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.

If you want more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Read This Before You Quit Writing

You’ve written a story over and over again. You’ve written many stories over and over again. You’ve persisted as long as you could and you cannot handle another rejection. You feel it’s time to quit. 

That’s a very natural feeling. When we try to do something that is very hard it’s easy to feel as though we are wasting time or that it’s no longer fulfilling and we are not seeing progress. We are essentially beating our head against a brick wall, torturing ourselves to make something that nobody else wants to consume. 

You’ve given it your best shot, but you are still so far from your writing goals.

Before you quit, hear me out. It is completely fine to quit. I’ve quit many things in my life and when I quit something I hate doing, I found myself gravitating to something I enjoy. So quiting is good! But understand why you want to quit. Are you quitting because you hate doing it? Or are you quitting because you feel as though you are not good enough to advance to the next level? 

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be a director and an actor. The thing is, the more I did that: the more I hated being on set and memorizing lines. I put three full years into pursuing those two careers, but in the end, I came to the realization that I didn’t even know what those jobs required to begin with. It took the doing for me to understand the industry I was getting into. 

See, I was thinking about that as a job, something I HAVE to do every day. Something to pay for all my expenses. Thinking of it as a job sucked the life out of it, especially when I was starting out. It placed so much pressure on me because I wanted to do well and impress people so they will hire me again. Not everything you do needs to be a job! 

I like to play hockey. And I’m at the age where it’s incredibly obvious that I’ll never play it in any professional manner. I’m too old and I’m not that good. Still, I like to play it. I’m a part of a beer league and it’s a big part of who I am. Does anyone aside from my team care if we win or lose? No! Sometimes I feel like we don’t even care. We just like playing. 

The same goes for writing. 

Not everything you write needs to be for a professional reason or to get published. You can still do it! You can still be a writer and not publish your work. You can still be a writer and not share it with anyone. You can just write because it’s something you enjoy doing. 

Don’t let external pressure force you to stop doing something you enjoy. If you have a day job and you want to write on your free time, do it without considering where you are going to publish it. People watch movies and play video games and scroll social media. So don’t feel guilty for wasting your time doing something you enjoy. Do it for yourself. Everything you do, do it for yourself. 

And the beauty of writing is, it’s not like hockey, there is no age limit or physical requirement. You can do it until you are old and withered. 

If you want to quit publishing your work. Fine, but I encourage you not to quit writing because writing is to the soul what eating healthy and exercising is to the body. 

What challenges are you facing as a writer? Please let me know in the comments below.

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Why Writers Should Make Videos

This is my YouTube channel. I make videos about writing, about authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers — you know, creative stuff. Why? Why would I do that when my ultimate goal is to write stories? Shouldn’t I focus on writing stories? 

There is certainly a lot of advice out there from experts and “successful” people talking about the importance of focus. Focus on one thing, get really good at it, and then transition to something else after. I’m certain that is a great strategy for many, but I also learned a lot about myself over the course of my life. I’ve discovered that I need a balance of inspiration and motivation to keep me productive. I can genuinely say that if it weren’t for my YouTube channel, I might have stopped writing completely. 

Here is how making videos have improved my writing: 

  1. Pairing: By doing two things that are semi-related, such as writing and making videos, I use one to push the other one forward. Writing supports my passion for making videos, because each video needs a script and a story. 
  2. Community: I’m not lucky enough to have a core group of people with time to motivate me, so I want to create one. Making videos and posting them online allows me to reach people across the world that have the same interest as me. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to a workshop or anything like that, I get to create my own platform and anyone who is interested is welcomed. 
  3. Accountability: It forces me to be a part of the culture. It forces me to be accountable to not only enjoy entertainment but analyze it critically. Making video allows me to not only be a passive consumer but become an active critic. It forces me to think critically and creatively while analyzing a piece of work be it a novel, as I would do in a book review video, or about a creative choice, as I would in my longer-form research piece such as my exploration of The Shining adaptation video. 
  4. Presentation: It forces me to read my writing out loud. Reading and communicating is a skill and it takes practice. What is art but a means of communication? In the grand scheme of things, I want to be a good communicator and one of my most powerful tools as a storyteller is my voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a live audience to listen to my tales so, in order for me to train for my eventual TedTalk, I must make videos and read my words out loud. 
  5. Pleasure: I enjoy making videos as much as I enjoy writing. It’s two things I enjoy doing. I would not be completely happy if I’m not doing both. If I never end up being a successful writer, because I spent too much time making videos, that’s fine, because I spent my days doing something I enjoy. But let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll be writing if I’m not making videos about it. That’s simply self-awareness on my end. Maybe it comes across as not being focus to some.

