8 Ideas for Kick-Starting Your Writing Career During Quarantine

Starting a writing career is often a lengthy process. It doesn’t happen overnight; getting your name out there takes plenty of time, effort, and hard work.

But if you’re one of the many people in quarantine mode right now, there seems to be more time on our hands than ever before. 

So if you’ve got room in your schedule to focus on your writing career, here are eight ideas for getting started

(I’ve mentioned several of these strategies on the blog before, so I’ll also link to relevant further reading where applicable.)

1. Update your writer’s CV, LinkedIn profile, and/or Contently portfolio.

A few weeks ago, I covered the importance of keeping an up-to-date writer’s CV. (So check out that full article if you need a step-by-step guide.)

In brief, creating (and updating) your writer’s CV acts as a handy overview of your writing career — including your past publication credits, performances, and awards. It acts as a resume for creative writing work, so treat it as a priority. 

It’s also a good idea to keep an active LinkedIn profile. Be sure to include your creative writing career and accomplishments under your work experience. Keep your profile current with all of your most recent publication credits and awards (if applicable).

And if you’ve got a poetry reading or book launch coming up, try posting about it on your feed. Staying active on LinkedIn will help build your professional network and let you present yourself as a qualified writer.

Lastly, if you’re a blogger/freelance writer, Contently is a great site to help with building a professional-looking portfolio

It’s free to use and gives you a polished home for your writing credits — which is especially useful if you haven’t built a writer website yet. As with your CV and LinkedIn profile, make sure to update your Contently profile regularly so that you can showcase your most recent accomplishments.

2. Edit your past work.

Editing your work is a detailed and often time-consuming process. 

Much like spring cleaning, editing involves painstakingly looking at every nook and cranny of your work. It takes a lot of effort and mental energy, but it’s one of the best things you can do as a writer.

So while you’re at home, try taking a red pen to some of your past writing. Using either a digital word processor or a printed copy, give yourself some time to really dig into your own work. 

If you’re a poet, check out my past article on how to edit your own chapbook for a full break-down of the process.

3. Try compiling a longer collection/book.

This step goes hand-in-hand with editing: If you’ve got enough drafts of past work, why not try assembling them into a full-fledged book? 

For in-depth tips, check out another past article I wrote about assembling a poetry chapbook. In essence, try sorting through some past drafts to see if there are any core themes. If so, play around with grouping certain poems/pieces together into a larger body of work. 

If you’re a fiction or non-fiction author, try reading through your past notes to see if there are any interesting topics you could flesh out into longer pieces. 

Use this time to sort through your rough work and parse out what’s worth expanding upon.

4. Submit to new publications or publishers.

Again, I’ve covered this on the blog, but now is a great time to send your work out for consideration. Take the time to research calls for submissions in your area and assemble some high-quality samples of your work.

Or, if you’ve got a full-length book, try researching local small presses who are accepting manuscripts. Although tedious, this research could lead you to your first big break!

6. Try journaling.

Another topic I’ve mentioned before is the value of journaling. Whether free-form or structured, journaling is a great way to get your creative juices going.

Try not to put pressure on yourself to create a masterpiece while doing this exercise — instead, treat the process like a warm-up

Allow yourself to flex your writing muscle and see where it takes you. Even if you don’t end up with high-quality writing, you’ll be better off having practised.

7. Use writing prompts.

As with journaling, using writing prompts can really help you move past writer’s block. And during quarantine, you’ve likely been afforded the chance to play around with your writing practice.

ThinkWritten has a handy list, but you can find other prompts online (or in a book on writing). Try using one prompt per day to get yourself writing, and see where it takes you.

8. Start a blog or website.

Lastly, you could use this time to start an entire blog

This is an exciting prospect made even easier by the fact that platforms like WordPress make the process quite simple. You can try free versions to start out, and simply use a basic theme to design the site.

