Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt: Through the Window


Your task this week is to write a story about what your narrator observes through a window. Your narrator can be looking in, or looking out of that window–but the entire story must take place within that field of vision. The story can take place in one scene, or over a longer period of time. The window can be any sort you want–a window in a house, the emergency exit of an airplane, or a car’s windshield are just some examples.

Have fun with this and keep it under 2,500 words.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt: Snowed In


Today, I’d like you to write a story that takes place during a blizzard. What happens when your character(s) get snowed in? I see this is a fantastic opportunity to develop relationship-based tension of some sort because characters can be physically trapped.

Have fun with it–you have 1,500 words.

Publishing, Writing Life


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Last semester, I wrote a story titled “Hunger” about the end of life. I took a chance and submitted the story to three top markets that were open at the time:

  • The Paris Review
  • AGNI
  • The New Yorker

I didn’t expect to get an acceptance from any of them, and in fact, have received rejections from the first two. These days, The New Yorker is so inundated that they don’t even guarantee a rejection anymore, form or personal. Rather, they ask that after 90 days, if you haven’t heard from them, you assume a rejection.

That day is tomorrow, and I’ve still heard nothing. It’s pretty safe, I think, to presume a rejection.

The Nature of Rejections

I’m not bothered by this, especially as I didn’t really expect these markets to accept a story from someone they would consider an unknown. Even with the publishing credits I have, I’d be surprised if my story was even read. So, why, you might wonder, did I bother sending it to them?

I think it’s almost as honorable to get a rejection from top markets as it is to get an acceptance because it’s proof that you tried. The trick is not to let rejections bog you down. For the stories I’ve had published, there were at least ten rejections on average before they were accepted.

Editors (and their assistants) might reject a story for a number of reasons:

  • It’s just not strong enough
  • It doesn’t fit their publication
  • They’ve recently published something similar or are planning to soon

None of these reasons are personal–not even the first. I’m going to prove it to you, so sit tight and keep reading.

Your Story Isn’t Strong Enough

“Hunger” is a pretty big tear-jerker, I think. Of course, I’m likely biased considering how close I am to the events of the story, but I’ve been told this by others who are unrelated. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. I haven’t looked at it since late November, but I’m sure I’ve learned new things that I could use to strengthen the text.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Then, I’m going to submit it to another market (or selection of markets depending on who is open for submissions at that time). Would I re-send it to the three markets above that don’t want it? No. Because their rejections are form or presumed, I don’t have the insight to know why “Hunger” didn’t grab their attention. I certainly don’t want a rep for wasting editors’ time–better to move on to other markets.

It Doesn’t Fit Their Publication

Okay, if this is the case, on your own head be it. If you’ve never read a publication you’re submitting to, then you shouldn’t submit to them unless they’re brand new and you have no access to their previous issues. Of course, sometimes it’s prohibitively expensive to get back issues of every publication you want to submit your own work to, but there are forums out there where you can get used copies from other folks.

Learn about what editors want, and then try to send them that. You might not always be on the same page, but don’t leave this up to guesswork.

The Editorial Calendar is Not Your Friend

If a publication has recently published a story just like yours and you missed it, well, that happens. Try to get your hands on more recent back issues if that’s feasible to determine if you’re sending them something fresh.

That said, sometimes stories are set for publication down the line and they’re of a similar topic to yours. The editorial team might not tell you if this is the case, so you might not know until months later you see that a story with the same theme as yours is printed in their publication.

There’s absolutely nothing you can do about this. Sorry, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Why Bother Submitting to Top Markets?

Why not? No pitchfork mob is going to show up at your door for doing such a thing. Besides, why not take pride in your work? I used to submit to smaller publications first and thought that someday, when I got good enough at writing, I’d be ready to submit to the larger, more well-known publications.

We call that fear, folks. Or at least a lack of confidence.

But here’s the thing–submitting to these publications probably lit a fire under me to make this story as strong as I could possibly make it. As I said, I might be able to strengthen it now, but when I sent it out in November, it was my best quality work. I could not have produced anything stronger with the knowledge and skill I possessed at that time.

You can always submit a story to other markets if it doesn’t get in with the big kids, and you’ll probably have a better chance of acceptance because you aimed high.

What Next?

I had a professor who recommended submitting a rejected story to another market within three days of receiving the rejection. This is a fantastic suggestion that, when I was actively writing and submitting before my MFA, I followed with strict adherence.

Now that I’m in school and working on so many projects, it may take more than three days to revisit “Hunger.” But, I will be submitting it elsewhere until someone accepts it. Some stories just have to be told.

Who Has Rejected Your Work?

If you’re an artist of any kind, you’re probably deeply familiar with rejections. Maybe you’ve received so many that they fill you with pride instead of shame (how it should be). So…who has said no to your work?


Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt: Fish

This week, I want you to write a story about a fish out of water. Your protagonist can find herself in a new place, facing a language barrier, or something much smaller-scale. Have fun! You have 1,500 words.

Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt: Identity

Your protagonist wakes up one morning to find that she or he doesn’t have an identity. Maybe your character can’t go to the bank, or some other banal activity, or maybe it’s a bigger problem than that for your character, but either way, your character wakes up and no longer seems to exist.

You have 2,500 words for this one! Have fun!


MFA Update: Residency Reflections

Sunsets, snow, and mountains…that’s right, I had another residency, this time in the deep arctic blast. Now I’ve attended two out of four residencies, and while I enjoyed myself immensely and am chomping at the bit to get into my work for the semester (and I already have), it was also a reminder of how fast the time passes. With two residencies down, I have only two more to go. Out of “the bubble,” that space we refer to where we’re in a safe space where all of us value the craft of writing and share pieces of ourselves, here are my reflections as a second-semester MFA student.