Find ways to combine activities you enjoy. I find it to be a great motivator to do more. If you want more information about combining two activities to be more productive, check out this post about Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule and my alterations with it. 

10 Writing Goals for 2020 and Beyond

Not only is it the end of another year, but it’s also the end of the decade. This is a good time for us to take a moment to recalibrate. It’s a good time to look back and see what we’ve accomplished and what we want to achieve in the coming years. 

Goal setting is so important, especially if they are personal goals. The thing about personal goals is that there are no deadlines. Nobody is going to chase after us to write that novel or submit that story. There is no boss or manager nagging us to get our drafts done. If there is something you want to achieve, you have to set the goal and timeline yourself. 

However, you don’t want to set goals that would discourage you. Don’t set goals that are out of your control. Don’t be vague with goals and separate wants from goals. 

Example: 

Want = I want to be a published writer

Goal = I will submit my novel to an agency

Today, I want to offer 10 measurable writing goals for you to consider in 2020 and beyond. None of these goals alone will guarantee you a successful career in writing, but committing to one of them will ensure you’ll take one step closer to completing a piece of work that makes you proud.

  1. Write a paragraph every day: A little every day adds up. With a busy schedule, we cannot expect to always have time to pound out a chapter in an afternoon. But with consistent habit and even writing one paragraph every day, by the end of 2020, you have a substantial piece of work. Developing a habit is more valuable than an occasional sprint.
  2. Come up with a new idea every day: Want better ideas to write about? Well, start coming up with bad ones. The more ideas you have, the more selective you will be and the better you’ll become at conceptualizing interesting topics that you are passionate about. Coming up with a new idea doesn’t have to be painful. Look out the window and jot down what you see or record the essence of a conversation you had with a coworker. Once you have a lot of ideas, you can start bringing them to life. Here’s an article on how you can approach selecting your top ideas
  3. Submit a story in a contest: What did Michael Scott say? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s true. But it’s not only about winning. I find that writing contests are a great motivator for writing and polishing a piece of work I have. Writing contests also have a clear deadline. Parkinson’s Law states that a project will take as long as the timeline allows. Here is a list of some of the writing contests in 2020
  4. Finding your weakness to improve: Everyone has a weakness and the sooner you recognize what it is, you can start focusing on improving it. If you have issues with creating believable characters, take 2020 to practice character development. If you have trouble ending your story in a satisfying way, find examples of stories with powerful endings and analyze it. This year get 1% better. 
  5. Find a critiquing partner: An alpha or beta reader that you can rely on is worth the price of gold. This is someone who you can share your writing with and get feedback, and in return, they can depend on your criticism as well. Finding someone that will challenge and motivate you will help you be a better writer and editor. If you don’t already have someone in your life who you feel comfortable and confident sharing your writing with, then 2020 is the time to find them. They could be your friend or family, or you can explore online and in-person writing groups — or even a workshop or a creative writing class. I’ll speak more about that in goal #8. 
  6. Learn a skill that compliments writing: Writers should be constantly learning. To write about someone that resonates with your readers, you need to be able to understand the workings of the wider world. Anything you learn while you aren’t putting pen to paper or typing on your keyboard can inspire you. Whether it’s making music, painting pictures, or making videos, you can apply those skills back to writing. Learn to cook a new recipe or try a new sport. Learn a new language or interview a family member. Learn something and then write about it. I wrote an article about the concept of pairing, which talks about the value of finding two closely related activities to keep improving. 
  7. Read 20 books: By now, I feel I don’t need to convince you about the importance of reading for writers. However, with all the writing you are planning to do in 2020, you mustn’t forget to read as well. Make time for it! Whether you are a fast or slow reader, reading 20 books a year is a very achievable goal. Try reading books on different topics to diversity your consumption. Start now, make a list of 20 books you want to read this coming year. This very act should fill you with excitement. If you don’t want to read, why even be a writer? 
  8. Attend a conference or workshop: In the end, it all comes down to the people you know. By showing up to events and workshops, you will be introduced to those who are already in the industry. Sure, you can read my blog posts and watch my videos and get some insights, but I’m just one guy. When you attend an event with a whole collection of like-minded individuals with similar goals, you can start to learn different processes and techniques. This is also a great way to be apart of a community, and being a part of a community is a wonderful motivator to write. You will feel accountable to share something in a workshop or have a piece be critiqued by a professional at a conference. 
  9. Revisit an old piece of writing: One of the best ways to gauge your own improvement is to look back and see how far you’ve come. Yes, it might be painful, but revisiting your own work with a critical eye can help you see where you have developed and give you a sense of “oh, I know how to fix it now.” Don’t dwell on the imperfection. The piece of work was a snapshot of where you were months or years ago. It should offer you the same sensation of looking at an old picture: I was young and naive, now I’m more experienced now. 
  10. Find your mission: When of the most awkward experience for writers is when they are asked what they write: “a little of everything…” tends to be the lame response. This leads to us feeling embarrassed about what we actually do. This year, consider your mission as a writer. What do I want my writing to do? The moment you discover how you want to change the world, the society, the culture, or just your reader, is the moment you feel empowered. This year, find your mission. 

