Class Offering! How to Submit Your Work for Publication, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

This class is offered by Write On, Door County as part of my writer’s residency. Class description:

Submitting writing for publication can be scary and intimidating. But if you have written stories, essays, or poetry, and you are longing to see them published, you will need to submit. In her virtual workshop, Victoria Lynn Smith will cover the basics. You will learn about submission guidelines and where to send your work. We will discuss the issue of fee-based versus free submissions. Tips for writing a cover letter and bio and how to increase your chances of acceptance will be shared. Most importantly, we will take about rejection and how to deal with them. A list of resources and a class outline will be shared with all participants. Please note that this class does not cover submitting articles to magazines, which is often done through query letters.

This opportunity is presented free but registration is required. Goodwill donations are accepted. To register click here. (Donations go to support Write On, Door County and the many programs they provide for the writing community.)

Teaching Artist: Victoria Lynn Smith writes short stories and essays. Her work has been rejected more than 174 times but has been accepted thirty-eight times. She lives by Lake Superior, a source of inspiration, happiness, and mystery. Her work has been published by Wisconsin Public Radio, Twin Cities Public Television, Brevity BlogBetter Than StarbucksHive Avenue Literary Journal, Persimmon TreeJenny45th ParallelMason Street Review, and regional journals. Her essay “The Dummy Never Showed Up” won an honorable mention in the 2022 Wisconsin Writers Association’s Jade Ring Contest. Her essay “Show and Tell to Remember” won an honorable mention in Bacopa Literary Review’s humor category and was published in November 2022. She was a semi-finalist in the Wisconsin People & Ideas 2022 Fiction Contest, and she placed second in the 2022 Hal Prize Fiction Contest. She is working on a collection of short stories.

Unless You’re Buying an Appliance, Comparisons Aren’t Always Useful

Looking out on Lake Charlevoix in Boyne City, Michigan, December 2022.

A couple of days ago I read “Avoid Comparing Yourself to Other Writers – Even Yourself,” a blog by Finnian Burnett, and as I read, I kept nodding my head in agreement. With the tweaking of a few details, Burnett could’ve been writing about me.

I related to their comparing their 2022 writing accomplishments to their 2023 writing attempts. I, too, have deadlines looming for journals and contests that I’ve submitted to in the past few years but wonder if I’ll submit to all of them again this year. I’ve been working on writing new stories and essays, but it’s harder this year, and what I have is a handful of rough drafts that I haven’t returned to working on yet because I tell myself I need to let them simmer. I’m not sure why writing seems harder this year, but I have some guesses. First, I spent large chunks of time this fall and early winter visiting my mom, who is recovering from major heart surgery. And I’m subbing a lot more, something I did infrequently during the 2021-22 school year. Both of those activities have taken time away from my writing. Also, I had short stories and essays published and a few won prizes in contests during 2022. Now, I wonder if I can write something as good or hopefully better. That kind of thinking makes my fingers freeze over the keyboard.

Like Burnett, I often admire another writer’s work, and say to myself, “Wow, I wish I could write like that!” It’s a little easier to put those comparisons aside and remind myself to be the writer I am and to compete only against myself. But that can be perilous too. Burnett has a point about looking back at our past accomplishments and using them against ourselves as a measuring stick – it’s not too helpful when sitting down to write in the present.

Reading Burnett’s blog made me feel better. It’s comforting to know someone else feels the way I feel. Writing is a solitary endeavor most of the time, and when I do get together with other writers, we often discuss what we’re working on, give each other feedback, and share resources. But if I’m struggling, I don’t want to be the little black cloud in the group raining insecurity, so I’m grateful that Burnett shared their feelings about the times when writing isn’t clicking. It’s wonderful to have a community of writers to share the good times and happy news with, but it’s also wonderful to have a community of writers to share the tough times with. Talking about the boogeyman hiding under my keyboard helps because the pesky monster shrinks in size when I talk about it.