Try to pick a subject that you find genuinely interesting — whether that’s sports, makeup, gardening, or video games. Focus on something you’ll be excited to write about on a regular basis.

Alternatively, if you’re a freelance writer, this is an excellent time to start a writer website. As a digital creative, your website acts as a business card. The sleeker your writer website is, the more professional you’ll look to potential clients.

While you could technically use a free website, try shelling out for a custom domain name if at all possible. Even a super-basic WordPress plan will do you well. Be sure to include an ‘about me’ page, a contact form, and even a relevant blog if you have the time.

Conclusion

There you have it: eight tips for kick-starting your writing career while social distancing at home. These are trying times, but keeping busy with a creative practice can serve as a welcome distraction or soothing activity (especially journaling!). 

I hope you’re all doing well (or as well as you can right now). Thanks for reading this week’s post, and be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to be notified of future articles.

Happy writing!

Stuck With Writer’s Block? Here Are 5 Tips for Pushing Past It

Every writer’s been there.

You sit at your desk, wanting to draft up some new work…but nothing comes to mind.

Especially with creative writing, waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration to strike can feel frustrating.

Taking a break from writing is sometimes the answer, but there are practical tips you can take to push past your writer’s block.

Let’s look at my top five:

1. Start journaling.

Sometimes, we as writers get too precious about our creative work.

We feel as if we need to be “on” 24/7 — that every new bit of writing needs to be amazing.

In reality, writing is a muscle.

Just like you can’t expect to start deadlifting 200 lbs. before ever stepping foot in a gym, you can’t expect your creative output to magically appear if you never put in the effort.

Honestly, the bulk of what you write isn’t going to be your best work…and that’s fine.

It’s more important (especially as a new writer), that you just start doing the thing: writing.

So break out a nice journal and start writing.

If you don’t already own one, head over to your local dollar store — they’ve usually got plenty of options that won’t break the bank.

The structure here isn’t important; write whatever you want.

You can jot down an informal diary entry, or you can loosely write a new poem.

You can describe the bowl of fruit sitting in your kitchen, or write about the view from your window.

It truly doesn’t matter what you write — as long as you’re flexing your creative muscle.

Chances are, there will some nugget of interesting content hidden in there.

Whether it’s a single word, phrase, or concept, you’re bound to stumble on something of note.

Then, you can more seriously play with whatever idea you had, and get a bit more intentional with your writing work for the day.

2. Listen to some great music.

No matter what your taste, there’s bound to be certain music that inspires you.

Put on one of your favourite albums — and if you can blast the volume, all the better. (If you’ve got roommates or it’s late at night, use some headphones.)

Sit down and really engage with the music: What are the lyrics? What are the harmonies? What is the artist saying?

Pay attention to what you hear. When you catch something interesting, make note of it.

Maybe a certain word catches your eye, or a guitar solo really speaks to you. Write about it!

The same principle goes for other types of art — if you’re a big movie fan, or a visual artist, engage with other types of work that inspire you.

Watch one of your favourite movies, or sit down with a favourite painting that you have hanging in your house.

Oftentimes, all we need to get a bit of inspiration is to appreciate the work of other artists.

3. Read the work of others.

Last week on the blog, we covered why reading poetry is just as important as writing it.

This ties back in with #2, since reading the work of other writers is just another form of appreciating art.

In terms of developing a personal style and getting inspired, there’s no replacement for reading.

Take out one of your favourite books, or pick up a new one from the library!

Read it closely, just as with the music-listening exercise:

What is the author saying? What rhetorical devices are they using? What are my favourite lines? What are my least-favourite lines?

It can also be very useful to expose yourself to classic works of literature, since they’ll often challenge you and teach you words you may have never heard before.

Shakespeare is good for this sort of thing, since his language is so rich. Hamlet or Macbeth are especially engaging in terms of the writing.

4. Check out local calls for submissions.

Another way to get inspired is to find calls for submissions in your area.

