy, and overcoming the boredom of work.

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Write Short Stories After Novel Draft

Writing a novel is a long process. Writing a trilogy is even longer. Recently I finished the first draft of my second book. While I wrote that draft, I had all these other ideas bubbling. I’m no stranger to the shiny object syndrome. If you’ve been following this channel, you know I like to try different things. While I’m aware that focus is important, momentum is also important. I must keep writing, keep editing, keep publishing, and keep putting my work out into the world for approval or rejection. If I only work on my novel, the journey from beginning to end will take years. In order to get a sense of completion, I take breaks to write short stories. 

I get new ideas all the time, I record them, and then I put them aside. While working on my novel, I can feel these ideas stirring in the back of my brain. I consider these ideas as treats, and I save them for after dinner. Working on these ideas are rewards, and I can only start them when I finish my novel’s draft. 

It’s hard going from a drafting phase into an editing phase. It’s such a shift in mindset. Reading your draft is a painful experience because there is often a lot to fix. But by writing on the side, I can still indulge in the pleasure of creating without being completely bogged down and overwhelmed by the editing phase. 

While writing a novel, I spend a long time living in a specific world with specific characters. That tone stays with me like an aftertaste when I start working on something else. Writing a short story — or a bunch of short stories — after finishing a draft of a novel is like cleansing the pallet. You clear out all the derivative ideas that you have lingering by bringing them to life in some form. 

Writing a short story is also about experimenting. You can try something new that you might not be able to do in the novel that you have carefully outlined and structured. A short story is a practice where you can work out something you want to improve on without compromising a larger piece of work. For example, if I want to write an emotional dialogue scene, I can do that in a short story. Or if I want to tell a tale that jumps between characters and time, I can do that in a short story. 

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

There is no better feeling than finishing something. But when you are working on a big project, the satisfaction of crossing something off the list doesn’t come often. By working on a short story, you put yourself in a position where you can complete something in a shorter timeframe and pat yourself on the back. I allow myself to feel the reward of finishing a task regularly, especially when I’m also working on something long. 

A short story is also a great way to get feedback. When working on a novel, in order for someone to get the full experience, they have to read the whole thing. But in a short story, someone can digest it in a few minutes to an hour. It’s a much shorter commitment, and therefore, a much easier way to gauge whether your writing is effective or not. 

Before I completely wrap up my novel-sized project, I have a plan for my return when transitioning to a new smaller project. I don’t want to just write the first draft of my novel, put it aside, and then work on short stories forever. I need to come back and finish. It’s all a waste if I don’t. The short stories should only act as a break, not a permanent change.

The way I do this is by setting a limit to the number of short stories I can write before I must go back and commence editing my novel. Last year, I embarked on a month-long challenge where I tried to write and submit 1 short story every week for four weeks. If you’re interested, check out this video right here

During those four weeks, I used word association with the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire as my inspirations. This approach was something that the author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury did. I found this experience to be refreshing and productive. It forced me to pick up my pace and complete a piece while staying within a theme. 

This time, I thought I’d do seven short stories during my break, and what better inspiration than with the 7 sins. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to submit my work this time, but I do want to write. So the goal of this little break between drafting and editing my novel is that I’m going to write the first draft of 7 short stories. Once I write these 7 short stories, I will return to my novel and start editing that. 

The plan is not to strike it big with one project, that’s unlikely to happen. The plan is to be prolific and maintain momentum. The plan is to have a project to look forward to. The plan is to sustain enthusiasm without burning out. I find that this method has been really helpful with my writing process. And I recommend giving it a try yourself. 

If you want to follow along on my novel and short story writing journey, please hit subscribe so you don’t miss any videos. Once completed, I hope to share many of those stories, so stay tuned for that as well. For now, check out these videos here. 

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Build a Case for Your Creative Success as a Writer

When a lawyer is trying to convince a jury that the accused is a murderer what does she need to do? She needs to provide evidence. She needs to show that the accused is capable of doing such a heinous crime, that there was a weapon, and that there was a motive. The lawyer must gather proof to persuade the jury. 

In your head, you also have a jury. This jury will determine whether you can overcome your fears and procrastination and get started on the thing you want to do to succeed. If they don’t believe you can do it, they will turn off all your effort levels and offer no energy or resources to fuel your potential. 

You must convince this jury that you can reach your goal, that it won’t be a waste of time, and that, in the end, it’ll be a good investment. If this jury inside your head doesn’t believe you, nobody outside of your head will believe you. 