Those are 10 clear and measurable goals for you to consider in 2020. Is there one that you particularly like? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you plan on achieving this coming year! 

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

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How to Balance Reading and Writing Time

Read a lot and write a lot. That is the hot tip established writers will tell aspiring writers. Except, how do you balance the two? Should you split your reading and writing time 50/50? 

So here’s the dilemma, you have this idea for a novel… but you also have that book over there that you want to read. What would be more valuable for your time? Reading? Or Writing?

This is a problem I have because my TBR list keeps growing and so does my list of story ideas… I’m known for biting off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, here is how I approach balancing reading and writing. 

I like to think of it in the same way as exercising and dieting. 

Ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to finish writing a novel or submit to a writing contest? If so, then prioritize writing. Or is your goal to more intuitive? For example, if you want to write a blog that requires you to make commentary, then perhaps you need to read more to be perceptive. 

Just like your physical health where you have to decide whether you are losing weight or gaining muscle, you need to start aligning your reading/writing habits to meet those goals. If you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t just be working out and if you want to gain muscle you wouldn’t just be eating salads. 

First, figure out your goals and then slowly design a routine that enables you to write and read in order to meet it. 

Writing is the workout. Reading is the nutrients you consume in order to keep your mind in shape. So write! Write as fast and as hard as you can. Then sit back and renourish. 

Reading is the healthy food you eat. TV or surfing the Internet or playing video games are less-than-healthy food when you are trying to be a writer. You can have your cheat days, but on most writing days, you need to refuel with a book. 

So the two activities have to work together. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 balance. You can write more and read less one day and then read more and write less another. The key is to cut out all the other activities that don’t nourish you or doesn’t motivate you to write. 

When you wake up: write, when you are on lunch break: read, when you get home from work: write, before you go to bed: read. Find little pockets of time here and there to commit to becoming a better writer. 

Drain the well and then refill it. Exercise and then eat a hearty meal. Don’t think of your reading time as time you should be writing, but rather a necessary part of the writing process. You only have 24 hours in the day, so it’s not about picking one or the other, it’s about eliminating the other activities so you have more time to read AND write. 

I like to read a few different books at the same time. I find it helps me motivated to read more and it generally inspires me to write a lot.

Don’t get too distracted, but here is my YouTube channel filled with writing inspirations and ideas to help with your creative process. Check it out!