Oftentimes, publications will have specific themes or prompts for each issue.

For example, they might list a word, phrase, or question for potential writers to engage with.

This is an easy way to get inspired and focus on a theme for your work (not to mention that your new work will be pertinent to submit!).

Google “call for submissions” + [the name of your city] to get some ideas, and start drafting up some new work.

5. Interact with other writers.

I’ve touched on this point in previous blog posts, but it warrants repeating.

Interacting with other writers can give you a huge boost of inspiration (and also act as a generally fun social activity).

You could take a writing workshop or class (either a one-time or ongoing thing) to get the ball rolling.

Workshops are especially useful, because they’ll usually involve some type of writing exercise/prompt to get you started.

If you’re in college, trying researching your school’s creative writing courses, and enrol in one (if your schedule permits).

If not, local libraries are often good places to start.

You could also attend general literary events in your city, such as poetry readings.

Google “poetry readings” + [your city] to get started.

If you’re in a metropolitan centre, you’ll have an easier time, but don’t get discouraged.

Even if you’re in a rural town, there are usually literary events (even just once a month or so) if you look hard enough.

Wrapping up:

Hitting a writer’s block is truly inevitable — even for the most experienced of authors.

But don’t let the experience dampen your spirits.

Try one of these tips to help you get inspired and back to writing.

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As always, be sure to hit Follow if you enjoyed this post.

New blog posts are up every Friday and centre around the theme of Writing Advice.

You can also reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com with any questions, or to inquire about quotes for my writing & editing services.

Happy writing!

Why Reading Poetry Is Just as Important as Writing It: The Key to Creating Great Work

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” — Stephen King

In King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he explains how important it is to be continually reading if you want to get serious about writing.

I couldn’t agree more.

The bulk of my education about the English language came from the act of reading.

And I’m not talking about assigned school-work. I’m talking about round-the-clock reading for fun.

When I was a young child, my mom would endlessly read books to me from the local library. She was a teacher in her home country, and is a trained early childhood educator here in Canada, so she’s always appreciated the value of learning.

As soon as I could read independently, I inhaled books to no end.

In elementary school, I’d bring home a backpack full of books I’d borrowed from the classroom — every single night.

At six years old, my teacher remarked that I was already reading at a fifth-grade level. And I didn’t stop there.

I entered and won my local library’s creative writing contests as soon as I was old enough to enter.

By the age of thirteen, I had already won a national youth literary contest, given a paid poetry reading at the reception, and gotten a publishing credit out of the whole thing.

None of this happened by accident.

Why reading is your secret weapon as a creative writer

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve won more literary contests, been published widely in magazines/journals, and written two books for my publisher.

All of these accomplishments started from one habit: regularly reading for fun.

So if you want to embark on a creative writing career, it’s crucial that you start reading.

Read whatever you can get your hands on: poetry, novels, non-fiction.

Every genre has something different to teach you; poetry teaches brevity and emotion; fiction teaches world-building; non-fiction teaches research skills.

And you don’t need to spend a ton of money. Check out your local library (or college’s library) to start.

Used book stores are also gold-mines for finding affordable new reads.

If you have the cash to buy lots of new books, go for it — but don’t feel obligated.

Writing poetry in particular

The bulk of my career has been as a professional poet. Although I dabble in creative non-fiction and do plenty of client work, poetry is my niche.

For poetry especially, you really need to expose yourself to different styles. Read the classics. Read new poetry. Read formal poetry. Read experimental poetry.

Poetry is so incredibly open-ended — unlike fiction, there really aren’t any rigid guidelines for writing it.

You can write a poem that’s one word long, or you can write a poem that’s 1,000 words long. You can have a title or not. Poets have the freedom to basically do whatever we want.

But how can you find your unique style if you’re not a seasoned pro? Just keep reading.

Eventually, you’ll stumble upon poets that change your life. (For me, those include authors like Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski.)

