No Time for A Novel in a Month? How About a Literary Journal Challenge?

They’re “The best of the mysterious, elusive things,” they’re “A gateway to discovering your next favorite writer,” they can be “frequently dull, pretentious, willfully obscure,” they’re “Vital to the survival of modern literature” and they’re “Not read enough.”

Or at least that’s what the editors of some literary journals said in our roundup of which magazines agents are reading for new talent today (in the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest).

How do you feel about literary journals?

I’m a fan. Moreover, as prompt addicts know, short stories can be great boot camps for longer works. Thus, because of a hectic November schedule, instead of taking part in excellent NaNoWriMo this year*, I’m going to spend November focusing on editing my unruly current work-in-progress, and attempting to write and place a story or two in some of my old favorite journals.

Anyone care to join me? I say we go for it, then in December we can compare notes, share a toast/cry on one other’s shoulders, and toss back and forth ideas for what makes successful short stories. I’ll also try to rope a literary journal editor for a Q&A in the middle of the month so we can tap into what goes through their minds when combing the slush pile.  

I’ll bid you a good weekend with what is perhaps the eternal top advice on submitting to any publication, one featured in the lit journal article. As Anne McPeak, managing editor of A Public Space said, “Familiarize yourself with the magazine to make sure your work is a good fit. There’s a lot of great writing out there, but not all of it is right for us.” (That might prevent you from getting a “WTF?” back from an editor, as I once did in college.)

And if you’re on Facebook, I just started a Promptly feed, and am in dire need of a few digital friends. Check it out!

*If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo, check out founder Chris Baty’s top five survival tips, which we ran in our InkWell section last year.

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

You try to snap a discrete photo—but it just doesn’t work out that way.

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10 thoughts on “No Time for A Novel in a Month? How About a Literary Journal Challenge?

  1. Paradise

    Discrete….not so much.

    My face pales as he turns towards me, obviously surprised. My eyes widen and I am quick to hide the camera behind my back. I can’t fight back the embarrassed blush to explodes across my face. He quirks an eyebrow at me and I smile nervously. I knew how much he hated getting his picture taken. A frown tugs at his lips and I take a step back, not so involuntarily. I let out a tiny giggle and he only shakes his head at me.

    “Isabelle…next time, take off your dog tags before sneaking up on someone.” My boyfriend of three years says in a humorous voice, frown morphing into a charming grin.

    I pout and turn away, leaving him to continue watching tv. I escape to my bedroom, where I look at my saved photos in my camera. I smile softly.

    A perfect picture.

  2. Zac

    Deb, Dorraine, Melody, Lisa — excellent! We can commiserate/celebrate when Christmas rolls around and we’re rolling around in either rejection slips or comp copies. (Hey, how about this, too: I’ll send all of you copies of a WD mag so that we at least get a comp copy of something 🙂

    And that includes you, Mark, and Martha — Prompt warriors! I’m continually in awe of people who can consistently bang out great pieces in such short time frames. And good luck with the creative headaches — hopefully we’ll all have one this holiday season…

  3. Mark James

    I can’t commit to writing a novel in a month, mostly because I’m already beating myself about the head with my laptop. It’s an interesting, creative stage; or more accurately, it will be when the headache wears off.

    Good luck to you Zac, with your stories.

    And just so I can get into the spirit of the month, I’ll commit to writing every November prompt.

    Anyone wanna join me on that?


  4. Mark James

    Maybe it was the flash; or maybe it was just my unlucky day. Either way, sitting here in the dark, tied up, my hands going number by the second, I’ll give you some advice. If you take a picture, and a man in sunglasses offers you a hundred dollars for your disposable camera, take the money.

    I hugged Kat. “Thought you wouldn’t make it.”

    “Stand up the almost world famous photographer whose photo is gonna be on the cover of Time some day?”

    She sat at the table and we both looked out at the fountain.

    “What’s all those rocks and things in it?” Kat said.

    “Zen. The sound is supposed to clear your mind.”

    She swirled her arms, like a snake charmer. “You’re one with the universe. The universe is one with you.”

    “You’re so lame. That’s why I love you.”

    “Bet I know something you don’t,” Kat said. “And it’s about pictures.”

    I gave her sideways look. “I take photographs.”

    “That’s what I said. If I stand there against the railing and you get me just right, you can take a picture that makes it look like I’m floating in the fountain.”

    I was instantly on alert. “Show me.”

    I rummaged in my suitcase sized purse before I realized I’d left my camera in my car.

    “Use my disposable,” Kat said.

    I didn’t groan when she tossed it to me.

    Kat stood there, waiting for me to frame the shot. With that little disposable thing, it was like pulling my hair out, one strand at a time.

    I almost went to get a real camera, but Kat was laughing, and we were having fun.

    I had the shot framed perfectly. Kat’s eyes were closed, palms pressed together, head down.

    Just when the flash went off, a man in sunglasses walked by the fountain, ruining the illusion of Kat floating there. I snapped a few more, and gave her the camera so she could drop it off in the mall.

    We ordered lunch and settled down to serious gossip.


    The man in sunglasses who’d ruined my shot was at my car.

    “Can I help you?”

    “I wanna buy your camera.”

    “You want a used thirty five millimeter? Why?”

    “I want the disposable.”

    “No. And if you don’t get out of my way, I’m calling the cops.”

    “I’ll give you a hundred dollars for it.”

    Now I was flat out scared. “Get away from my car, mister. I’m running late.”

    He stepped aside, watched me get in my car.

    I never saw it coming. In seconds, he was in my car beside me, holding me down, pressing something cool over my face.

    When I came to, I was here, tied up. He wanted the camera. I told him I’d dropped it off in the mall.

    If Kat didn’t drop off the pictures, I don’t know what he’ll do when he gets back. I’m glad I told Kat I love her today. I don’t think I’ll get another chance.

  5. Martha W

    Alas, I cannot do LJC with you. *sigh* I’m doing NaNo. But does it count if I do prompts on Fridays?

    The post last year by Chris Baty is great. I can’t wait for week 2 where I want to beat myself over the head with my laptop… *grin*

    Good Luck on your short stories!


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