Peer Workshops

Something special happened in my peer workshop group–not that it didn’t in June, but I’m not writing about June’s residency right now. Not only did we find a way to help each other with our stories, but we also laughed together. There were only three people in my workshop who I felt I knew–two other women in my cohort and a woman from the class ahead of mine whom I befriended last residency.

There were three other students I didn’t get the chance to get to know last June, and it was fantastic learning about them. One of them kept astonishing me with an openness and personal courage that is nothing short of inspiring. Then, there were two students from the incoming cohort. Both great writers, and great people.

Finally, what made this group so special was the pair of mentors facilitating the twelve hours we spent together. I’m not going to name drop, but they’re pretty amazing and so is their fiction. Their insights, good humor, and approachable manner made it a joy to learn to from them.

Thanks to the feedback I received from both of them and my peers, I have decided to make a drastic change to my thesis novel that will solve the pacing issues; scenes were moving too rapidly and they confirmed for me that as readers, they didn’t have the time to get settled in them. They also confirmed that my proposed changes would solve this issue. I don’t want to get into too much detail because I don’t want to give anything away…but suffice to say instead of covering a 65-year lifespan, my novel will cover about 5-6 months.

Craft & Elective Workshops

In addition to peer workshops, part of the residency curriculum features craft and elective workshops. The craft workshops were fun and helpful. Some of the information was something I’d learned before, but I really enjoyed hearing another writer’s take on a subject and letting lessons sink in again. At other times, the information was new and entirely helpful.

Elective workshops I attended (of which we had to choose two) included discussions on the unreliable narrator, an agent Q&A, and a talk on beginnings by Zia Haider Rahman, who might just be one of the coolest people I’ve had the honor to meet. If I ever had the chance to take more classes from him, I’d jump at the opportunity.


At each residency, there are several types of readings: nightly faculty readings, nightly student readings, and a special students-only reading on Wednesdays. I won’t say who read what, but there were texts shared that required open hearts to read and listen, and I couldn’t be prouder or more honored to have participated, even as a reader.

For my own readings, I chose a portion of my short story, “Hunger,” and a rap/poem I’d written based on Hamilton: The American Musical. For that one, I got the audience involved, repeating the chorus.

Everything Else

The graduation ceremony for the graduating cohort, the dance party afterwards, the several hours spent in the game room with friends, the night of no water, the visit from the fire department when pipes burst, the tiny snowman we found, the hours chatting with friends and fellow writers, the four hours with my roommate and cohort-mate traveling to and from the hotel, and everything else that goes on residency was so enjoyable that I didn’t want to leave. At least…not until the temps dropped back into the negatives.

My next residency is in five months and two days. I’m so looking forward to jumping back into it, even though it will be my third of four residencies, and I will likely be even more sad to leave.

MFA, Writing Life

Writing Goals: 2018


Happy New Year! Lots of people make resolutions at this time of year; not me. Resolutions are too easy to break. Usually, I go with them for about two weeks and then I skip a day or two–and then it’s over. Instead, I prefer to come up with goals for the year.

I have my own personal goals, but I’m going to share my writing goals, as this is (mostly) a writing blog.

MFA Thesis

As my primary writing endeavor, this will take prime focus. If I write a chapter a week, I can finish a rough draft of my thesis novel by May 27, 2018. That’s my goal.

After residency (which is in less than a week, woohoo!), I’ll be living in New Hampshire for the semester so that I don’t have to drive three hours to campus in potentially inclement weather. I found a sublet situation with a friend from my MFA program, so I’m looking forward to some productive writing sessions.

The good news is this: While I will still be working as a freelancer, I will be able to get by with meeting my required quotas because of student loan disbursements, my tax refund, and the TA stipend.

So I’ve decided I will treat this time like a working writing retreat. It’s a great opportunity to get my rough draft hammered out. I’ll be in New Hampshire through April, which leaves a month to go of drafting when I get home, but I’m confident I’ll be able to keep up with my goal.

Short Stories

I’m still working on my goal of writing one short story each month. I missed last month by a couple of days, but as I was away for a week with family–and it was rather difficult to write over the holiday with much going on–I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I should have December’s short story drafted by the end of today, and out for submission by the end of this week.

This month’s short story is one that’s already written and critiqued; it’s just a matter of addressing its weak points and playing up its strengths before finding it a home by the end of the month.

Writing Contests

I will participate in writing contests this year. Last year, I gave myself a $50 budget for the year; I might bump that up to $100 this year but I haven’t decided.

Either way, I will enter some contests–paid and free–in hopes of getting my writing out there. It’d be cool to place in one of them; I came close a few years ago when I got an honorable mention in the WOW-Women on Writing Flash Fiction contest in winter 2015.

Writing About Writing

I also want to pitch articles about the craft of writing this year. I pitched two last year. The one in November was accepted and I haven’t heard yet about my pitch I sent in December.

These articles can be to magazines, anthologies, or blogs–I’m not picky. Last year I pitched two; this year I want to pitch four articles.

This Blog

Finally, but not least important, is this blog. With school and my TA work, blogging daily just isn’t possible. But I’m aiming for three blog posts per week, with one of those three being a writing prompt.

What are your goals?

I’d love to know what your goals are–writing, reading, or otherwise. Share in the comments for some accountability (not that I’ll hassle you about meeting your goals).