Horror Writing Contest

Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winter 

Olivia, the main character in Cat Winter’s The Cure for Dreamingbelieves women deserve the same basic human rights as men. But her protests and dreams of becoming something more than just a wife and mother makes her seem unattractive to men, overwhelming uncouth, and absolutely hysterical — at least by her father’s standards.

Her father fears Olivia will end up just like his wife: a wild woman who abandoned her family for her career. He hires seventeen-year-old hypnotist Henrie Reverie to try and subdue Olivia’s dreams of wearing pants and challenging male privilege. 

He obliges with a twist: he allows Olivia’s subconscious to see the world how it is. Now when she looks at her father, Olivia sees a hideous monster like the creature in her favorite novel Dracula. She sees women who fight for their rights as ethereal beings and women who don’t as translucent – disappearing before her eyes. Olivia wants this curse removed but it cannot be done easily and with this new ability, she must learn to defend herself and fight to be the woman she wants to be.

Keep reading for clever writer Kiesha Frue’s opinion on Cat Winter’s second YA novel.

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In some circumstances, the refusal to be defeated is a refusal to be educated.
Margaret Halsey

Novel Writing Strategy: Our Nanowrimo Word Count Spreadsheet

Starting on November 1st, thousands of people start toward the goal of writing the first 50,000 words what may be their very first novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. This project is called National Novel Writing Month, and it’s an excellent exercise for young and practicing writers. Adapting to heavy (and consistent) writing loads is an essential skill for a working writer, but divvying up your time and knowing how to make up for lost hours and days can be daunting. Inspired and built on artist Svenja Gosen’s excel sheets, we’ve put together an intelligent, shareable spreadsheet on Google Docs to help organize your writing goals and quotas. 

With this spreadsheet you can automatically: Track daily word counts, adjust goals based on headway and the the date, and view statistics on your writing progress (and share them with your friends and beta readers). Instructions are saved as a tab on the spreadsheet. Download the sheet here, and follow for more Nanowrimo and writing resources. 

New Writing Contest! If this looks familiar, that’s because it is. The One Sentence story competitions are back! We’ve simplified the rules and changed a few things around to improve the format and accommodate a larger audience, and we’re excited to see what you can come up with. The genre theme for this contest is: Horror


One Sentence One Story

When you’re an authorial superstar, maybe you can throw sentences out with natural flair and have every word mean something new and astounding. Writers who are still learning, however, have to be very aware. Casting aside the bloat of a story and laying bare the essential organs can be painful, but the end result is worth it. Nietzsche, author of Beyond Good and Evil and the Anti-Christ, wrote in Twilight of the Idols: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” This Halloween season, we want you to try to do the same.

Tell us a story in a single sentence. The entry can be in any style, prose or poetic, but the piece should fall within the Horror genre or use themes and symbols closely associated with it. 

Scary stories should be emailed to contest@cleverhelp.org or submitted here with the headline “[Your Title] by [Author] (Horror Contest)” by Midnight EST on October 30th. In order for us to send out fanmail about the contest and results, you must be following the blog to win. Under the cut are specific rules and prizes. Three random followers who reblog to promote the contest, regardless of whether they entered or not, have the chance to win a prize. So, help us get the word out!

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There’s no shortage of essays on writing out there. Authors, poets, scholars and other creative voices spend years devoted to their art - it’d be crazy (and our loss) if they never took a moment to talk about the why and how. These five essays are available to read online for free, and they’re exceptionally useful and inspiring for young and aspiring writers. 

Despite Tough Guys, Life Is Not the Only School for Real Novelists by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
This one is short, but it’s an important topic. When you read a lot of writing by the creative geniuses of the past - the ‘tough guys’, as Vonnegut calls them - like Hemingway who learned and crafted their voice through living, learning to write your own stories from classes (and from guides and advice online) can seem less honest or worthwhile. Vonnegut strikes that thought down. “The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly,” he writes, “is that it enables one’s soul to grow.”