Burnett suggests we be compassionate with ourselves. So, I’ve done a handstand and flipped my viewpoint, and I’m giving myself credit for what I’ve done so far this year. I have three rough drafts that might make good stories. I’m reworking an essay I thought was complete, giving it more depth and meaning (letting a piece of writing simmer isn’t just procrastination). In the last two weeks I finished a 900-word story and a 3,000-word essay, which I submitted a day before the deadline, and I started another short story that has promise. And I write for my blog.

The only cure I know for writing is to keep writing. And I’ve been doing that, just differently and slower. And it’s all okay.

Thank you, Finnian Burnett, for saying so in your blog and reminding us all to be kind to ourselves. And you said it so well!

[To read “Avoid Comparing Yourself to Other Writers – Even Yourself” by Finnian Burnett, click here.]

Bloganuary Post for January 6: Why I Write

[Bloganuary is hosted by WordPress. A new topic is presented each day during January.]

I write because I love words and sentences and paragraphs. I can play with them like a box of orphaned, mismatched Legos, combining them in different colors and sizes and shapes, building something familiar–yet perhaps not quite like anything anyone has ever seen before.

I write because I love to put an idea, an emotion, a story out into the world, hoping it connects with another person. My story in an online journal, accessible by anyone anywhere with a computer and internet. My story in a paper journal on a table in an art gallery in a small town in Minnesota, accessible by anyone who sits and turns a page.

I write because if I don’t, I’m out of sorts, at odds with myself, missing a piece of me.

Sloth and Me

It’s International Sloth Day, so I thought I’d say a few words about my writing buddy, Sloth. Yes, I named him Sloth. I borrowed the idea from my granddaughter who named her stuffies sensibly: Puppy, Teddy, Foxy, and Spidey, a stuffed spider I bought her when she was fascinated by spiders.

I bought Sloth in a small gift shop. When I met him, I fell for his smile, an adorable sweet grin that said, “Gee you’re wonderful, I’ll always be your friend.” He cost more than a sensible, mature person like me wanted to spend on a stuffed toy, but I bought him and tucked him in my purse, like I was Paris Hilton and Sloth was Tinkerbell the Chihuahua.

Sloth took up residence on my writing desk, sitting astride my electric pencil sharpener. After I moved my writing office from the living room into a spare bedroom, Sloth decided to sit on the bookshelf.

I used to joke I kept Sloth nearby when I wrote to remind myself there was someone even slower than me. Rather cheeky of me, still I pictured Sloth typing three words per minute. But recently my writing process from a rough draft to a finished piece is so slow that I make Sloth seem like a jaguar pouncing through the forests of South America.

Perhaps, I began to think, Sloth was mocking me with his sublime smile. That he always knew he was faster than me. That if he could get his three toes on my keyboard, he’d clack out prose at speeds much faster than me.

Then I looked at his smiling face again. Sloth doesn’t mock. He understands slow. He understands pacing. He understands conservation of energy. Sloth has his own international day, hoping to bring awareness to deforestation and loss of habitation for sloths.

Writers have an international day, too, on March 3. Sloth thinks I can finish writing something by then, especially if it’s flash. Cheeky fellow.

Writer’s Block In Michigan

Sunset on Lake Michigan

I’m not sure I’m a writer anymore, so I thought I’d write a blog post to see if I could prove myself wrong.

My mother had quadruple by-pass surgery on September 2, in Michigan. My sister and I went to be with her before surgery and to take care of her afterward. My sister is still there, and I will go back in a couple of weeks when she leaves. We marveled at how time blurred. I thought about Salvador Dali’s limp, contorted watches.

I spent two weeks in Michigan and wrote only one paragraph—and not a long one like the kind Henry James used to get up to.

Busy and tired and apprehensive, the idea of putting words on paper was akin to slogging through a swamp, like Bogart pulling his boat the African Queen through the marsh then emerging from the water, speckled with leeches, pleading, “Pull them off me.” Certain my words would be leeches, I didn’t write, except for the one skimpy paragraph that would’ve reduced Henry James to convulsions.