You’ll find poets that write about things you care about. You’ll find poets that have incredible styles the kind you’d like to emulate.

But you’ll also find authors whose work you really hate (for me, that includes ‘Instagram poets’ like Rupi Kaur). And that’s good, too! It’s all part of the process.

You need to dip your toes into many different types of writing — otherwise, you won’t know what you like and dislike.

Reading is a constant process of learning new things about the world (and about your personal taste).

Get inspired, but don’t copy

It’s great to read other poets to get inspired. But don’t try to outright copy another writer’s style. That’s pointless and uninteresting.

There’s no use trying to be the next Shakespeare — because you aren’t Shakespeare.

Embrace who you are: your identity, your life experiences, your preferences, and your thoughts. Look to other writers for influence, but don’t try to imitate them.

Keep reading and keep writing new work. The two practices will feed into each other.

Conclusion

So, always keep a new book on your bedside table.

Constantly seek new literature to read.

And think of reading as a prerequisite for creating great work.

___

As always, thanks for reading my Writing Advice column here on my blog.

Be sure to hit the Follow button to get notified every week when I post new articles.

Happy writing!

How to Edit Your Own Chapbook 

Introduction

In my last blog post, How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry, I went over the process of completing a short manuscript. I briefly touched on the revision process, but today I’m going to get into the exact steps of self-editing your own book.

1. Decide where to submit.

I’d recommend self-editing your work before sending it out to publishers—this way, you’ll put your best foot forward during the submission process. 

Then, after you (hopefully!) get to work with a publisher, you’ll be assigned an editor to polish your manuscript with.

If, however, you’re planning on self-publishing your chapbook, I’d strongly encourage you to hire a copyeditor.

If it’s within your budget to hire a professional to help you out, I’d recommend it. Nothing beats the process of working with a trained editor to perfect your chapbook for publication.

2. Read over your own work.

Once you’ve assembled your first draft, carefully read through the poems. Pay close attention to spelling and punctuation

Ask yourself: Is everything spelled correctly? If not, are the misspellings made thoughtfully and intentionally? How much punctuation have I used? Am I aiming for a minimalist approach or a formal tone?

Read your poems out loud, repeatedly. Listen to the flow of each piece. Dive deep into the minutiae of the work. Take your time honing the voice of the speaker. 

3. Seek advice from respected colleagues.

As I touched on in my previous blog post, it’s a great idea to ask others for their thoughts. If you have writer friends, ask if you can take them out for a coffee and get their feedback on your work. 

Writer friend relationships are often reciprocal—if you met in a workshop or class, you’ve likely both helped edit each other’s work. This is an awesome part of finding a writing community—people are often very willing to help each other out.

If you’re lucky enough to have a poetry mentor, such as a professor/instructor you’ve become close with, see if they’re willing to read over your work. Many professionals are very busy, so this may not necessarily be possible—but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Try to offer something in return, such as a coffee or meal, to show your appreciation for their time. Remember that they may be willing to do this out of the goodness of their heart, but they deserve something for their efforts.

If you’re consulting an outside editor (who you’re not friends with), don’t ask them to read your work for free or in exchange for a meal. Pay them. Always.

4. Review the feedback you’ve received, and decide which suggestions to implement (or not).

Once you’ve gotten some solid feedback, ask yourself which of these edits actually make sense. At the end of the day, it’s your book

No matter how much you respect a colleague, they don’t necessarily understand your complete creative vision. Consider each suggestion carefully, but don’t feel obligated to accept every single one.

Thoughtfully implement the edits you find useful, and set aside the rest.

5. With your new edits made, return to step 2.

After consulting your peers and making some changes, read over the new versions of your poems thoroughly. Read them aloud again, and pay close attention to spelling/punctuation.

Once you’re pleased with the draft, submit it to publishers. If you’re self-publishing, move onto the phase of finding and working with your copyeditor before moving to print. 