Why I Write by Joan Didion
“In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act,” This essay by the author of The Year of Magical Thinking starts, “You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space." Written in the 70s, the rest of the essay covers some of the barest truths about storytelling and why we do what what we do, centered around the idea that we write novels to find the answers we ask ourselves. 

Fail Better by Zadie Smith 
In the tradition of the two essays before it, Fail Better talks about what it means to write and what you’re asking for from yourself (and the reader) when you do. Zadie Smith discusses failure as a concept for novelists, and the indeterminate “they” we can fall into traps trying to please. Smith’s most powerful insight comes when she breaks down the connection between the author and the reader, and the reader’s responsibility: “Readers fail when they allow themselves to believe the old mantra that fiction is the thing you relate to and writers the amenable people you seek out when you want to have your own version of the world confirmed and reinforced. That is certainly one of the many things fiction can do, but it’s a conjurer’s trick within a far deeper magic. To become better readers and writers we have to ask of each other a little bit more." 

Where do you get your ideas? by Neil Gaiman 
Neil Gaiman’s writing advice isn’t hard to come by. Thanks to the internet and the author’s willingness to embrace social media, you can find nuggets of wisdom doled out by the American Gods author from essays to tumblr asks on Gaiman’s blog. In it, he talks about every writer’s worst nightmare: “My idea of hell is a blank sheet of paper. Or a blank screen. And me, staring at it, unable to think of a single thing worth saying, a single character that people could believe in, a single story that hasn’t been told before. ” 

Not-Knowing by Donald Barthelme
“The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made,” Barthelme, author of The Dead Father, writes, “Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.” Barthelme’s mastery of words is clear in this essay. Famous for his playful post-modern style, he leads you through his concept of the art from the very first line (one that defines our site and mission, for all its simplicity) - “Let us suppose someone is writing a story." 
For more advice and resources on writing and lit, follow us on twitter or at the site.

There’s no shortage of essays on writing out there. Authors, poets, scholars and other creative voices spend years devoted to their art - it’d be crazy (and our loss) if they never took a moment to talk about the why and how. These five essays are available to read online for free, and they’re exceptionally useful and inspiring for young and aspiring writers. 

For more advice and resources on writing and lit, follow us on twitter or at the site.

What should I do when I can't focus on one writing idea? I keep jumping from one thing to the next, and end up writing nothing.


If you find yourself getting stuck on the planning stage of writing, you should try cutting it out of your process for awhile. Just start writing, and follow that line of inspiration. What you end up creating might not be your best work, or even the project you want to pursue, but it should kickstart you out of your block. There are a few ways to do this, and I’ll talk about more this week, but I want to leave you with Hemingway’s approach to writer’s block. When you don’t know what to write:

Write one true sentence.

From A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Once you have that sentence, you can figure out where to go from there. 

MOOCs exist on a boundary line. They depend on the research university and professorial faculty of the established educational system. They also circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of this system, the admissions and bursar’s offices that define who has access to knowledge and who does not.
— Professor William Kuskin

How to Edit for Tension (Writing Exercise/Checklist)

Everyone wants to write a story that grabs its readers and doesn’t let them go until it’s over. Stories they’ll read before they fall asleep, when ‘ten more minutes’ turns into ‘two more hours’; stories that make them trip over their feet and walk into walls; great, suspenseful stories that make your heart pound. That’s what you want to bring to life. But how?

A great way is to approach it build tension with every page. Tension in every story, regardless of genre or subject, should crackle off the page. It makes conflict believable, and it adds some weight to your dramatic arch. Grab something you’ve written, or throw together a story, because this is an editing exercise. Let’s get started. 


Break out a notebook and get ready to slash and hack. Here are the keys to editing in tension for a dynamic plot progression:

With these steps in mind, you can pare down your story into something quick and stressful in the best ways. Working on this exercise? