August 09, 2008

Daily Blog 9: Five Tips to Blue Ribbon Writing

It's county fair time here in the Midwest, which means farm animals, baked goods, giant vegetables, and blue ribbons.

For months, the local 4H kids have been caring for their cows, chickens and other animals, raising them in the hope that their animal will be the grand champion, netting them enough money at auction to make a dent in their college tuition.

For writers who want to write blue ribbon fiction, the process is much the same.

1. Nurture your work, then let it go.

There's an emotional bond that develops when you write a story or book. You grow attached to your characters and hate to see the project end. But like 4H'ers, the bond is temporary. The danger is in hanging on to something and constantly going over it, thinking you can make it better. Maybe you can, but constant reworking can be a pitfall in and of itself. A good writer always needs to move forward, ending one project and moving on to the next. Perfect your work, make it the best you can, and let it go on to publication. Then get to work on the next story.

2. Choose strong bloodlines

Developing prize-winning fiction means making choices, this word or that, this plot or that. Prize-winning animals are chosen based on their heritage and bloodlines. Prize-winning fiction means putting in your best effort. In contrast to the need to constantly rework something, sometimes you can lose inertia. You get tired, or bored of a project, and want to get it done and over with. It's then that you are more prone to miss things, make mistakes, or your writing is weakened. In that case, take a break. Let a story sit and look at it with fresh eyes. Fix it and submit.

3. Keep your recipe secret.

That sweet grandma with the cherub face and the prize-winning apple pie knows what it takes to win. While she may offer a few tips on how to bake a better pie, her own recipe will probably remain a secret. Writers can take a tip from her by guarding their stories. Don’t be afraid to share writing tips or networking, which are one of the pleasures of being around other writers, but don't blab your story around. The more you talk about a story, it seems, the less you want to write it. Save your energy for writing the story instead of diluting your enthusiasm for it.

4. Keep it fresh.

Mucking out the stalls and seeing that the animals have fresh pens, clean water and fresh food are a necessary part of the fair. Your writing can also get old and stale. Pitch out the old. Read something new or in an entirely different genre. Try your hand at a new type of story. Write something in a different genre or length. Write on a topic you're unfamiliar with and need to research. You'll enjoy the challenge and may come up with a new story to submit to a new market.

5. Go for the prize.

The sad part of the fair is seeing the little kid crying because he didn’t get a ribbon. Even adults feel disappointed if they don't win. Competition is in our blood, but everyone can't win. Even in writing, there are winners – those who get published, and (I don't want to say losers) those who get rejected. Rejections can hurt, but they're not the end.

Stories get rejected, sometimes for reasons other than the story or writing. Don't let rejections stop you. If nothing needs to be changed in the story, send it somewhere else. Keep sending it until you find a market. But if you get several comments about the same thing that keeps it from being accepted, then that may be advice you should take to heart. But if that advice means changing the story substantially, then you have to decide whether to change it and get published or keep trying to find a market for it as it stands. In the end, getting that blue ribbon - seeing the story in print – is worth all the effort.

** Your turn: Got a good rejection story? Or how did rejection help you get your 'blue ribbon'? Do tell!


  1. Chris, what a great analogy! I've thoroughly enjoyed your posts, especially the ones that give writing tips. Thanks!


  2. Thanks Dani, but you know, let's see that's 22 days to go... I may run out of analogies soon, then I'm in big trouble. ha!

  3. Yeah, Chris, I'm impressed at how you keep coming up with these analogies. If you CAN keep going for 22 days, you will be worshiped as the Analogy Goddess!

    Worst rejection letter:

    The words 'no thanks' scrawled across a postcard.


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