Bonus: Writing Contests as Prompts – a guest post from Elise Holland

Elise Holland HeadshotToday’s bonus prompt comes from Elise Holland, writer and editor of the 2Elizabeths online literary magazine

There are so many excellent contests available to short form writers.
Sometimes the clear-cut parameter of a deadline serves as inspiration, and
many contests are genre specific, creating a built-in, detailed prompt.

In order to provide a precise prompt, I suggest looking into submitting
your work to Nowhere Magazine’s Spring 2018 Travel
Writing Contest. Beneath the prompt, you will find my tips on how to find
writing contests, and how to use each set of submission guidelines as
future prompts.

The Prompt

Until May 31, 2018, literary travel magazine Nowhere is seeking
contest submissions from young, old, novice, and veteran writers.
Specifically, they are looking for stories with a strong sense of place.

Send your fiction, nonfiction, or essay, but be certain to specify which
genre your work falls into at the top of your manuscript. Submissions
should be kept between 800 – 5,000 words in length. The contest winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Nowhere. For further details and
to submit your work, visit the magazine’s website here.


  • You can access a free database of writing contests from Poets &
    Writer’s, here. For a minimal fee, you can access additional contest databases and information for writers through Writer’s Market or
    through Duotrope.
  •  When you write for a contest, be sure to carefully read each set of
    submission guidelines. Each publication will seek different stories based
    on criteria such as genre, word count, and deadline. Use these criteria
    dutifully to hone in on your story, and to ensure that your work is
    considered by contest judges.

    • Many contests will be genre-specific. For instance, the contest for Nowhere is seeking work revolving around travel. And later this
      year 2 Elizabeths, the magazine I edit, will host its second annual Love & Romance Writing Contest. (Grab a copy of our submission guidelines, here.)
    • Use these genre-specific contests to propel you into your work. You can
      either be hyper-focused and choose to enter work only into the genre you
      write, or you can choose to enter a variety of work into different
      genre-specific contests, expanding your repertoire.
    • I’m a firm believer that limitations breed creativity. And that’s exactly
      how I would encourage you to view word count restrictions pertaining to a writing contest. It can be a fun game, squeezing an entire tale into a
      limited number of words, and it’s a fantastic exercise in the economy of
      your words.
    • As you peruse any of the aforementioned databases, consider which
      contests you might like to enter. Use these contest deadlines to help you
      build your own editorial calendar.
  • Many writing contests require participants to pay a submission fee. This
    is generally intended to cover the prize which will be paid to the
    winner(s), as well as to keep the publication running.
  • When submitting your work there are a couple of key terms to be aware of:
    simultaneous submissions and multiple submissions.

    • The term simultaneous submission means that you will be
      sending the same piece to several literary magazines or journals at the
      same time. Most publications accept simultaneous submissions, but some do not. If a publication does not accept them, this will be stated in their guidelines.
    • Should your work be selected for publication by one magazine, it is
      important to notify other publications where you have submitted that piece.
      This courtesy will prevent complications, and will keep you in good graces with various editors, should you wish to submit to them again in the future.
    • The term multiple submission means that you are submitting multiple pieces to the same literary magazine or journal. This is generally accepted, but if it’s not, that will be specified in the submission guidelines.

About Elise Holland

Elise Holland is the editor of 2 Elizabeths, a literary magazine
focused on poetry and short fiction, with an emphasis on romance and
women’s fiction. Her work has been published inWriter’s Digest Magazine, The Writer’s Dig, and at DIY MFA. Find Holland online at

Day 7 – Playing With Character with Playwright Jen Silverman

Today’s guest prompt comes from Jen Silverman.

Jen Silverman is a New York–based writer and playwright, a two-time MacDowell Fellow, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant and the Yale Drama Series prize. She was awarded the 2016–17 Playwrights of New York fellowship at The Lark and is a member of New Dramatists. She completed a BA in comparative literature at Brown University and an MFA in playwriting at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and was a fellow at the Playwrights Program at Juilliard.

Signature Short Story Guide

For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, Download Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

The Prompt

My approach to story-telling has always been character-driven. I’m fascinated by characters who are driven by overwhelming desires, who risk big, who long to transform.

