Why You Should Write & Submit Short Works

Pssssst: It’s my birthday today! Usually I wouldn’t advertise that, but it’s my 30th, so yeah, I’m going to unapologetically ask you to check out the Kickstarter project I’m involved in.

Contents:

The Importance of Writing Short Pieces

Back in 2017, novelist and screenwriter Tim Federle, asked, “Writers who’ve been at it a while, what’s one piece of craft advice you wish your younger self had known?”

This was my answer, based on my experience and the decades’ experience of my editing clients:

Write (and finish!) more short works before attempting that three-volume novel or ten-year comic. Advice teaches you how others write, but each new story you write teaches you how to solve problems with your unique brain.

If your current WIP (work in progress) is long-form fiction or essays or a book-length project, you could go months before finishing something. Writing something shorter can grant that feeling of accomplishment so many of our brains depend on to keep motivation up.

In “The Psychology of Checklists: Why Setting Small Goals Motivates Us to Accomplish Bigger Things,” Trello blogger Lauren Marchese says:

When we experience even small amounts of success, our brains release dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. When we feel the effects of dopamine, we’re eager to repeat the actions that resulted in success in the first place. Neuroscientists refer to this as “self-directed learning.” This is why achieving small goals is such an effective way to stay motivated during long-term projects and processes.

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Write a draft you can finish in a day or week: flash fiction, a short script for a comic or skit, a poem, an outline of a picture book. A fifteen-blinker—300-800 maximum words for prose, fewer than 30 lines for poetry.

If you’re between projects or stuck on one, if you’re feeling uninspired or pressed for time, write something short. Something completely different from what you are currently writing on. Let the madman loose and write without rules. Don’t edit, don’t revise, just finish the thing.

And OK, once you’ve finished the thing, and if you’re not on deadline for something else, revise that work and submit to contests, anthologies, or magazines. Shorter works are quicker to revise, so you can submit more frequently, which gives you a better chance of getting published (that is, if you keep improving as a writer and aren’t a jerk to the publishing community…).

Sure, you might get a bunch of “No”s, but rejections hurt less for works you didn’t invest as many months into.

And any “yes” is an upvote for your skill as a writer and an addition to your writer bio.

So how do you submit, anyway?

Submitting to Literary Magazines and Journals

Before you ever sign a contract, I recommend having a lawyer look over the terms. If you can’t afford a lawyer, research the terms and any person or entity involved in the contract before signing your name.

Submitting to a literary journal or nonprofit press is not the same as submitting to a commercial publisher. They want different things. A commercial publisher wants a query letter that will help them gauge whether you or your work will sell to a commercial audience. (That isn’t to say they don’t want good writing or that they won’t accept quiet works from unknown writers!) Still, query letters have to market your writing.

A cover letter for a journal or nonprofit press should include how your work will fit in with their oeuvre of published work. Literary journal and nonprofit press editors often skim or skip the cover letter—they care more about the story and voice than the pitch or concept. However, no matter how excellent your work is, it still has to fit within their brand. Your Hugo-worthy political fantasy will get rejected by Stymie, a literary magazine focused on sports.

Find literary magazines and journals to submit through Poets & Writers search or Writers Market. The latter requires a subscription. One year is the best deal, but you can pay $6 for one month and then cancel. You can order the physical book online for half price or pick up a copy of the book at a bookstore. Your local library may have a free copy of Writer’s Market to borrow, but it might be out of date.

Always check online to see if the submission information is accurate and to see if the magazine or journal has specific requirements for their cover letter.

Submitting Comics to Anthologies

Before you ever sign a contract, I recommend having a lawyer look over the terms. If you can’t afford a lawyer, research the terms and any person or entity involved in the contract before signing your name.

If you are part of a comics community, you might catch word of anthologies and open submissions through your network. Otherwise check out Find Anthologies! on Twitter.

Each anthology will have their own submission requirements. Most likely, if you aren’t illustrating your own work, you will need to have an illustrator up front. Together you will create a proposal with a cover letter, pitch, and sample pages or character designs.

Group Chat, a Comics Anthology about Friendship, Is Now Live on Kickstarter!

This whole blog post comes from personal experience. I frequently need to feel like I’ve finished something tangible, or else I get discouraged.

While working on long pieces, I often need to distract myself, especially when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired, by writing something short. I’ll write poetry, picture books, and short comics.

Well, one of those short comics is being published in an anthology!

Read the description below. Emphasis mine, because that’s the comic I wrote!

