Tag Archives: writing

WADADLI PEN Challenge – Who won what in 2017?

As always, we couldn’t do this without support. In 2017, this has meant partners Barbara Arrindell, Joanne C. Hillhouse, Margaret Irish, Devra Thomas, Floree Whyte – along with intern Michaela Harris and judges Glen Toussaint and Sharifa George – volunteering, working together, and playing our roles. We, especially, couldn’t do it without our patrons; without them, we would have no rewards to offer our deserving writers. So, we pause to say thank you. Thank you for coming through (mostly). Thank you for making it possible for us to encourage and reward the cream of Wadadli Pen Challenge’s 2017 crop as decided by our judging team. Thank you for your tangible contribution to the arts and youth development in our twin island state, Antigua and Barbuda. To anyone reading this, we encourage you to support the businesses (also the individuals and organizations) that support the arts.

Here’s how the prizes break down – in addition to certificates for each winner from Wadadli Pen, sponsored by the Best of Books:

School with the Most Submissions Island Academy International School (22 out of 93 eligible submissions)

  • Writing workshop with facilitator fee and miscellaneous expenses to be covered by a patron who wishes to remain anonymous
  • EC$500 gift certificate toward the purchase of books, sponsored by the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank
  • CAPE and CSEC books across several subject areas, contributed by Harper Collins logo
12 and younger

12 and Younger category winners (from left Ashley, Zion, Shadiael, and Emma) at the May 13th award ceremony. Photo by Linisa George/Art. Culture. Antigua

12 and Younger

Finalists in the 12 and Younger category receive gifts sponsored by US-based Antiguan and Barbudan Juneth Webson and books contributed by Harper Collins logoplus:

Honourable MentionAshley Francis (11, student at St. Andrew’s School; author of ‘Our Caribbean’)

3rdShadiael Simmons (11, student at Baptist Academy; author of ‘Brave Eleven-year-old saved Two Months Baby’)

  • EC$75 contributed byArt_Culture_Antigua-logo
  • With Grace, a book by Joanne C. Hillhouse, contributed by publisher Little Bell Caribbean

2ndEmma Belizaire (11, student at St. Andrew’s school; author of ‘Cricket is My Life’)

1stZion Ebony Williams (11, student at Baptist Academy; author of ‘Those who don’t hear, will feel’)

  • EC$125 contributed byArt_Culture_Antigua-logo
  • With Grace, a book by Joanne C. Hillhouse, contributed by publisher Little Bell Caribbean
  • EC$50 gift certificate for books, contributed by the Cushion Club
13 to 17

13 to 17 category winners (from left Francis, Devon, and Andrecia) at the May 13th award ceremony. Photo by Linisa George/Art. Culture. Antigua

13 to 17

3rd (tie) – Andrecia Lewis (17, student at Antigua State College; author of ‘Strange’)

3rd (tie) – Francis Yankey (16, student at Antigua Grammar School; author of ‘And She sang Fire’)

2ndAva C. Ralph (16, student at Antigua Girls’ High School; author of ‘Non Fiction?’)

1stDevon Wuilliez (16, student at Island Academy International School; author of ‘The Great Big Dumz’)

18 to 35

18 to 35 winners (from left Lucia, Kaeiron, and Fayola) with the Best of Books sponsored Alstyne Allen Memorial Plaque at the May 13th awards ceremony. Photo by Linisa George/Art. Culture. Antigua

18 to 35

3rdFayola Jardine (author of ‘Shakiyah and the Mango Hater’)

  • EC$100 contributed by Caribbean Reads Publishing
  • Books on writing – 3 A M Epiphany by Brian Kitely and This Year You write Your Novel by Walter Mosely, and Just Write Writers’ retreat scholarship, contributed by Brenda Lee Browne
  • Books contributed by Harper Collins logo

2ndLucia Murray (student, St. Anthony’s Secondary School; author of ‘Mr. Duppy’)