Much of my professional writing has been for the theatre, as a playwright, and so when I teach writing, I focused on unlocking new understandings of characters, and accessing their individual voices.

This prompt is about exploring the “engine” of your main character. What drives them? Who are they when the stakes are high and their back is to the wall? Pick one of the following 4 scenarios and explore: how would they deal with this situation?

  1. Backed into a corner, your character tells a lie to protect him/her self.
  2. Your character has been plotting blood-chilling revenge on someone. Now both are sitting down to dinner together.
  3. Your character goes to a psychic, who tells them something frightening that changes how they see their future.
  4. Your character is obsessed with something. They think they will do anything to obtain it. The person they love most in the world stands in their way.


  • Ask yourself about your protagonist’s initial instincts? Are they a runner? A fighter? A lover? Fearful or forward? Visceral or heady?
  • The story you’re working on doesn’t have to contain stakes this high, for this prompt to be useful. Maybe you’re writing a quiet naturalistic story about a relationship dissolving.
  • The work you did to unearth your protagonist’s emotional range can still come into play, with the dial turned down to 5 instead of up to 10.

For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, Download Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

May 01 – Seen from the Outside, Guest Prompt from Tadzio Koelb

Tadzio Koelb image
Photo: Mark X. Hopkins

Today’s guest post comes from Tadzio Koelb. I love this prompt, because it provides a great roadmap for a strong start to StoryADay May but you can also use it to craft a longer, more leisurely story any time you want.

Take it away, Tadzio!


For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, download
Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

Signature Short Story Guide

This prompt, while a bit complicated, is useful because, by pushing you to see one person through the eyes of multiple other people, it makes you use methods of storytelling that many writers often overlook.

Write a story about someone who leaves the house for work, and on the way has some kind of accident. Continue reading “May 01 – Seen from the Outside, Guest Prompt from Tadzio Koelb”

[Write On Wednesday] Making Good From Bad

First lines.

They can be the inspiration of something great. Or they can be the omen of bad things to come.

We all know that clichés are one of the things to avoid as a writer. Lines like “It was a dark and stormy night” sounds like a pretty good mood setter to a beginner writer…well, maybe not even to them.

But suppose you use a bad first line on purpose? Suppose the entire point is to take that bad first line and write a story around it that is…not as tacky? Or makes the reader forgive the first line or make it totally acceptable? Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Making Good From Bad”

Write On Wednesday – Writers Bloxx with Gary Zenker

Allow me to introduce Gary Zenker, a flash fiction writer, game designer, marketer, and awesome leader in my local writing scene.

After eight years of reading mostly-my-prompts, I wanted to give you the opportunity to play in someone else’s sandbox from time to time. I looked around for someone I trusted to be both creative and generous, and didn’t have to look any further than Gary.

Please leave a comment and make him feel welcome!!

Gary ZenkerHi!

Julie invited me to be her guest-prompter ongoing for each third Wednesday of the month. Thanks Julie!

As a flash fiction writer, I love short story writing and challenging myself in doing so. I found that sometimes, picking things that don’t go together brings out my creativity even better. The bigger challenge offers better results.

So I created a game, WritersBloxx™, that generates random prompts in six categories. We use a PromptGrid™ and six special 20-sided dice that point us to the prompts to be used.

writersbloxx, the party game for writers

Each PromptGrid generates up to 64 million different combinations.

As a game, participants are challenged to write a short story in 6–7 minutes using all six prompts and then compare them to the others’ stories. Solo writers can opt for a bit more time and a more developed story. I recommend 15 minutes with a hard stop.


In this play, you aren’t looking for perfection. You are looking to challenge yourself to complete a piece quickly.

Use all six prompts and tell a real story…don’t simply shove six prompts into a narrative.

You are looking to create at least one memorable character, a conflict and a resolution.

Your Prompts

We rolled the dice for you and here’s what you ended up with:

  • Genre – Crime/Detective
  • Character –  Auto Mechanic
  • Object – High Heel Shoes
  • Timing – 1970s
  • Setting – Italian Restaurant
  • Event – Fishing

Check out the full game at

writersbloxx, the party game for writers

Next time around we’ll make it more challenging by adding a few additional elements. Be sure to show us your resulting masterpiece!