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Writing Contests in 2020: Canada + International

Here’s to another year of writing! 

Submitting to a contest is a great way to stay consistent with your writing. After all, nobody is nagging you to finish that short story — it’s a personal project and you need to motivate yourself. Writing contests give you deadlines, pushing you to write and polish the draft so that it is reader ready. 

Additionally, entering writing contests is a fantastic way to support the literary community, and who knows, you might even win some money for your stories. 

So let’s get right to it! Make a goal to submit to one of these literary contests in 2020.

Now for the writing contest (contest details are subject to change):  

The Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction – PRISM

Prize: $1,500 grand prize

Deadline: January 15, 2020

Entry Fee:

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

Max Length: 4000 words

More details at PRISM international


 2020 Calibre Essay Prize

Grand Prize: $5,000 

Deadline: January 15, 2020

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

Judges: J.M. Coetzee, Lisa Gorton, and Peter Rose

More details at the Australian Book Review


Room Creative Fiction Contest

Prizes:

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

Open: January 8, 2020

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


Novella Prize Contest – Malahat Review

Prize: $CAN 1,500

Deadline: February 1, 2020

Entry Fee:

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

Max Length: 20,000 words

More details at Malahat Review


The Breakwater Fiction Contest

Prize: $1000 and publication in our Winter issue

Deadline: February 1, 2020

Entry Fee: $10.00 USD

Length: 5,000 words

More details at Breakwater


The Journey Prize

Prize: $10,000 

Deadline: February 12, 2020

Entry Fee: No Fees

Submission: Stories previously published in print, electronic, and online in 2019. PRINT refers to stories published in a hard copy form. ELECTRONIC refers to stories published ONLINE ONLY, regardless of whether a publication is primarily a print or online publication.

More details at The Journey Prize 


CBC Literary Prizes – Nonfiction

Prize: $6,000

Deadline: February 29, 2020

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, 2020

Entry Fee: $40

Length: No word limit

More details at The New Quarterly


 Short Grain Contest

Prize: $1,000 and publication in Grain

Deadline: April 1, 2020

Entry Fee: $40

Length: 2,500 words

More details at Grain Magazine


The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest

Deadline: May 28, 2020

Prize: $1000 and a one-year Duotrope Gift Certificate ($50 USD value)

Entry Fee: $40 

Length: no word limit

More details at The New Quarterly


Room Creative Non-fiction Contest

Prize:

  • FIRST PRIZE: $500 + publication in Room
  • SECOND PRIZE: $250 + publication in Room
  • HONOURABLE MENTION: $50 publication on Room’s website

Deadline: June 1, 2020

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


PRISM CREATIVE NON-FICTION CONTEST

Prize:

  • Grand prize: $1,500
  • Runner-up: $600
  • Second Runner-up: $400

Deadline: July 15, 2020

Entry Fee:

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

Length: 6,000 words

More details at PRISM international


Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize

Prize: $1,000

Deadline: Aug 1, 2020

Entry Fee:

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

Length: 2,000 and 3,000 words

More details at Malahat Review


The QueryLetter.com Back Cover Book Blurb Contest

Prize: $500

Deadline: September 15, 2020

Length: 100 words

More details at TheQueryLetter.com


CBC Short Story Prize 

Prize: $6000

Deadline: Oct 31, 2020

Entry Fee: $25

Length: 2500 words

More details at CBC


Prairie Fire Short Story Contest (Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction)

Prize: $1,250

Deadline: November 30, 2020

Entry Fee: $32

Length: Fiction (10,000 words max); Creative Non-Fiction (5,000 words max)

More details at Prairie Fire


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

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

How to Write While Working Full-time

Write fast. Write as fast as you can. Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry if it’s factually correct or if the dialogue sounds real or if you stay consistent with the character’s eye color. Write fast. 

Ernest Hemingway stops writing whenever he feels like he is in a good flow. He doesn’t want his well to run dry. But Hemingway writes every day. Hemingway isn’t working 9-5, Hemingway doesn’t need to cook food for his family, Hemingway doesn’t need to drive his mother to the doctor for a check up. Hemingway doesn’t have to do all the things you have to do, so don’t compare yourself to Hemingway. 