Group Chat features 24 up-and-coming creators, all telling stories about the people who have your back no matter what.
Group Chat spans genres from sci-fi to slice-of-life; from westerns to witchy shenanigans to coming-of-age stories. These comics —feeling good about your body after a mastectomy, two friends supporting each other through the creation of a trans fashion line, learning to appreciate your best friend’s chucklehead boyfriend, and others—were carefully chosen for their humor, heart, and beauty from a wide range of up-and-coming creators.

See the project on Kickstarter. If you watch the project video, “Best Dressed” is featured at 1:45. You can catch an additional sneak peak on Twitter or in my @larathelark Instagram Stories (Stories only available on mobile).

“Best Dressed” is a feel-good comic about dressing-room anxiety.

Want to read the original comic script?

Pledge at least $10 to the Kickstarter (the price for a digital copy of the whole anthology, 200+ pages) and email the pledge confirmation to querylara (at) gmail (.)com.

Julia Hutchinson is an illustrator and comics artist whom I follow on Twitter. She was looking to collaborate on a couple anthology submissions, and I sent her my idea for a comic for Group Chat. When I needed inspiration while writing the comic, I looked to the Leslie Knope / Ann Perkins friendship from Parks and Recreation and Julia’s previous artwork to solidify the characters. I wrote the skeleton, but Julia’s art brought my script to life with muscles and skin and spirit. She’s awesome, and I’m really proud of the comic we made together!

Tools & Tricks for Writers with ADHD

Howard Tayler, Writing Excuses Podcast:

“Word count equals motivation times focus.”

If it’s motivation and focus I need, I thought, no wonder my word count hasn’t budged in weeks.

This past summer, my son was diagnosed with ADHD. And the more I learned about ADHD—the more I unlearned what I thought I knew about ADHD—the more I understood my own brain’s struggles with trying hard things, getting started, and following projects through to the end.

It’s not laziness. It’s not a lack of intelligence. It’s not a matter of not knowing what to do.

It’s a gift (curiosity! humor! creativity! intelligence! fervor! ) … and a curse.

Watch This is What It’s Like to Have ADHD on Facebook

Whether hyperactive or inattentive (me) or combined (my son), ADHD can make writing long works difficult and make multiple rounds of revision feel impossible. But when people with ADHD get published, it’s because they fought for it with an unrivaled passion unimaginable by neurotypical writers.

If you have ADHD, hopefully some of these tricks can help you get those words on the page.

Much thanks to all the users on Twitter who sent in their tips and tricks, quoted below.

Got ideas not mentioned here? Please share in the comments!

Note: I don’t do ads or affiliate links on my blog. If you find one of my posts or resources useful, consider subscribing to my blog or sending me a [virtual] cup of tea.

Understanding ADHD’s Hurdles for Writers

Both motivation and focus are difficult for brains with ADHD, thanks to executive functioning disorder. But ADHD also affects writers in other ways. It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to get started on the task because of ADHD’s connection to perfectionism and the fear of failure.

The stereotype of people with ADHD is that they are messy and disorganized because they’re too lazy or unmotivated to get organized. In reality, many people with ADHD are perfectionists. “I’m an all-or-nothing type of person.” “If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not going to do it.” “I have organizational systems for my organizational systems. None of them work!”

First drafts are, by definition, not just imperfect but often hot steaming excrement. For a writer with ADHD to get through that step of writing is frankly a miracle that we should celebrate a whole lot more.

People with ADHD also often struggle with a debilitating fear of failure and rejection.

Nearly everyone with ADHD answers an emphatic yes to the question: “Have you always been more sensitive than others to rejection, teasing, criticism, or your own perception that you have failed or fallen short?” This is the definition of a condition called rejection-sensitive dysphoria.

…The term “dysphoria” means “difficult to bear,” and most people with ADHD report that they “can hardly stand it.” They are not wimps; disapproval hurts them much more than it hurts neurotypical people.

…[Some] find that the pain of failure is so bad that they refuse to try anything unless they are assured of a quick, easy, and complete success. Taking a chance is too big an emotional risk.
ADDitude Magazine,“The Fear of Failure Is Real — and Profound”

Rejection-sensitive dysphoria plays less of a role during the actual act of writing than the career aspects of writing. Recreational writers can write for fun. Professional writers have to submit their work to people who will have an opinion about it.

Knowing that RSD is an actual thing—with a name—can help writers with ADHD better prepare for and cope with rejection.