But I read a book about writing (The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction by Barnaby Conrad), and as if to scold me, a whole section in the book was dedicated to the point that writers write: they make time every day, no matter what; even on Sunday, said one writer. And me? Only one paragraph in two weeks.

Statue based on a 1920 photograph of Hemingway about to depart Petoskey for a job in Toronto

I didn’t compose in my head either, like I do when I’m at home. I didn’t want to think about ideas for stories or essays that I wouldn’t jot down. No point in it because I either couldn’t or wouldn’t write while I was in Michigan. Even the Hemingway statue in Petoskey didn’t inspire me. Instead, every night after reading The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction, I’d drift off to sleep, thinking about a story I’d already written and ask myself, “How does the writing advice compare to what I’ve written?” I never stayed awake long enough to come up with a concrete answer.

I bought three slim journals decorated with whimsical artwork and bound with smooth covers that gave my fingers pleasure when I caressed them, but I didn’t write a word of prose in them.

I attended a webinar with Allison K. Williams called Pitch, Publish, and Get Paid. I hid in the upstairs guest room and made myself take the time to watch it live because I’d paid for it and because Williams is a good teacher. I jotted a few notes in one of my new journals, the one with fanciful cacti on the front because I felt prickly. But I didn’t write anything to pitch or sell.

I wrote letters and postcards to friends and relatives. But my notes lacked story arcs, themes, and snappy dialogue. I kept them purposefully short because I didn’t wish to put the people I love to sleep. By the time they realized my letters were a snooze, they’d be done reading, thereby avoiding the need to abandon them.

I took pictures of flowers and scenery that moved me, thinking later I could write inspiring blogs based on the images.

I received two rejections for the same story that I was falling asleep thinking about. (If I’m getting rejected, I’m a writer, right?) I’ve revised it dozens of times. A couple of months ago, a journal long-listed it then declined it. The story, an old-fashioned piece, won’t be an easy one to place, but I like it now, despite our once rocky relationship.

The night before I left Michigan, an editor from the Mason Street Review, published by the Newark Public Library, sent me an email accepting a story I’d submitted. But my excitement fizzled because I was more concerned about not having written anything in two weeks. This is warped in the way that a person about to hang criticizes the rope being used.

I came home and still didn’t write for a few days.

But I started composing in my head again.

I finished reading The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction.

I started playing with Nina Schuyler’s Stunning Sentences series. Every few days, Nina selects another writer’s stunning sentence, all of which are complex: left-, right-, or mid-branching, dripping with clauses and phrases. She breaks the sentence down and analyzes it. How does it work? Why does it work? What literary techniques are used? Then it’s my turn to create a sentence following the formula as closely as I can. This is Kung Fu,and I’m Grasshopper. I love it. Read, contemplate, and emulate a master. It’s meditative, it’s Zen, it’s sit-on-a-pumpkin with Henry David Thoreau. Since coming home, I’ve tackled three stunning sentences and each one I wrote had at least one element that made me proud. But one sentence does not a story make. Although, it could if someone else hadn’t beaten me to the baby-shoes-for-sale bit. I’ve been accused of parsimony with words, but I’m not good enough to be as cheap as Hemingway.

As I finish this blog piece—sitting in my office, surrounded by books, my dog sleeping by my desk—I feel like a writer again. I’ve written something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Recently, I read a quote by a writer who said that if we question our ability to write or if we wonder if we’ll ever write something worthwhile again, then we’re writers because that’s what writers do.

But tonight, it’s my dog Ziva who acknowledges I’m doing something important. My writing session has trespassed into her walk time, but she gives me the space to finish my rough draft before we go for a walk. In the picture, she appears to be sound asleep, but be assured as soon as I lift myself from the chair, and before I can straighten up, she will be off her bed in a blink, ready for her walk. She’s earned an extra treat after our evening stroll.

She’s not really sleeping. And as predicted, as soon as I lifted my butt off the chair, she sprang to her feet, cocked her head, and asked, “Are we walking now?”

Room to Write

[This essay was published on Brevity Blog, June 6, 2022.]