Don’t let a project simmer too long. Cook it on high heat and serve it up. Write fast and get it written. You cannot edit a piece of work that is not written, so get it written. If you have 1 hour to write. Write fast. If you have a whole day to write. Write fast. Get it written. Get your idea on paper. Plow through any resistance or overthinking. 

How should a character walk across the dining room? What’s another word for “slowly”? What’s another word for “with purpose”? It doesn’t matter, use the word that comes to your head now. Write fast. 

Get from point A to point B without dallying too long on the details. You can come back and expand on it later. You will be distracted. Your friend will call you and ask, “What’s up?” You will go out for dinner. You have work the next day. You want to catch the game tomorrow. You have to meet the in-laws for dinner the night after. By the time you get back to your writing, all the momentum is gone. Write fast, get as much down on paper as you can. Get your first draft done. Deal with the second draft. Deal with the third draft another day. Get the first draft done. 

Just so you know, I wrote this whole rant in five minutes. It was all the time I had. 

Let me know how your writing sprint is going and good luck! 

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Writing is Finding Time to Think

There are many reasons to write regularly. I don’t mean writing to communicate like emails or text messages, but journalling, writing fiction or working on a well-researched topic.

Why is this something we should do? Why write a story when there are already so many other stories out there? What makes me think my writing is so much better than anyone else’s? For anyone feeling the resistance, I want to talk to you today. 

Writing is Working Out 

Writing is not about impressing someone with your vocabulary or turn of phrases, just like how going to the gym and working out is not about beating someone up at a Costco parking lot. Going to the gym is about taking care of yourself and doing something for your physical health. Writing is very much like going to the gym, but instead of working out your body, you are working out your mind. 

If you’ve ever done any meditation, you know that you are supposed to focus on mindfulness, which is being conscious of what you are thinking about, but you are not chasing any of those thoughts, you are simply allowing them to pass unencumbered. 

Writing, on the other hand, you are chasing every thought. You are capturing all your thoughts. You are making connections with all your thoughts.  You are analyzing them and diving into them and understanding why they are there. Writing, when it is flowing, can get you into that meditative state. Writing is the blend of exercising and meditation if that makes sense. 

You are working out your thinking muscle, which can apply to literally every part of your life from business to communicating with your friends. Like working out, you allow writing to be an outlet for your emotions. Before you yell at something, write. Combine it — go for a walk and then write. It is possibly the healthiest thing you can do. 

Writing is Finding Time to Think

We make decisions every day and we call that thinking, but it isn’t, really. It’s reacting. We are reacting to the surrounding environment. We are reacting to what people are telling us. We are reacting to our mood and emotions. 

Let’s be honest, in day-to-day life, we are not too far off from mindless zombies trying to get through our responsibilities and obligations so we can go home and lie down. We get through the day without analyzing or reflecting on what we’ve accomplished. 

Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living. He means that if you don’t take time to understand the decisions you made, then you don’t understand your goals, you don’t understand what you are living for, and you don’t have any wisdom to pass on before you die. 

If you block off some time to write, you will have prioritized time to think and examine your life. This is time to reflect on your previous experiences and what you’ve learned. This is the time to examine where you are in relation to the goals you want to achieve. This is time to record the ideas you want to share. 

And here is the most important thing: I rarely know how I feel about a topic until I write about it. Anything political, anything philosophical, and anything about art, I don’t truly know until I sit down and write about it. 

We all write for different reasons, but these are two reasons I write. Let me know why you write in the comments below. 

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Writing in My 20s vs Writing in My 30s

I used to write a lot when I was younger. I used to stay up all night and hammer out three to four chapters. When I had a week off from school, I would dedicate a few days to do nothing but write. I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest three times — and even self-published one of them, The Past In Between,  just for kicks. I knew the well of my imagination and inspiration was never going to run dry. However, something else did… 

It wasn’t my motivation that got depleted, it was my time. Regardless of how successful you get as a 20-year-old, eventually, as the number increases, you will find that the free time in your day to do what you want will decrease. By the time I reached my 30s, my free time to work on my own projects were sparse. 