So how do you convince this jury that you’re able to achieve your goal? You must do it the same way a lawyer would, you need to provide evidence. 

However, this is not a murder trial and there are no crime scenes. There’s not going to be a bloody glove or fingerprints on a knife. Where do you find the evidence then? What should you even look for? 

Evidence of your success is all around you. It’s in your past, it’s in your day-to-day life, it’s in the relationships you make or the little moments where you pushed through and did something you didn’t want to do. Evidence that you can overcome hardship can be manifested as well. 

What you want to look for are moments when you accomplished something tough. This could be when you were a kid and you had to give a speech in front of your class or when you were a teenager and you asked a popular girl to dance. Record and file these moments away because you now need to build a case for that jury in your head. Every piece of evidence you have in your favor demonstrating your courage will come in handy later on. 

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Next, you want to look for moments when you were doing something grueling that you thought would never end, but you followed through anyway. This could be the summer when you woke up at five am every day to work a part-time job. Or this can be the long hike you took up a mountain without any directions and made it back alive. Anytime that you have persevered is proof that you’re someone who can commit to a difficult task without giving up half ways. 

Whatever qualities you need to be successful, find evidence in your life, no matter how small. If success requires consistency, look for evidence of yourself being consistent, whether it’s growing your mustache for Movember or working out every day for a month when you were twenty-three. 

If you want to read a long book, start by reading some short ones. If you want to run a marathon, start by running five miles. If you want to paint a public mural, start by painting your bedroom. Prove to the jury in your head that you’re able to take action and follow through. 

Without evidence of your past achievements and determination, the jury in your head is going to tell you to just relax, take it easy, and that your success is not worth pursuing, because you’re not going to make it. It’s like going to a bank and asking for a business loan, but you don’t even have a business plan. The bank is not going to give you the money. 

You must build a case for yourself. You must defend yourself. You must advocate for yourself, even to yourself. You must have evidence — a proven track record — that you’ve done hard things in the past and you can do it again in the future. 

Remember the jury isn’t stupid, you cannot compare waking up every morning to go to school to the mammoth task of starting a successful creative business. They still won’t be fully convinced. But you can collect evidence as you go. Don’t tell the jury that you’re going to win the Man Booker Prize, just tell them you are going to write for a month. Once you’ve proven that you can do that, you have evidence forever that you can write consistently for a month. Then you gather evidence that you can publish something. Once you do, that’s another notch on your belt. 

The more you do, the more evidence of your achievements you’ll have. The more you do, the better the case for your success becomes. So when you’re finally ready to approach your jury and tell them that you’re launching your business or project, they’ll see that you’ve honoured your words in the past and you followed through. There is evidence of that. Therefore, there’s confidence — at least with the jury — that you will eventually achieve this new mission as well. 

Do more. Collect evidence. And build a case for why and how you can achieve your goal. Be honest with yourself. The jury in your head is not against you. They are protectors of your time, energy, and willpower, all finite resources essential to your life. They are trying to save your life and keep you out of harm, but in doing so, away from growth. However, they can be swayed, but you’ll need to prove it to them first. 

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Waking Up Earlier to Write if You’re Not a Morning Person

If you’re working full-time like I am, it’s hard to find time to write. At the end of the day, you’re tired. You’ve depleted your creative energy. But not only that, by waiting until you’ve finished everything else, you’ve been carrying around this anxiety all day long. I hate that. And you probably do as well. It can make you resent all the other responsibilities you have. 

So, to make sure I can get some words down with guilt-free energy, I wake up an hour early each day to write. 

Before we get into the details of my experience, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Elliot and I’m a writer. I’m currently working on a novel and if you want to hear how that’s going, check out this video here or in the description, and if you are interested in following along on my journey, please subscribe. 

Now back to the current video. Here’s what I can tell you about my experience waking up an hour early to write. 

Get up 60 min, 90 min, or 110 min earlier

When I say I wake up an hour earlier, I don’t mean the break of dawn. I use to get up at 8 am, now I get up at 7 am. It’s not that impressive when I say it like that. But again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. 

However, if you’re finding it hard to get up 60 minutes earlier, try getting up 90 or 110 minutes earlier. You might actually feel more refreshed. The reason is that a sleep cycle is between 90 to 110 min long, so by reducing your sleep, you may actually wake up at the end of a cycle instead of in the middle. 

When I write in the morning, I write longhand

For my job, I’m going to be spending my whole day in front of the computer. In order to reduce my screen time, especially first thing in the morning, I choose to write longhand. 