1stKaeiron Saunders (teacher, St. Anthony’s Secondary School; author of ‘Not Another Island Story; as told by Auntie Gah’)

  • EC$300 contributed by Juneth Webson
  • Gift basket/bag of products contributed by Raw Island
  • Book on writing – Unleash the Poem by Wendy Nyemaster, contributed by Brenda Lee Browne
  • Books contributed by Harper Collins logo
Winner K S

At the awards: Kaeiron Saunders, overall winner, with the Best of Books sponsored Alstyne Allen Memorial plaque which bears the names of all the winners since Wadadli Pen started in 2004. Photo by Linisa George/Art. Culture. Antigua

Top Three Overall

3rd – Zion Ebony Williams Zion

2nd – Devon Wuilliez Devon W for posting

Winner! Winner! Winner! – Kaeiron Saunders Saunders cropped

Featured image and some of the included images by Linisa George/Art_Culture_Antigua-logo Thanks to them. Thanks as well to the media who helped us get the word out including Antigua Nice, where Wadadli Pen has a year-round presence as their contribution to our project; and media who shared our notices and releases, or who hosted us for interviews (primarily ABS and Observer media). Thanks all; any oversights are not intentional.


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Shout out to St. Andrew’s (almost the school with the most submissions)

We want to shout out St. Andrew’s. No, St. Andrew’s won’t be winning the prize for the school with the most submissions. That prize will go to Island Academy which put in a hell of a strong numerical showing in this year’s Wadadli Pen Challenge, with one of its students making the long list.  Together, they account for roughly one-third of this year’s entries.

To be clear, we prefer when young people submit of their own volition, because they love to write, because they have something to say, because they want to challenge themselves, not because they’re pressed to do so by a teacher. But we do reach out to teachers because they have access that we don’t have to young people, and can help us not only spread the word but identify and encourage young writers in their orbit of influence to write. And so, we appreciate the teachers who help us access and motivate these young people. We appreciate even more the teachers who go the extra mile and assist young people with getting their submissions in – because maybe not everyone has a computer, or maybe some don’t understand the submission requirements, or maybe, more troubling still, that one young person lacks the confidence to even try.

Given that the Challenge’s age range is 35 years and younger, not all entrants are attached to educational institutions. But, for those who are, this year, we had submissions from students at Antigua Girls High, Antigua Grammar, Baptist Academy, Christ the King High, Five Islands Primary, Glanvilles Secondary, Island Academy, Ottos Comprehensive, St. Andrew’s, St. Anthony’s Secondary, St. Nicholas, Sunnyside, and Vibrant Faith Ministries schools; and Antigua State College and the University of the West Indies. Clearly, we need to figure out ways to attract more public school participation – one way we try to do so is with the prize for the school with the most submissions, a prize which has been won by public schools like Buckley’s Primary and T N Kirnon in the past, but which hasn’t seemed to translate to continuity on the part of those schools nor served to inspire other public schools at the levels of consistency we would like.

The work continues.

But, in the meantime, we big up those where teacher influence clearly helped boost the numbers – notably St. Andrew’s and Island Academy. Island Academy will, of course, be getting its props and prizes at the May 13th awards, 5:30 p.m., during the Wadadli Stories Book Fair.17854813_10154497215021188_8497364273538347535_oBut we want to give some you-go-you (!) to St. Andrew’s in this platform for collecting and submitting more than 10 entries on behalf of its students. Yes, and yet, that the entries were collected, scanned, and submitted, put them at risk of elimination since entries were to be typed and submitted in Word so that they could be easily formatted for blind submission to judges (the judges can’t know who wrote what story). We never want to eliminate an entry if we can help it. Still, and this is why we emphasize submitting per guidelines, we won’t always have the time and resources to assist entries that don’t follow said guidelines (and we shouldn’t, because there’s a lesson to be learned there). That said, we should be tougher on this point than we are. But as a development programme, we have, in the past, rather than  discard incomplete or incorrectly formatted submissions, given the submitters an opportunity to correct and re-submit. We can’t underscore enough that this is not something folks should count on; rather read the guidelines and submit accordingly, at risk of elimination. As is, despite us bending over backwards, something like five 2017 entries had to be cut for a range of reasons including late submissions, notwithstanding a built in grace period.