Gary Zenker is a writer, a marketer, a game designer and co-wrote a book with his six-year-old son. He would love for you to share the stories you came up with, in the comments!

Nightmare – A writing prompt from Maria Hazen Lewis

Today’s prompt comes from another wonderful writer from my local network.

The Prompt

I had a nightmare last night. I woke up and started writing….

About Maria Hazen Lewis

Maria Hazen Lewis writes women’s fiction in Pennsylvania.

Misapprehension – A writing prompt from

Today’s prompt is about the (sometimes comedic) art of misapprehension.

The Prompt

Today’s prompt focuses on misapprehension – that is, interpreting something incorrectly. Too often, in fiction, every character communicates perfectly. That’s not the way it happens in real life.

Example: award-winning author Harlan Ellison once misheard a conversation at a party. He overheard a woman say, “”Jeffy is fine. He’s always fine.”” What Ellison actually heard was “”He’s always FIVE.”” That inspired the story “”Jefty Is Five,”” about a boy who never grows up.

Alternately, the misapprehension could be visual. True story: when I graduated college, I moved to a southern town – one of those places where anti-intellectualism seemed to be the prevailing attitude. I met lots of girls there, but I was looking for an intellectual girlfriend. One day, while sitting in dingy waiting room, I saw a pretty girl outside. To my amazement, she wore a tee-shirt with the letters “”SPQR”” on it. SPQR stood for – in Latin – “”The Senate and the People of Rome.”” What kind of woman wore a tee-shirt that referenced Ancient Rome? I had to meet her! I rushed outside, saw the girl…and discovered that her shirt didn’t say “”SPQR.”” It said “”SPORT.”” Stretched around her well-endowed chest, the final letter was hadn’t been visible from where I sat. (I was so disappointed, I didn’t even speak to her.)

So that’s your prompt: misapprehension, either verbal or visual.

About Tony Conaway

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Tony Conaway has written and ghostwritten everything from blogs to books. He has cowritten non-fiction books published by McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and Prentice Hall. His fiction has been published in eight anthologies and numerous publications, including Blue Lake Review, Danse Macabre, Rind Literary Magazine, qarrtsiluni, The Rusty Nail and Typehouse Literary Magazine.

His odder work includes co-writing the script for a planetarium production, and jokes performed by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He blogs at He was recently a guest on the Indy Writer Podcast, talking about writing short fiction.

A Mysterious Situation – Writing Prompt from Bea from The Busy Muse

Today, Bea from The Busy Muse gives us a scenario and encourages us to stretch our genre expectations…

Don’t forget, you can listen to the audio-only by subscribing to the podcast

The Prompt

Your company sends you to meet a costumer at their house. It’s a standard, nice neighborhood.

You ring and ring but nobody answers. The door is ajar, and you enter, calling aloud.

All is in order in the living room apart from an overturned potted plant on the expensive-looking rug…


  • You choose the atmosphere. Did the costumer run out to get milk or got kidnapped?
  • The setting is quite anonymous: can you create a fantasy story out of this? What about a science fiction piece?
  • Have fun thinking outside the box!

About Bea from The Busy Muse

Bea is a bilingual writer and freelancer currently living near Venice, in Italy. She blogs and helps writers with their writing and creativity at  . The Busy Muse. She brainstorms new ideas with her cat, who is very good at listening but not at providing solutions.

Chance Encounter – Writing Prompt from Sarah Cain

Today’s prompt, from author Sarah Cain, features a chance encounter. This is going to be fun!

Podcast version:

The Prompt

The chance encounter. Have you ever run into someone you know when you look grubby? Or maybe you see an old boyfriend at Starbucks. Or perhaps, as in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous Stranger’s On a Train, you run into a stranger who offers to do you a service, like murder, in return for you returning the favor. Think of a chance encounter that could leave you shaken, stirred, or in deep trouble.

About Sarah Cain

Sarah Cain is the author of the Danny Ryan political thrillers, The 8th Circle and One By One. She lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband Howard, a former political consultant, and her two insane cats, and spends a great deal of time contemplating murder. In her spare time, she reads, plays Cards for Humanity, and dreams about moving to Ireland.