I find that writing physically in a notebook gives me a stronger connection with the words. Also, when I’m at the computer, it’s too easy to hit the delete key. I’d be damned that if I woke up early and did not get my words down. By writing it on paper, and not being able to erase it, I know that at the very least, I’ve made a mark on the day. 

Writing in the morning
Photo by Ioana Tabarcea on Unsplash

We are adaptable 

When I talk about waking up earlier, I know what many of you are thinking: “but I’m not a morning person.” Fair. I’m not a morning person either, but I used to work the opening shift at a Starbucks that opened at 5 am, which meant that I needed to be up by 3:30 am and out the door by 4am. It was brutal, but I adapted. I got to work on time every shift. 

I’m not superhuman, I just needed the money. It was my job. That job gave me evidence that I could wake up earlier if I had to. 

You’ve woken up early before, you can do it again. The more you do it, the more you’ll adapt to it. I will never be a morning person, but I could certainly suck it up if it means taking advantage of an optimal time to write. I treat it like a job. 

Writing is not the first thing I do when I get up

When I say I wake up early to write, you might think that I get up and go straight to writing. I don’t. I wake up and do my morning routines first, the ones I would do if I was heading directly to work after. I’d wake up, get clean, walk and feed my dog, say hi to my wife, make a cup of coffee, and then, at last, I sit down to write. 

My point here is to find your own routine. Waking up early doesn’t mean you need to spend every extra moment you get to write, it just means you get a headstart on the day, a little bonus time before you’re bombarded with other assignments. 

One morning won’t make a big difference

If you wake up early for one day and expect to see significant results, you’ll be disappointed. You won’t get a lot in one hour. But if you build upon this habit, the hours add up. 

There are days where you’ll wake up, spend the hour writing crap, and be exactly where you were before. Don’t be discouraged. Stick with the process

Yes, you could have slept in and achieved the same amount. However, if you wake up one hour earlier every day, then over the course of weeks and months, you’ll see that your good days will greatly increase. From there, you’ll gain momentum. 

These little headstarts add up. You might not see results after one day, but over the course of a year, you’ll notice. 

Many writers talk about a morning routine. There is a reason why so many prefer it. By getting writing checked off the list immediately, we don’t carry that anxiety along with us all day. We don’t expend all our energy on lower-priority tasks. 

As writers, we need to write and be creative so that the weight can be lifted. Some people exercise first thing in the morning to release the tension and feel normal. Some need to write. It’s not so much about productivity. Productivity is great, but it’s more about doing something for yourself as early as possible. You deserve days where you’ve written, so make sure it happens. 

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Writing and Submitting 4 Short Stories in 4 Weeks

In October 2021, I decided to challenge myself to write 4 short stories (between 2000-4000 words), polish them to quality, and submit it to a credible publication. What inspired me to pursue this project was after reading a passage in Ray Bradbury’s writing memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing (Amazon):

All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did the second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out. 

In addition to 4 completed short stories that I’m proud of, I was also hoping to develop a repeatable process where I can produce a piece under a strict timeline. If you are interested in seeing how my experience went, please check out this video here:

Participating in writing challenges, whether it be something like NaNoWriMo or a 30-day writing prompt, has been a fantastic way of overcoming writer’s block and pushing myself to produce something. We, as writers, often overthink what we are creating. Writing challenges like these get us going and keep us going. There is no time to contemplate whether or not I am a good writer… there is only time to write.

If you are currently in a slump, I encourage you to try your own version of this Ray Bradbury writing challenge. Can you do it? Can you write a draft on Monday, edit it during the week, and submit it on Saturday? Give it a try and let me know how it turns out for you!

If you are interested in another writing challenge, try writing the same thing every day for a month. This is a great practice to get over a plateau in your creative writing.

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Who to Write For When You Have No Audience or Readership

At the beginning of your writing journey, you won’t have a following. No audience. No readers. Nobody knows who you are. It’s almost impossible for them to find you. It can be an awfully lonely place at the start, and in this solitude, you’ll ask, “Why am I even writing this? Nobody will read it.” 

Writing is more than putting words on pages. Writing is communicating. To solve the problem of not having a readership, all you have to ask is “Who am I communicating with?” Now, at this point, you might have an epiphany and discover your audience are the children of Mexico or all the pregnant women in their second trimester. If that’s you. Great! All you have to do then is direct your writing efforts towards schools in Mexico or building a pregnancy blog, and in a matter of time, you’ll have an audience. 