So, thanks to the staff at the Best of Books for making the effort to type the St. Andrew’s bulk submission which enabled us to give these young writers a chance, and thanks to the St. Andrew’s staff for making the effort to get the entries in in the first place – efforts which paid off with two students from St. Andrew’s ending up on the long list.

We want to encourage more teachers to encourage their children to get involved and to assist them with submitting per guidelines. Wadadli Pen’s Challenge is more than a competition, it is an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to develop your writing skills, an opportunity to express yourself, and, yes, an opportunity to shine. At Wadadli Pen, we remain committed to nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda, but we don’t do this alone.

So, shout out to St. Andrew’s.

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Writing is Your Business Returns

A moment during cycle one level oneThis one is for folks based in Antigua. It’s an adult education class I first offered in 2016 for working people seeking to improve their facility with written communication in the workplace. This isn’t about learning to write like a pro, but learning to write with more confidence and communicate effectively.

This course was offered under the banner of Barbara Arrindell & Associates and will be again.


I try to create an environment where participants don’t feel intimidated by the process of writing. I operate from the premise that writing can be made accessible to everyone. This is especially so for people willing to invest in themselves and putting in the work. The 2016 course reviews suggest I succeeded – by which I mean the participants succeeded in meeting their goals.

“I think I have improved. I now look at my weak areas when writing.”

“I accomplished my goal of learning proper grammar usage and some proper sentence construction.”

“The overall training was good and I’ve learned how to structure my ideas.”

“Overall it was a productive course” … “It was worth the sacrifice.”

“I  am more aware of common mistakes.”

Convinced, yet?

Think about it.

Once you’ve made up your mind, see the flyer above for registration details.

-posted by Joanne C. Hillhouse, who, when she’s not being the Wadadli Pen coordinator and blog manager, or writing books, offers several writing and editing services in Antigua and Barbuda and beyond, including creative writing courses and non-creative writing courses like this one.





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Four Caribbeans out of 21: the Commonwealth Short Story Long List

‘Twenty-one outstanding stories have been selected by an international judging panel out of almost 6000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries. This was a record number of submissions, an increase of almost 50% from 2016. Now in its sixth year the Prize is for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English.

Chair of the judges, novelist Kamila Shamsie, said of this year’s shortlist:

“The extraordinary ability of the short story to plunge you into places, perspectives and emotions and inhabit them fully in the space of only a few pages is on dazzling display in this shortlist. The judges weren’t looking for particular themes or styles, but rather for stories that live and breathe. That they do so with such an impressive range of subject matter and tone has been a particular pleasure of re-reading the shortlisted stories. The geographic spread of the entries is, of course, in good part responsible for this range – all credit to Commonwealth Writers for structuring this prize so that its shortlists never seem parochial. ”

The Prize is judged by an international panel of writers, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth. The 2017 judges are Zukiswa Wanner (Africa), Mahesh Rao (Asia), Jacqueline Baker (Canada and Europe), Jacob Ross (Caribbean) and Vilsoni Hereniko (Pacific).’

There are four Caribbean writers on the long list. They are Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica), Jon Lewis-Katz (U.S. based, Trinidad origins), Caroline Mackenzie (Trinidad), and Ingrid Persaud (Barbados based, of Trinidad).

Congrats to them.

Read about all the finalists and sample their entries, here.