(Check out my previous blog post for more specifics on the process of finding small presses to submit to.)

Conclusion

I hope you found this blog post helpful. If you want to read more of my Writing Advice posts, don’t forget to click the Follow button!

And, if you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter or editor for your next creative writing project, I offer freelance services. You can reach me at services@mercedeskilleen.com to get a quote.

Thanks for reading!

How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry: Tips From a Professional Author

Introduction

Congratulations! You’ve set the goal of writing a poetry chapbook. This is a super exciting endeavour which could totally change the course of your career.

If you’re anything like me, the process can seem intimidating. I know that when I set out to write my first chapbook, I felt pretty lost. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I did some research online.

Personally, I found this PDF of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Why Publishing a Chapbook Makes Sense” extremely useful. It breaks down the basics of what a chapbook is, and why/how you can write one.

And, by consulting this online info, I was able to put together my first manuscript. After assembling the poems, I spent months editing them. Once I was finished, I submitted it to several small presses, and it was picked up by my now-publisher—Grey Borders Books.

So let’s look at my personal tips for writing a chapbook:

1. First things first: get into the habit of regularly writing new poetry

Obviously, you can’t assemble a manuscript without individual poems. So you’ll need to get into the rhythm of creating new work.

The creative process is different for everyone, but here are some potential motivators:

  • Set aside a designated amount of time each day to write new poetry (even if the poems aren’t very good!). 
  • Take a poetry writing course at your local college or library. (This is my personal favourite! While I was in university, I took two different creative writing workshop courses, and in both classes, I ended up writing entire manuscripts.)
  • Go to an open mic night for poets, and share new work. The act of attending these events will give you the incentive to write.


Once you feel like you have a solid chunk of poems to work with, then you can start trying to assemble them into a cohesive publication. This could take months or even years, depending on how much time you want to take.

2. Sort through your poems and ask yourself these important questions.

Upon reading over your work, ask:

  • Are there any central themes that come up over and over again in my poetry? What are they? (For example, when I looked over my own work, I found that many of my poems centred around experiences of mental illness and hospitalization.)
  • Are there any recurring images that come up in my work? What are they?

The basic idea is that, for a chapbook, you want to find a pretty specific theme. 

Since chapbooks are generally quite short (approx. 15-35 poems long), you don’t really have the liberty of jumping around from random topic to random topic. (I mean, you technically could do that, but it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying to read.)

In full-length manuscripts, you generally have more freedom to play around with different themes and images. But chapbooks tend to be a bit less forgiving, in that sense.

Once you’ve recognized a few central themes and images, pick out some poems that are all connected to those same basic concepts. This won’t be your final list—just collect them.

You could put them all in a single Word doc, or make a folder with various documents—whatever organization system is easiest for you. I’d say a group of at least 20-40 poems would be a good place to start.

3. Go through your group of poems, and get a bit more selective.

Now that you have some poems to choose from, go through them and see which ones are the strongest. Have any of these poems been previously published or won awards? If so, start there.

Narrow the group of poems down to your best work. This might end up being 15 poems, or it could be much longer. Just see what feels best.

Once you have narrowed down which poems you’ll include, start playing around with the order. This will be very time-consuming. Experiment with different poems coming first or last. 

If you want to get creative, print out all of the poems, and manually move the pieces of paper around on a floor or large table. Try out different placements.

Once you’ve got a decent draft, move on to copyediting.

4. Edit, edit, and then edit some more.

I’m a bit partial to thorough copyediting, because I also work as a professional editor. And when I was a new writer, I spent 7 months personally revising my poetry manuscript. By the time I submitted it to my now-editor, he didn’t need to change a thing; the book went straight to printing.

The point is that you should edit your work so thoroughly that it will impress any editor who reads it over. When you’re sending out your manuscript, you want the collection to be as polished as possible, so that it gets picked up by a publisher.