But then again, maybe you’re starting out and you don’t have a specific audience in mind. No worries. You don’t need a niche to be a writer. You’ll always have two audience members that you can focus your writing towards. Those two people are You from the Past and You in the Future. 

You from the past: 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could give advice and share your wisdom with yourself when you were ten, thirteen, or eighteen years old? There is so much you can teach the younger version of yourself. 

Think about all you know now that you didn’t know before. There is so much to tell that kid. Your experiences with school, work, and friendships, for example.  

The thing is, there are ten, thirteen, and eighteen-year-olds everywhere. And while some of your stories may come across as a curmudgeon complaining about how things worked “back in my days…”, experiences are also a part of being a human and your personal approach to surviving those moments may help someone else who’s going through something similar today. 

By writing for yourself in the past, you identify which moments and ideas impacted your life. It’s an effort to tell your younger self what really stuck with you after all this time. 

Yourself in the future: 

Memory is a funny, fleeting thing and if you don’t capture it, it fades away or morphs into something that is not what it once was. 

While we can take pictures of ourselves to capture what we physically look like, photography fails in recording what is on our minds. Writing offers that solution. Like time travelling, writing allows you to communicate with the person you’ll become in the future. 

Getting old sucks! However, when you write for the future, you’re passing on a little bit of yourself, allowing your thoughts to travel a little further down the line. The ideas have more mileage. Writing gives memories physical presence in the world for you to revisit when the time is right. 

When you write for yourself, whether it’s yourself from the past or yourself in the future, the act becomes a protest against time. While you’re writing, your memories, stories, and ideas are immortalized. When you’re uncertain who will be reading your work, turn the target inward, and you’ll find two audience members eager to know what the current version of you has to say. So don’t hold back! Let them know what’s on your mind. 

Who would you rather write for? Yourself from the past or yourself in the future? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Writing Contests in 2021: Canada + International

Will 2021 be the year you write your best work?  

Whether you have a story you’re polishing up or 2021 is the year you’re clearing the table and starting anew, it’s good to give your writing projects some specific targets. Writing contests have always been a great motivator for me. It challenges me to put my best foot forward. It gives me a deadline.

Without much further ado, here are some prose contests in 2021.

(contest details are subject to change):  

The Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction – PRISM

Prize: $1,500 grand prize

Deadline: January 15, 2021

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CDN
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45

Max Length: 4000 words

More details at PRISM international


 2021 Calibre Essay Prize

Grand Prize: $5,000 

Deadline: January 15, 2021

Entry Fee:

  • Online entry (current ABR subscriber) – $15
  • Online entry (full-time student) – $15
  • Online entry (standard/non subscriber) – $25*

Max Length: 5,000 words

More details at the Australian Book Review


CBC Literary Prizes – Nonfiction

Prize: $6,000

Deadline: February 28, 2021

Entry Fee: $25.00 (taxes included)

Length: 2,000 words

More details at CBC


The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest – The New Quarterly

Prize: $1000

Deadline: March 28, 2021

Entry Fee: $40

Length: 2,000-5,000 words

More details at The New Quarterly


 Short Grain Contest

Prize: $1,000 and publication in Grain

Deadline: TBD (Usually in April)

Entry Fee: $40

Length: 2,500 words

More details at Grain Magazine


Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction – The Malahat Review

Prize: $CAN 1,000

Deadline: May 1, 2021

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $25 CDN
  • USA: $30 USD
  • International: $35

Max Length: 3,500 words

More details at The Malahat Review


The Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award

Prize: $1,000

Deadline: May 28, 2021

Entry Fee: $40 CAD

Length: 2,000-5,000 words

More details at The New Quarterly


Room Creative Non Fiction Contest

Prizes:

  • First: $1,000 + publication in Room
  • Second: $250 + publication in Room
  • Honourable mention: $50 publication on Room’s website

Open: June, 2021

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $42 USD

Length: TBD

Note: Open to women, trans, two-spirited, and genderqueer people.

More details at Room Magazine


Constance Rooke CNF Prize – The Malahat Review

Grand prize: $1,000

Deadline: August 1, 2021

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45 USD

Length: 3,000 words

More details at The Malahat Review


CBC Short Story Prize 

Prize: $6000

Deadline: Oct 2021

Entry Fee: $25

Length: 2500 words

More details at CBC


The Breakwater Fiction Contest

Prize: $1000 and publication in our Winter issue

Deadline: December 1, 2021

Entry Fee: $10.00 USD

Length: 1,000-4,000 words

More details at Breakwater


Check back in soon for deadlines for:

SubTerrain Lush Triumphant Literary Awards (Usually in June)

Know of any other Canadian writing contest? Please share it in the comments.