Knowing that perfectionism and RSD can prevent writers with ADHD from even getting started on a project will better equip them to overcome them.

Let’s look at other obstacles and how writers with ADHD have learned to hurdle them.

Removing Obstacles

The two most common obstacles to writing with ADHD are 1) the internet / apps and 2) distracting environments.

I touch type alone in the dark with my laptop lid closed (Bluetooth keyboard) so I have absolutely no other input that could distract me. I can get about 2 to 3 hours of focus like that before my brain hurts. Then I go back the next day and fix all the typos. —Jared Gray

I often write in my car at a park. It cuts me away from some of the distractions of the home. The Library also works really well. —Andrew Valorson

Implementing Tools

Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, many people are wary or judgmental of accommodations or medical treatment. And yet we don’t criticize someone for correcting their nearsightedness with glasses, or scoff at a person with asthma for using an inhaler. Many people with ADHD find relief through therapy, training, and medication. And oftentimes we find our own accommodations and tools to help us get things done.

Writing the old-fashioned way not only removes the distraction of the internet, but it also gives sensory input.

I do all my brainstorming with paper and ink, for the tactile aspect. Helps me work out plot tangles, too. —Joan Albright

Writing by hand. Like longhand. Pens. Notebooks. It’s still super hard to convince myself to *start* writing, but it reduces the distraction count to basically zero. And it keeps me from falling into the seductive trap of editing. —Ben Brainerd

I use an Alphasmart or Royal typewriter which takes the internet away. I also enjoy getting up and walking around while thinking things through with a dictaphone. —Alexander Keane

Making writing into a game or competition can increase interest by introducing a sense of urgency.

I set short timers, word wars with others (one of many reasons I write during nanowrimo time,) non-food bribery (new pen/notebook at 10k 4ex) —Karen T. Smith

I set a screensaver to activate after 60 seconds so if I get distracted it kicks in. —Ty Schalter

An ADHD brain craves stimulation. My non-medical stimulants of choice are chai and Hot Tamales cinnamon candy (one I discovered while trying to stay awake while reading my Western Civ textbook in college).

Music helps me focus. Energetic heavy metal or Orchestral stuff. But it’s what I write that matters. I have to be doing something tight in and sensory. It has to feel like I’m living what I’m writing. And Caffeine. Stimulants help with ADHD. Ritalin is a stimulant.
I also use tools like Habitica to show myself progress beyond wordcount and keep me accountable. Habitica is wonderful. The widgets are super handy. (At least on Android.)—Andrew Valorson

It takes time and lots of trial and error (under the supervision of a trained physician) to find a medication and dosage that works for ADHD, because every brain works differently. To be honest, I haven’t found anything that works for me yet without side effects I just can’t deal with. But my son started thriving on the very first stimulant we tried for him.

The most difficult and crucial part is getting proper treatment. I struggled undiagnosed for YEARS. Find what works for YOU. I’ve seen the timer (Pomodoro) method mentioned, which really helps me. Weirdly enough, writing in public (library, cafe) helps too, though it seems it would be distracting. I can’t sit still at home. Oh, and meds and coffee. —Elizabeth Perry

I know I said earlier that apps can be one of our greatest distractions, but certain apps can also be our greatest tools. Check the resources at the bottom of this post for recommendations.

Allowing Certain Distractions

I believe in accepting that my attention will be misplace and allowing controlled distractions. At my house, the distractions are never controlled because I have small, unpredictable children and am randomly reminded of chores.

At work, a controlled distraction might be having a Netflix show playing in the background while I’m working on nonverbal tasks.

At home, I might listen to an audiobook while doing chores.

When I’m writing, I’ll go to a coffee shop or library, where the comings-and-goings are expected. I can’t listen to stories or watch a show, obviously, but I do listen to a playlist that evokes the right mood. When I know what songs to expect, I can tune it out enough to focus on writing. But if I accidentally turn on shuffle, that control is gone, and I’m distracted when a song is played out of order.

I like playing music (without lyrics) to engage the part of my brain that likes to wander.—Joan Albright

Undoubtedly, inevitably, I still get distracted by ideas or my internal editor while writing, so I give myself permission to write annotations—otherwise I’ll be consumed by them for fear of forgetting them later. If I’m writing longhand, I leave about a one-inch margin on the edges for notes. If I’m typing, I mark notes with three slashes /// so I can find them later.

