One of the most popular workshops I’ve taught has to be Writing for Anthologies. These markets, such as Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort, not only give a new writer valuable published clips and a byline, they also pay. At the Oregon Christian Writers Conference yesterday, I evaluated manuscripts that included stories for anthologies. These stories reminded me of the basics for winning an acceptance:
Writing Tip for Today:
- Be Honest. The best essays dig deep and reveal honesty as well as some universal truth or condition that many will easily identify with on an emotional level. Crack it open.
- Be Optimistic. You must be an optimist to succeed with these types of publications. If your writing topic, tone and style are hopeful and upbeat, you may have an edge. That isn’t to say they want sappy or trite essays–far from it. Some I’ve read have touched my heart. That’s what you’re aiming for: heart felt, not treacly or shallow.
- Show a story. Use scene writing techniques to illustrate your story. Even if you aren’t a fiction writer, use fictional techniques like scenes to allow your reader to experience the story. Story Telling often sounds preachy or talks down to the reader.
- Show only one story. Your essay must be tightly focused around one event. Limit back story (flashbacks) so the reader isn’t jumping around in time. If you must include back story, use the Rule of Three. Use active verbs and as few modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) as possible.
- R.U.E. Resist the Urge to Explain. You show the story, but don’t get sucked into explaining it for the reader. Often you can spot these explanations by looking for prepositional phrases, words that label emotions (anger, happiness, etc) or general words that don’t give much info (love, justice, etc).
- Start in media res. Begin in the middle of the action. Readers don’t require a lot of set-up in order to sympathize with the character.
- Use the one sentence test. After you’ve drafted your essay, sum it up in one sentence. Being a first-time mom is scary and mistake-prone, but we’re all doing the best we can might be the theme for an essay about becoming a mom. See if you can find some hint of this as the story theme on your essay’s first page. It’s usually not as overt as the “topic sentence” you wrote in school, but it should give the reader a clue about the direction the essay will take.
- Revise, rinse and repeat. Good essays often require many revisions.
Try This! Using a draft of an essay you want to submit for an anthology, go through and mark the places where you are in a scene, and where you are in narration or exposition. What’s the ratio of scene/non scene? Be sure the scenes are pivotal (story-changing) moments.