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5 Productive Procrastination Tasks for Writers

Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do? 

Stop writing. That’s fine. 

Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count. 

1. Research

As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below. 

So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published. 

2. Organize

If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it. 

I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing. 

3. Consume

You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future. 

Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.  

4. Revisit Old Work

Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise. 

First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic. 

5. Be Creative

If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way. 

After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way. 

There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments! 

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What is Pretentious Writing?

What makes one writer formal, important, talented, and cultured — and another pretentious? 

This is a tale of two writers. Devon and Jessica. 

Devon is an aspiring novelist, he has this epic fantasy novel in his head and has spent many evenings and weekends outlining and drafting. He’s an enthusiast of all things mythology and considers himself a primo expert in medieval weapons. But he knows something is holding him back. Gatekeepers. He simply needs to meet the right people and get them to read his work. 

Jessica is an accountant and has never thought of herself as much of a writer. It was only when her grandmother started feeling ill that she even considered picking up a pen. After visiting her grandmother one afternoon and hearing her stories about her childhood in Vietnam, she decided that it was a story worth recording. 

Devon and Jessica although had different intentions for their writing, found themselves both applying for a spot in the local university’s creative writing program. One of the requirements for admission was to supply a 300-word essay explaining their writing goals and what they hope to achieve from the courses. 

Reid is an administration associate for the university and it’s his job to review the applications and create a short list of applicants. First he read Devon’s and it went like this:

As I commence my journey to ascertain knowledge to optimally communicate my story with the citizens of tomorrow, I aim to transcend the lives of those I have yet to meet as the literary legends I applauded had accomplished for me. 

Reid looked up from Devon’s essay, opened and closed his eyes to clear his vision and looked down at it again. Reid doesn’t say it out loud or announce it to his colleagues. He didn’t pass the essay around so it could be ridiculed, but something was glaringly obvious about Devon’s writing: it was pretentious. 

But how? 

While Reid avoided over analyzing the essay in the moment, there were a few aspects of Devon’s writing that couldn’t be ignored. 

1. Lack of Clarity

Big stuffy words made the writing hard to read. Although long complex words can often accentuate a piece of writing, like a pinch of salt can bring out the flavour of food, overdoing it can leave the meal inedible. The same goes for writing. 

2. Attempting to Be Impressive As Opposed to Expressive

All the choices made in the writing is in an effort to impress Reid. Devon was clearly flexing his vocabulary muscles — perhaps writing with a thesaurus beside him — and in doing so, failed to express himself in a genuine way. It comes across as inauthentic, as though the essay had been written by a robot programmed for optimum results, as opposed to a human aimed to connect. 

3. No Awareness of the Reader

Perhaps Devon had misinterpreted what the essay wanted. Reid was not looking to be blown away, but rather, he simply wanted to understand the person behind the submission. He wanted to get an impression of who Devon was. And perhaps he did. Devon is someone who, despite his insecurity as a writer, deems himself to be an intellectual specimen. However, by using words one wouldn’t use when speaking, Devon doesn’t appear smarter, but rather confused. 

Pretentious writing is unpleasant to read. It’s often composed with the attempt to stump the reader, giving the writer a feeling of superiority, like a specialist (a mechanic, a lawyer, or a politician) who uses jargon. However, all it achieves is a failure in communication. Pretentious writing stems from lack of confidence, where writers feel as though their ideas, as is, are not strong enough, so they need to juice it up with words or concepts that don’t serve the story in order to give the material bulk. 

Reid placed Devon’s essay to the side and picked up Jessica’s. Here’s a passage from it:

When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was going to lose her right away. But while some misfortunes take loved ones away quickly, my grandmother stayed strong and remained. Long enough for her to tell me the story of how she immigrated to Canada. Through this heart-wrenching process, I realized that I was given a second chance to know the woman that was my hero. Now knowing the stories she had in her, I feel it is my duty to capture them and share them with the world. 

One word popped up into Reid’s head after he put Jessica’s essay down. Vulnerability. It was not brilliantly written, but it captured why Jessica had decided to take on the gruelling task of writing. Where Devon was insecure, u sing his words as a shield to protect himself, Jessica was emotionally exposed on paper for Reid to see. 

Perhaps that’s the essence of pretentious writing. A piece that strives to impress but fails to connect. 

What do you think? Is there a piece of work you find pretentious? Let me know in the comments below.

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