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Antiguan and Barbudan Plays/Screenplays

N.B. This is specific to items written for the stage or screen which have been published in book form (not including screen/plays excerpted in journals which will be posted to the journals list). It’s short but I decided to share it anyway. The list of produced plays and films is longer (though still comparatively short). Use the search feature to find it. This list is also cross-posted to the main list of Antiguan and Barbudan writing which I started building in 2005 for the Independence Literary Arts exhibition at the National Museum. Use the search feature to find that. For other genre specific listings , search for fiction, non fiction, poets, children’s literature, songwriters, or whatever else. This list is all books all the time, but you can also search this site for publications by Antiguans and Barbudans in journals, contest wins, and performances. Chances are it’s somewhere here on the site. If you’re looking for Wadadli Pen winners, use the drop down menu on the right or search Wadadli Pen by year, name, story or other feature. Do your own research re the quality of any books posted here (we even have some reviews posted to the site) and if you share, credit. Hope you find what you’re looking for.


Name: Zahra Airall


Over the Hill and Through the Wood in She SexShe SEX – Prose and Poetry: SEX and the Caribbean Woman. Bamboo Talk Press. Trinidad. 2013.

About the Book:

Sex, Prose and Poetry, SEX and the Caribbean Woman has been described as “an important gathering of women’s voices” (Tiphanie Yanique, author of How to Survive a Leper Colony). Airall’s story, “Over the Hill and Through the Wood” is about an older woman finding sexual gratification for the first time.

About the Author:

Zahra is an educator, photographer, spoken word artist, poet, and stage and TV writer, director, and producer. She is a part of the following teams: Women of Antigua (which brought The Vagina Monologues and When a Woman Moans to the Antiguan stage), August Rush (which produces the Expressions Poetry series), and the team that brought the first TEDx event to Antigua.


Name: Edson Buntin


Anu Bantu: Treasure Island and Haunted Park. Antigua Printing and Publishing. Antigua. 2007.

About the Book:

“The format of this book is that of both a novel and a play rolled into one”–p.324.

About the Author:

Edson Buntin was a dramatist and an instructor in French at the Antigua State College. His contributions to theatre were both onstage and off, as an actor including serving as a cast member in the 1979 production of Dorbrene O’Marde’s Tangled Web and as founder of the Scaramouche Theatre and overseeing several productions at the College, such as Conjugal Bliss. Plays written by Buntin include Con Man Sun Sun, Mr. Valentine, and Wedlock. He has also acted in local films such as Once in an Island.


Name: David Edgecombe


Book-Front-Cover-Lady-of-Parham-300dpi-184x300Lady of Parham. Caribbean Reads Publishing (second edition). St. Kitts. 2014.

About the Book:

Lady of Parham, set in Antigua, introduces the audience to five revelers who have come together to form a Carnival troupe but settle for dramatizing the tale of the Parham ghost. In the telling of the ghost legend, Justin, Tulip, Sauna, Kyle, and Mabel must confront the demons that threaten to derail their lives. Lady of Parham is based on a local Antiguan legend. The play has been staged, including an eight night run at the Little Theatre, University of the Virgin Islands.

About the Author:

Edgecombe’s inclusion on this list is due to the Antigua-specific nature of this play. He hails from neighbouring Montserrat where he was the founder of touring company, the Montserrat Theatre Group. He has written over a dozen plays which have been staged throughout the Caribbean, in Canada, and in Nigeria. He joined the faculty of the University of the Virgin Islands in 1990 to teach English and was artist-in-residence in 1991. He also taught Journalism, Speech Communication, and Theater before becoming Director of the Reichhold Center for the Arts. He went on to become a full-time professor in the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, University of the Virgin Islands. He has published several of his plays with Caribbean Reads Publishing; but, notably, Lady of Parham was shortlisted for the Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award.


Name: Fransene Massiah-Headley


Pepperpot…A Caribbean Woman’s Story…Poems for the Stage. Dominica. 2008.

About the Books:

Pepperpot is a Look at the Antigua culture. It documents a  Caribbean woman’s life story while revealing some of Antigua’s rich history employing the Antiguan Nation Language to tell the story of the characters.