A couple of weeks ago, within twenty-four hours, both Stephen King and my mom told me I needed an office for writing. I decided if Mom and Mr. King agreed about something, I needed to listen.

My office space along the wall

Of course, Mr. King was talking to me from the pages of his book On Writing. He advised me (okay, he was talking to all writers) to have a space of my own with a door that closes. He wrote Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a trailer, but there was a door that closed. He never mentions if he ever threw a load of dirty clothes in the washer. I would have washed and dried clothes and written between the cycles.

Then Mom called. I felt too blue to just put a smile in my voice and chitchat about weather and family and the latest movie she had seen. Spurred on by Mr. King urging me to have an office with a door and frustrated by the traffic patterns in my writing space, I was weepy about not having a quiet place of my own to write.

My office space in the living room had worked if I was home alone, but my amygdala had begun to associate it with interruption and chaos. The living room is a thoroughfare from one side of the house to the other. When my husband is home, he likes to stop off and chat as he motors through. My grandkids also play in the living room three days a week. They inhabit the space with toys and voices and nonstop movement. While playing, they chatter with delight and argue with rancor, all of it mall-level noise. So, it didn’t matter if my husband and grandkids weren’t in the house when I tried to write because my brain would anticipate interruption and commotion anyway, leaving me frazzled. Logically, I understood why I was antsy, but it’s not easy to calm down a fired-up amygdala.

Mom suggested I turn the spare bedroom, tucked at the front side of the house, into an office with a pullout couch. “You can take a nap on the couch when you’re tired, and you can use it as a bed when the grandkids sleep over.” I wondered what Mr. King would say about napping in one’s writing office.

Sloth on a Shelf: I write faster than he does!

I rejected the pullout couch solution, but Mr. King’s and Mom’s advice started me thinking. Over the next several days, I wandered in and out of my two spare bedrooms with a tape measure, sizing up the dimensions of the rooms and the furniture, arriving at a solution. I swapped a desk and dresser and bought a bookcase. For the first few days, I would wander into my new space and stare at it with wonder and love, the way I looked at my children when they were newborns.

It’s not a whole office, but I like it that way. It’s a little cramped, but when I sit at my desk, it feels like a hug, and in a pinch, the bed right behind me serves as a table. Mr. King says a writing office should probably be humble, so my space measures up. I can shut the door, so I’m not interrupted. And when the grandkids visit, they aren’t allowed to play in my room.

My amygdala does yoga. I breathe and write.

Reasons to Attend an Author’s Book Chat (Even If You Don’t Write Books)

My terminal to the World

If you’re writing a book, and even if you’re not, you should listen to authors talk about their books. I’m not writing a book, at least not yet, and maybe never. But when the COVID lockdowns started, I discovered I liked attending virtual author chats and book launches. Over the last two years, I’ve listened to over twenty authors discuss their books, and I’ve noticed some reoccurring themes and ideas.

Writing is Tough

All writers have moments of doubt. One author almost gave up but decided the only way she could fail was to not finish her novel. Others talked about a manuscript they considered a learning experience then buried it in a drawer. Some took a break from a book they were writing before finishing it. All of them said, “Just keep writing.”

When the pandemic lockdowns started, many writers talked about feeling too anxious to write. When I heard a published author admit this, I realized my anxiousness and inability to sit at my desk and write was normal. I stopped thinking something was wrong with me. Another author found it difficult to write because she wasn’t out in the world, watching and listening to people, gathering material to take back to her desk. I could relate. I never appreciated how much inspiration I brought home, until I didn’t leave home.

When a member of the audience thought things must have gotten easier after a writer published a book, the author said, each book was like starting over and her second book was tougher to write. Hot dog! I write short stories and essays, and I find the same to be true. If published writers flounder occasionally, why wouldn’t I struggle at times?

Writing Takes Work

But take chances. Experiment. Play. Listen to your characters. If something doesn’t work, revise.

Read, read, and reread. Most authors talked about the importance of reading books from the genre they write in. And rereading those books helped them analyze how they were put together.