Now, I don’t want to make a rant about how busy I am, because being busy is lacking priority. If you don’t have time to do something, it is simply because it isn’t a priority. Working on my short stories or my novel isn’t a priority anymore. I have a full-time job, I have friends that I wanted to see, I have a dog I want to take on walks when the weather is nice, and I have a wife that I’d like to spend the prime of my day with. 

Those days that I used to block off simply to write are few and far in between. There are zero days in the year where I can just write. Even when I don’t have any plans scheduled with, I will still need to walk the dog, cook food, and maybe do some chores in preparation for the upcoming week. 

Yet, I haven’t stopped writing. 

Writing is still a large part of my life. It is a critical part of my identity. I still try to fit it in whenever I can, but it is hard to do. You know the saying, “The hardest part is starting.” And it is absolutely true when you are writing. Sitting down and getting to work is the hardest part. I believe it only gets harder when you don’t have an empty schedule to commit to it. 

Expectation: How I Like To Write

In my ideal world, I would have a day fully committed to writing. I would wake up with a fresh cup of coffee and hunker down and immerse myself into my work — deep work, as author Cal Newport would refer to it. I yearn to get into the flow where my writing is essentially pouring out of me like hot water from a kettle. 

I enjoy having the little distractions and blocks in between. I enjoy allowing myself to mill around the apartment for a moment thinking of the direction to guide my characters in.

I would usually have a movie playing in the background, something I have seen a million times before, just to keep me company. Pulp Fiction is a good one. Honestly, anything by Tarantino will do because it’s long… and it works to track how long I’ve been writing. 

This was how I wrote in my 20s. It was something I looked forward to like a vacation. But now… when I do take a vacation, writing is not what I want to do. Writing is fun, but writing is also work. When I have to prepare for a week at the office, I don’t necessarily want to put myself through a fifteen-hour write-a-thon. 

Reality: How I Write Now

Today, I write the same way I do a lot of other things. I squeeze it into my schedule. There are a few days in a month where I can commit myself fully to creative writing, but they are often hijacked. I’m not sacred with those days — although I should be. 

I write whenever I can, fifteen minutes before I head off to work in the morning, thirty minutes during my lunch break, or ten minutes as my dinner finishes cooking in the oven. Any spare time I have, I add it to my projects. It’s my way of making the most out of the little time that I have.

I find these little sprints incredibly hard, but with everything going on, if I don’t have them, I might not be a writer at all. So I sprint. 

I used to be a writer who needs a few minutes to warm up. This can mean sitting at the desk and getting into the right mind frame or it can mean rereading some of my previous writing, which is necessary if I’m working on a longer project. When I only have fifteen minutes blocked off to write that doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get into the groove. I need to start writing. There is no time to hum and haw about where to begin. I simply need to begin. 

Arguably in four scattered fifteen-minute writing sessions, I will probably get more words down on a page than in a 1-hour session, simply because of the urgency, I placed on myself. This had led me to the hypothesis that perhaps writing a first draft should best be done in a series of spurts, rather than one long marathon. This is an experiment I am curious to perform. 

There May Never Be An Ideal Time to Write

What I’ve discovered through these past few years as my time has been segmented and divided between all the people love and responsibilities and obligations I have is that there will never be a perfect amount of time to write. Just like how there won’t be a perfect amount of time to work out or practice an instrument. If you want to do something, you will need to fit it into your schedule. It doesn’t mean you can’t do all the other things in your life, it simply means that when you notice an empty slot in your day — which believe me, if you look, you will find it — take advantage of it. Make the most out of it. Don’t sit there and think about doing it. 

Remember, starting is the hardest part. So whenever you think that there is time to write, start. It’s that simple. Open up your project file, scroll down to the spot where you left off, and continue. Do this every time you have a break in your day and eventually, you will chip away at a project that you were waiting for a perfect time to work on. 

There is no perfect time. There are no better or worst time. There is only time.

Need ideas for your next writing project, check out this article on how I deal with too many ideas