About the Author:

Fransene Massiah—Headley is an Antiguan educator, writer and dramatist. Writer and Dramatist.


Name: Ian McDonald

Books (select):

The Tramping Man (one-act play) in A Time and A Season (a collection of eight Caribbean plays). UWI’s School of Continuing Studies. 1976.

About the Books:

Tramping Man was performed in Guyana in 1969, broadcast by GBS in 1972, and published in A Time and A Season ed. Errol Hill, 1976. It is about a Dionysian carnivalesque figure, a spirit of unquenchable freedom who is seen by the state to challenge its power. The play has been frequently staged.

About the Author:

McDonald is the author of several books of fiction and poetry, including Caribbean Classic The Hummingbird Tree – which has been made in to a BBC production. He has described himself as “Antiguan by ancestry, Trinidadian by birth, Guyanese by adoption, and West Indian by conviction.” Ian McDonald’s Antigua connection is through his father (who is of Antiguan and Kittitian extraction, while his mother is Trinidadian). He himself was born in Trinidad in 1933 and went to Guyana in 1955. He has lived there ever since. From a white West Indian family, he worked in the sugar industry, pre-and-post retirement.  He wrote a weekly newspaper column and worked to revive the seminal literary journal Kyk-over-Al. His writing began in the 1950s with publications in BIM and New World. He has considerably more publications than mentioned here, including appearances in The Caribbean Writer, Poui, and the Caribbean Review of Books. He has received an honourary PhD from the University of the West Indies. Adept at sports – specifically tennis – he was Guyana’s 1957 Sportsman of the Year. His backstory includes a five times great-grandfather Edward Dacres Baynes, 1790 to 1863, who served as a soldier in Jamaica just after emancipation and after that a colonial civil servant in the Leeward Islands including the post of President of the Council of Montserrat, who eventually settled in Antigua with his wife and fifteen children. Bayne published a poetry collection entitled Child Harold in the Shades. His family line also includes a great-uncle Donald McDonald, an Antiguan trader, businessman and Assembly member who also wrote verse and published a volume in London in 1917. His grandmother, Hilda McDonald was the first female member of the Antiguan House of Assembly and author of a small booklet of verse, Sunflakes and Stardust.


As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, Fish Outta Water, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Mailbox – Advice to a Younger Writer

As I write this, the judges are reviewing the submissions to this year’s Wadadli Pen Challenge. This post is inspired by two emails from would-be Wadadli Pen contenders seeking to get better. Time does not allow me to give the desired response to every single message, but I did give some time to these two out of a desire to encourage their efforts to put in the work and improve.

The second emailer wanted to know how she could make her stories shorter. This is a struggle for her, she said, because she likes to include a lot of detail. This is a complaint I’ve heard before with the Wadadli Pen 600 word limit. I do wish that even those who think 600 words is too little would challenge themselves to try it anyway, and that’s the main reason I want to share my response (edited for length, flow, and to excise personal information).

Length does not necessarily translate to more detail. Often, there is a lot of unnecessary detail, or a bloated and meandering plot.

After writing, let it sit for a minute (an hour, a day, a week, a month…however long you need to come at it with fresh eyes). Then, ask yourself, what is the story? Re-read with an eye toward focusing on that – do we need all that backstory? do we need all those asides? what is the pivotal action? does this character really add anything to the telling?

With the short story, you don’t have a big canvas – you’re not telling the story of all the lives of all the people or even your central character’s entire life; just this one chapter in the much more expansive story of their life. You need to narrow (read: sharpen) your focus a bit more in the short story format but doing so is actually good practice for novel writing. Even with the bigger canvas that you have with a novel, you still have to tie off the loose plot threads, and hone in on the details that matter: details that help to reveal character, establish setting or context, enhance mood, or move the plot forward. Moving the plot forward should always be your goal.

In editing, you can see where your plot is stuck in quick sand and where there’s a limb you can use to dig yourself out.