Spend at least a few weeks (possibly even months) reading over your poems. Edit them for clarity and correctness. Have some friends read them over. Ask a creative writing teacher/mentor for their thoughts. Get as much feedback as possible—and then decide which advice to implement.

By the end of it, you should have a collection of cohesive, effective poems. 

5. Submit it to publishers. (Or self-publish.)

The next step is to research some small presses in your area (big publishers don’t usually put out chapbooks). If you’re Canadian, Kitty Lewis has compiled a great list here

Then, submit your manuscript—either by mail or online (depending on the guidelines). Send it to several presses in order to keep your options open. And hopefully, all that hard work will pay off!

If you’re planning on self-publishing, this is the point where you’d start printing your chapbook (or hiring an outside editor to copy-edit it for you). 

Conclusion

Writing a chapbook is a great option for new writers. It can help you establish yourself as a published author and seriously advance your career. I hope you found these tips helpful!

How to Deal With Rejection as a Creative Writer (Even If You’re a Sensitive Person)

Introduction

I’m not going to lie to you: getting rejected sucks. Even when you’ve been doing this for over ten years, it still stings. But you don’t have to let this inevitable part of the creative process get you down. Here are my top tips for coping with rejection (even if you’re a sensitive person):

1. Always have options. 

You should never put yourself in a position where all your eggs are in one basket, so to speak. Don’t pick a single magazine or journal and only submit there. 

It doesn’t make sense to zero in on a single publication—getting published is a numbers game. Find several publications that you’re interested in, and send out multiple submissions.

Important note: Make sure to check if the publications accept simultaneous submissions or not. Only submit the same piece to multiple publications if their guidelines allow it.

2. Never linger too long on a single rejection.

I know—this is a hard one. When you get excited at the idea of being published in a certain magazine or journal, it can feel crushing when they reject your work. But there is no point in obsessing over a single rejection.

What to do instead? Put in the legwork to get published in the future. If the editors gave you feedback on your submission, then read it carefully. If not, re-read your submission and see what you could have improved. 

When that publication has another call for submissions, take that into consideration: What kind of work did they reject? How can I improve my submissions in the future?

Or, maybe, this just wasn’t the right publication for your style of writing. That’s OK, too! Research different journals and magazines that might be better-suited for your work. Submit to them, and most importantly: move on.

In my experience, there have been multiple well-known literary magazines that took me years to get published in. Those publications rejected me for years, but I kept re-submitting anyways. 

I took into account what kind of style they liked, and eventually, my work matched up with their preferences. I wouldn’t have those high-profile publishing credits if I’d given up the first time.

3. Practice mindfulness; there’s no use fighting the situation. 

One of the most effective tools for dealing with life’s hardships (in my experience), has been mindfulness. The practice of slowing down, doing some type of breathing exercise, and being still, is immensely useful.

As a writer, you can adopt this type of philosophy when getting rejected to help you cope with the unpleasant reality. You can do a meditation, practice some yoga, or simply remind yourself: 

This rejection is not the end of the world. It’s happened, and that’s OK. I can’t control the editorial decision that was made. It doesn’t make me a bad writer; it just means that this particular submission didn’t work out. I can accept this and move forward. 

Try to remember that there’s no use dwelling on the past. Mindfulness can help you realize that the only moment that matters is the present. 

Ask yourself: What can I do to further my career today? What can I do right now to move toward my goal of getting published? Can I work on a new piece of writing? Can I research new publications? 

The sooner you live in the present moment, the better off you’ll be.

4. Know that, with each rejection, you’re building resilience. 

Every time you get rejected, you get a little bit more comfortable with the experience. After you get used to the process, it will become easier. Yes, it will still be uncomfortable, but you’ll be able to move on quicker.

As somebody who deals with anxiety, I know this first-hand. When I started out as a creative writer, it was so nerve-wracking and upsetting to submit my work to a journal and get rejected. I’m sensitive, so the entire process felt overwhelming.