Harnessing Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus can be how and when you get the words down. I call myself a binge writer because I usually end up writing in big marathon sessions.
The other day when I was working from home, I got a great idea during a midday  shower. As soon as I got out, I wanted to write my ideas down. Before I knew it, it was two hours later, the sun was nearly set, and I hadn’t had lunch yet. Also I was still in my towel. I definitely did not clock eight hours of work that day.

Sometimes you can trick yourself into hyperfocusing by removing obstacles, gathering all of your tools ahead of time, and setting a timer. If you know that you’ll take a break once the timer’s done, you’ll be more likely to allow yourself to focus during “focus time.”

timer method. though, part of my problem is I have a hyperfocus problem and can write for 10 hours without moving/eating/anything which pisses my doctors off. —Jasmin Nyack

For physical, visual timers, I highly recommend the Time Timer, which was recommended to me by two different therapists my son was seeing as well as his summer camp director (who specializes in ADHD and child development). We have two of them, the classic and the magnet. The classic I bought from Lakeshore Learning; you can get it from Amazon, but if you do, please use smile.amazon.com to benefit the nonprofit of your choice. The magnet I had to order direct from Time Timer. Yeah, the price is kinda steep for a timer, but with half of my family with ADHD and half unable to tell time, a visual timer like these was desperately needed.

For virtual timers, see Forest and 30/30 in the resources below.

Resources

Technology

Here’s a list of apps and sites that might be worth looking into:

  • 750words.comFirst month free, paid membership following. Turn writing into a habit with this cloud-based writing software that tracks your progress and challenges you to write 750 words each session. If you can write during work breaks, use your work email and turn on daily email reminders. I set the notification to come before a peak writing time, and set the text color of the writing window to light gray so I’m less likely to read what I’ve written.
  • Cold Turkey WriterFree download. Pro version $30. This app doesn’t let you do anything else on your computer until you’ve written a set amount of words or for a set amount of time. It’s good for hyperfocus, but not good if you have to consult notes or change music. The pro version has some swanky advanced features.
  • FreedomFree trial. Monthly, Yearly, and Forever pricing. Freedom blocks the internet, social media, and apps across your devices. Sign up, and once or twice a year, they do 50% off the Forever pricing. I did this … but I keep forgetting to turn it on before working …
  • HabiticaFree with in-app purchases. Habitica is turns your life into an RPG by rewarding you for establishing good habits. I was introduced to it by Susan Dennard originally. It was too complicated for me, and I lost interest too quickly, but the interface is great, and with no price tag, it’s worth trying.
  • ForestFree with in-app purchases. It has abit of a learning curve, but this app goes beyond a simple timer and motivates you to keep working, both with little quotes and with a bush or tree that grows as long as you keep working. (Hint: The circle around the tree is how you increase/decrease time.) Having happy little trees on my screen did keep me from checking my phone for texts, Twitter, or Facebook for an hour. I think it would work well at work, too, if I remembered to turn it on, but keeping my phone in my bag is just easier.

Further Reading

 

Tools & Strategies for Writers with ADHD | LaraWillard.com

If you like it, then you should put a pin in it.

[Worksheet] Four Personal Goal Categories + Inspirational Quotes

No affiliate links here, and no price to download. If you find this resource helpful, you can buy me a cup of chai. I hope you stick around for awhile to see what other resources and worksheets you can delve into!

When it comes to goals, January is really just a free-trial month. So don’t worry if you didn’t meet your New Year’s resolutions. They’re not nearly as important as setting goals for yourself.

I’ve blogged about S.M.A.R.T. Goals before, but now I have a worksheet for you that will help you establish more than just achievements and professional objectives.

Individual growth is holistic, but juggling professional and personal responsibilities is rough. It usually results in dropped balls and broken plates—or hearts. We’ve discussed the difference between important and urgent, so let’s figure out how to really make a priority of those important things that have been evaporating on the back burner for too long.

We Work Too Much

Perfectly (and coincidentally) timed with this post was a recent Twitter discussion on the pressure we put on ourselves to always be working:

The struggle is especially real for people who work at home:

“You do this thing where you’re never fully committed to work time or break time. Every day you get some work done, but you’re never in ‘work mode’. But then when you goof off, you feel guilty, ’cause you feel like you should be working on something. You should have designated work time, and work hard to get it finished. But then, have relax time, and actually enjoy it. I think you’d be a lot happier.”

The Personal Goal Planner

When creating this goal planner, I researched a dozen different life coaching techniques and ended up with four non-work categories that can end up falling to the wayside when we focus too much on work:

Keep reading for the download and a smattering of inspirational quotes in each category.
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