If none of that makes any sense, remember this –

  • read a lot; read a lot of different types of stories, different lengths and genres and styles;
  • write a lot (some of it will not be fit for public consumption but that’s okay, you’re doing it to build your writing muscles);
  • allow yourself the freedom during the writing phase to write badly, to write unrestrictedly, to just write;
  • then learn to be honest with yourself so that you can be clear-eyed during the editing phase (get outside feedback if you can).

In time and with practice you will get better.

Write the stories only you can tell (the stories only you can imagine) – don’t be imitative. And don’t think (at this point) of writing a novel (etc.), think what are the stories I have dammed up in me that need to be told that only I can tell…tell those stories and zero in on why it is so essential that you tell them. That will help guide you.

reading and sharing by Kurne

Scene from my 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project.


Okay, I did that in under 600 words, so I still have time to add that if you want to be notified of future writing workshops, mine or, potentially, WadPen’s, say so in Comments with your email.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, and forthcoming With Grace). All Rights Reserved. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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Submitting Something Somewhere: Things to Consider

Literary journals (and anthologies) are a way to get your feet wet in the world of publishing (before unleashing your masterpiece), and a way to reach a wider audience even if you already have books of your own in the marketplace. Plus,  they are a way of sharing your writing, period.

To date, in addition to writing my own books, I have been published in:
Akashic Books Mondays are Murder online series (my first attempt at noir)
BIM: Arts for the 21st Century
Calabash: a Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters


Cover artist: Heather Doram

Carnival is All We Know: the Daily Observer’s 50th Anniversary of Carnival’s Literary and Artistic Anthology (which I also edited)
Collective Soul ( a local collection)
The Columbia Review
Ma Comère: Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (this very brief poem was my first publication outside of Antigua-it even got me a mention in the paper)
The Missing Slate
Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters
Munyori (an African journal)
Mythium: the Journal of Contemporary Literature
The PEN America Journal
The PEN World Voices Online Anthology (this was to coincide with me participating in the literary safari of the PEN World Voices festival)
Poui (the UWI Cave Hill lit journal)
The Sea Breeze Journal (a Liberian-American journal)
St. Somewhere
The Sunday Observer Literary Arts in Jamaica
Susumba’s Book Bag
SX Salon (this was poetry but I’ve also had two pieces of fiction short listed for the Small Axe Fiction Prize)
Theorizing Homophobias in the Caribbean: Complexities of Place, Desire, and Belonging
Tongues of the Ocean (I was later invited to edit a special Antigua & Barbuda issue of this online journal of Bahamian origin)

The University of the Virgin Island’s Caribbean Writer (which has also awarded me the David Hough Literary Prize for a writer working in the Caribbean and the CW Flash Fiction Prize)
Women Writers ezine (on the subject of regrets, contributors to this particular issue had the opportunity to present at a conference in New Orleans – I wish I’d found a way to go – though thankfully I’ve since been to the city who knows what other doors may have been opened)
& a story I submitted to the Desi Writers’ Lounge Short Story Contest (a story which earned honourable mention, my first attempt at a faerie tale) was selected for publication as a children’s picture book (coming soon!)
Links to published fiction and published poetry.

I’ve also been published in the following anthologies:
A River Of Stories Flyer 2016-1A River of Stories (Volume 4 – Fire)
For Women: in Tribute to Nina Simone
In the Black coverIn the Black: New African Canadian Literature
Pepperpot1-524x800Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean (after a story I submitted to the Commonwealth Prize, a story that was also short listed for the Small Axe Prize was selected for the collection; most recently I was contacted by a student at La Guardia Community College who is now studying that story as part of her course)
Round My Christmas Tree
She Sex, Prose and Poetry, Sex and the Caribbean Woman
So the Nailhead Bend, So the Story End: an Anthology of Antiguan and Barbudan Writing
Book, including anthology, listings.