But now I’m at a point in my career where I’m comfortable with rejection. Obviously, it’s still a bit disappointing, but I don’t focus on it too much. I just move on, keep writing, and keep submitting my work to different publications.


Thanks for reading! Please share this blog post if you found it useful 🙂

And let me know in the comments: What has helped you deal with rejection in the past?

3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer

Introduction

For many people, getting published as a creative writer can seem daunting. Between mailing out manuscripts and paying for contest entry fees, the costs of pursuing your passion can quickly add up.

Thankfully, you can build your creative writing career without any real up-front costs, if you’re savvy about it.

Although many publications and organizations require fees, you can still find legitimate, free options. It just takes a bit of extra legwork.

I won my first literary contest at the age of thirteen—and, obviously, I didn’t have much (if any) cash to invest in the process.

Still, I was able to cement my first professional writing award, got invited to perform at the prize ceremony, was published in the organization’s anthology, and even got interviewed by The Toronto Star.

Over ten years later, I’ve now been published in numerous magazines/journals, won multiple literary awards, and written two collections of poetry with my publisher.

And I’ve managed to accomplish all of those accolades without spending much (if any) money at all.

So, regardless of where you’re at in your creative writing career, you can find ways to get your work out there–for free. I write poetry and creative non-fiction, but many of the principles will apply to other genres.

Here are my tips:

1. Find reputable, local publications.

The first step to getting published is to find the type of publication you’d want to get accepted by. For a poet, this will likely be in the form of a local literary magazine.

A good place to start is with your nearest college/university. Many schools have high-calibre literary magazines run by students. Although some require you to be a student to submit your work, many do not.

I’ve found that student-run publications usually don’t require entry fees (at least where I’m from).

For example, I studied at the University of Toronto, where I was published in several student journals—many of which I still submit to (even though I’m no longer enrolled there).

If you look hard enough, there are many reputable publications that charge no fees for submissions/contest entries. Here are some great examples, for Canadian writers:

A simple Google search can help you locate calls for submissions in your area. Try using terms like “poetry contest” or “call for submissions” + the name of your city.

2. Prepare your submission.

Once you’ve found some solid publications to submit to, make sure that you read their guidelines. Thoroughly reading these instructions will save you—and the editor—a lot of time.

Be sure to find out the following:

  • Does this publication only accept submissions from local writers, or are they open to international work?
  • Do I need to be a student to qualify for publication here?
  • Is there a word limit for submissions?
  • Should I use a specific size/style of font?
  • What is the deadline to submit to this publication/contest?
  • Does this publication accept simultaneous submissions? (AKA: Am I allowed to send my entry to multiple journals at the same time?)

Find the important details, and follow them. There’s no use submitting to a publication you’re not eligible for.

It’s also a good idea to read samples/past issues of the publication you’re submitting to. Get a feel for their style, and figure out what kind of work they like.

Then, looking at your own work, strategically decide on which pieces you should send them.

Format everything according to their specifications, and be sure to note whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions (if they don’t, then make sure that you’re only sending that poem to one journal at a time).

3. Get ready for rejection.

I’m going to be totally honest: whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro, you’re going to get rejected at some point.

I often joke that 90% of being a writer is just getting rejected. There’s no use getting embarrassed about it, because every single writer has faced this reality.

Don’t expect to be published in every journal you submit to, because it’s not going to happen. The same thing goes for contests: you can’t possibly win every single one.

When you submit to a publication, go into it with the following mentality: It would be nice if I got accepted, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

And what to do when you get your inevitable first rejection letter? Shrug–and move on. So, you didn’t get in this time. You can always try again in their next call for submissions, or look into alternative journals.

Conclusion

You can build an entire literary career without ever spending a penny. All you need to do is spend some time researching local publications, and focus on the ones without any entry fees.

And as you submit to more journals, magazines, and contests, you’ll gradually find new avenues to publish your work.