Research is important, even when writing novels or memoirs. One historical nonfiction writer spent almost a month living on a sixty-foot sailboat in the Arctic in order to research the setting for her book. It gave her confidence to write her book because she had knowledge and experience.

Once the manuscript is done, the revising and editing starts. Get feedback from writers and beta readers. Be open to suggestions, but know when to trust your work. Many authors said revising was as much or more work than writing the book.

Getting Published

Work on building a writing resume by submitting short pieces of writing. Polish them until they’re shiny, beautiful baubles. And submit! One author submitted a story to a university journal, and they loved it so much they asked her if she had more stories like it. She did, and they published a book of her short stories. (This makes me think about Lana Turner being discovered while drinking a soda at a malt shop.)

Hire a good line editor before you submit to agents or publishers. Make sure the manuscript is as good and as error free as it can be. Learn how to write a query letter. Some authors shared helpful resources.

Potential agents and publishers want authors to have a social media presence and a website, even if it’s simple. One author attended an online pitch event on Twitter with agents. A publisher liked her pitch, asked to see her manuscript, then published her book.

Fight for your work. Sometimes an editor is right. One author talked about cutting a chapter from her memoir. Even though she wanted to keep it, she understood the editor’s point. Other times the author is right. Another author fought to keep the opening dream scene in her book, and the editor eventually agreed.

Understand a contract before signing it. Think about hiring an attorney who specializes in publishing contracts. One author warned, “Don’t let excitement about a contract cloud your judgement.”

So, Sign Up for an Author’s Book Chat

You’ll learn what worked and didn’t work for authors, and some of that wisdom will be useful to you. When writers talk about their struggles, it’ll give you perspective about your struggles. As they celebrate their newly published books, you’ll believe that someday you’ll celebrate yours. Finally, almost every author chat and book launch that I’ve attended had a Q & A, and the author answered questions about his or her journey to publication. But best of all, for an hour or two, you’ll be part of a community of people who love to write.


[Looking for a Book Chat? Lake Superior Writers hosts a series called Book Club for Writers, which is free and open to members and nonmembers. Our next author will be Brian Malloy who will talk about his book The Year of Ice on March 29, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. For more information: Book Club for Writers.]

Whose Story Is It Anyway?

Yesterday, a conversation with writers reminded me of the first time I had a character in a story who wouldn’t cooperate with my plot. I wrote this blog after that experience.

Writing Near the Lake

[“Whose Story Is It Anyway?” appeared on Lake Superior Writers’ Blogon July 9, 2020.]

At the end of the 1946 romantic comedy, Cluny Brown, Adam Belinski, animated by a flash of insight, tells Cluny, “I’m going to write a bestseller, a murder mystery.” Belinski and Cluny agree the victim must be a rich man because it’s pointless to murder a poor man, and Cluny asks, “Who killed him? Who did it?”

My first initial written in the bark

“For 365 pages, I will not know myself,” replies Belinski, “but when, on page 366, it finally comes out, will I be surprised and so will millions of others!”

The first time I heard Belinski tell Cluny he’d write a mystery without knowing who committed the murder until the last page, I laughed. Ridiculous, I thought. Of course, he’ll have to know who the murderer is when he starts…

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Writing’s Daily Worries

Originally posted on October 9, 2020

Writing Near the Lake

[“Writing’s Daily Worries” appeared on Brevity Blog on December 18, 2019, and on Lake Superior Writers’ Blog on January 9, 2020.It was published in the anthology Many Waters: St. Croix Writers Stories and Poemsin 2020.]

Thanks to writing, my worries have shifted. (So has my ability to make sure I put the milk in the refrigerator instead of the cupboard, but that’s another blog.)

I take a break from writing to get some water. In the kitchen I discover dishes are piling up and all the cereal bowls are dirty. But I worry about a story I want to submit to a contest, so I go back to my desk. I reread the story and forget to start the dishwasher. In the morning I’m handwashing cereal bowls.

“The truck needs an oil change,” my husband says.

“I’ll call,” I say, as I worry if a clause…

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