N.B. a lot of my journalled and anthologized stories and poems have been collected in Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings.Dancing Nude

N.B. as well while some of these publications are by request, most are a result of submitting and crossing my fingers; some, like the Caribbean Writer, I’ve been published in several times…after several years of rejections; yep, for every accepted poem or story, there are countless more that have been rejected over the years.

N.B. well well well submitting to journals will not make you rich, I repeat it will not make you rich, but for my money, it’s still worth it if you’re a writer looking to not only cop a cheque but be a part of the canon (the literary canon). But don’t get me wrong, writers – all artistes – still need to live (so deserve and should push to be paid) but money (alone) is not what gets us up in the morning. Is it?

Some things to consider (knowledge paid for by hard earned experience):

Ideally, we don’t want give away all our rights, including the right to publish that work in future. When we’ve been trying for a long time, we become so eager when we finally get noticed, we don’t take the time to read the fine print or feel we have no choice but to accept. But we always have a choice. Including the choice to say “no, thanks” and walk away. The onus is on us before submitting to read the submission criteria and terms of use – several journals have these posted online – and decide if what they’re asking for is something we can live with if accepted. Sometimes what they’re asking for isn’t clear up front, however. So, if and when a contract is offered, we need to remember that we can ask questions, make counter proposals, and should pay attention to the tone of the negotiations, their willingness to hear and respond to our concerns.

We want to be paid for our work (I firmly believe we ought to be paid; everybody else is). However, especially in instances where payment is nothing more than a contributor copy (and even that can sometimes be hard to get), we need to consider if the publishing credit is one with some other currency behind its name. Is it respected, does it have a reach into areas you have not been able to get to before, are literary prizes or consideration for literary prizes and critical engagement attached; that sort of thing. Only we can decide if the trade-off is worth it but to do so we need to do our research.

Being active in online groups dedicated to writing is one way I’ve found to stay informed about new contests and journal submission deadlines (and you can too by for instance following Wadadli Pen where I regularly update re Opportunities). Then there are sites like Poets and Writers that have a handy submission schedule for your convenience. We can also look up where writers we like and/or respect have been published or ask other writers for ideas on places to submit.

Aim beyond the moon. By which I mean, let’s not limit ourselves. We should take advantage of the accessibility of niche publications.  The niche ones may make it possible for us to get our foot wedged in the publishing door due to us/our work fitting the publication’s gender, race, cultural, or geographical niche, but let’s not mistake them for inferior – the best ones have standards just as exacting as our so-called dream publications. But the dream publications are so called because their status (and market reach) is such that they can really open up the world of possibilities. Plus, unlike some of the smaller publications, the prestige they bring may come with a sizable payday. I say try for both, all the time, and let’s submit as many days a week as we can to as many (targeted) publications as we can: dream and find the niches. Besides, given the response time of most publications, it’s best not to limit ourselves or put all our eggs in one basket; we can grow old waiting.

We can’t let rejection (soul crushing as it can be, creating all kinds of doubt and internal crises) slow us down. As much as we can stand to hear it, we need to remind ourselves that rejection does not necessarily mean not good, not worthy, you suck!!! It may mean that the submission needs more work, it may mean that it’s not the right market or maybe the right time for it – we’ve all had instances where just as we’re re-working a rejected piece another publication accepts it just as it was. Serendipity and Murphy like to dance a tango all over our hopes and dreams, hard work and try. So we should try, as much as possible, to use the rejections as incentive to keep trying (do you think that’s enough repetition of try to make it stick in our heads?); the moment when a piece finally gets accepted by that publication we’ve been trying (guess not) to get into forever will feel like orbiting the moon (or some other more accurate simile related to flying…and trying).  In the meantime, we do the best we can with the piece (we will not send our first effort); then let it fly.

Sometimes rejections aren’t particularly kind but where they take the time to give a detailed response – here’s why your story sucked or whatever – we should take the time to read it and maybe learn from it. Anything beyond a form rejection (of the your writing is too bad and/or bland to merit my personal scrutiny variety) is unusual. So when we send you edit notes after you make the Wadadli Pen short list, that’s a good thing. And as writers ourselves, we send it knowing it may be hard to hear. We  may not be able to read the feedback right away, or all at once (reading edit notes isn’t like ripping off a sticking plaster). But read it dammit! Have some bobby treats at our elbow if we need to to reward ourselves for being good writers swallowing bitter medicine (bobby makes everything better).

Getting an informed perspective can be illuminating; we may decide that they’re dead wrong and we may be perfectly right, or we may see something we hadn’t considered in their assessment, something that can only make the writing stronger. But how will we know if we don’t at least read it…as they took the time to do?

That said, if our writing is accepted but they propose changes to what’s written, consider it …with care. It’s never easy to edit (especially when those edit notes are coming from someone other than us), but maybe that last line does need strengthening or maybe that bit of character motivation is too ambiguous. So, while we should be willing to fight for the work if we need to, we shouldn’t enter the review process fighting, but listening. If, in the end, we’re not comfortable, if it feels like the changes are transforming the writing in to something other than it was (this is a tricky one because sometimes transformation is a good thing and sometimes it’s pandering), we may need to walk away to write and submit another day. We just need to make sure we’re doing so in the best interest of the work, and not because we’re all in our feelings about being asked to consider cutting an “and” when our writing is genius (genius!). We’ve all been that diva, if only in our minds, at some point or other – but it’s not about us, it’s about what best serves the story/poem and that can be a hard distinction to make sometimes.

Sometimes an editor will make a change without consulting us; I’m not talking minor proofing for punctuation (though where form is a part of the function this can be a big deal too). No, I’m talking dropping aspects of the narrative that they perhaps find offensive in some way (language, language).  As someone who’s had her voice muted (one of those credits above, for which the editor apologized profusely when confronted …but, still, print lives on), That’s a big no, no (oh, hell, no!) in my book. It’s their right to determine that the piece isn’t right for them, but it’s not their right to change it without our consent. To avoid this kind of conflict of the spirit, we should make sure we read the submission criteria carefully before submitting and consider the context – would an academic or religious journal appreciate us using the C word in making a bold point about gender politics? It would be nice if they could be so open-minded but chances are they’re not and we should be guided accordingly.  In the personal instance referenced however where they had requested the work as is but then published it with significant unapproved cuts, the only thing that could have helped is anticipating that and asking to see the proof before it went to print. Not always possible but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Finally, we shouldn’t not try because we’re afraid to. One of the biggest hurdles we’ll have to overcome time and again as writers, apart from the flagging of the spirit and the block, is the fear. A journal asks you to submit a piece for a special issue but you’ve never written about that or this or then (this happened to me with Sea Breeze), consider it a challenge, a prompt if you will, and give it a whirl (Friday Night Fish Fry , which I went on to read at Breadloaf and of which former Stanford Stegner fellow Austin Smith wrote, “it’s an absolutely beautiful piece of prose. The characters are so patiently and vividly and sympathetically wrought”, exists because I said yes, I’ll give it a whirl). We may not like it but we live to be pushed out of our comfort zone. On a related point, we should not let the potential of societal censure or assumptions – and you know people will make them – stop us from writing our truth, our characters’ truth, stop us from submitting. If we change our mind that’s one thing, but if we let someone else change our mind for us then we’re really giving them too much power. Write, let your spirit breathe, be as complex as you are (even if you’re mocked for not fitting the mold), dare – we may need to repeat this to ourselves everyday but that’s okay. Someday, we may not need to, and some day our breakthrough may come. Here’s a simple truth I continue to learn, however, there is no such thing as a single breakthrough. Rather a million opportunities to do what we do,  and if we stay alert to them, keep writing, keep believing, keep trying, stay ready, we will keep moving in the right direction – sometimes with a tired shuffle, sometimes with a flying leap. But moving.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on  WordPress and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen, my books and writing, and/or my writing-and-editing services. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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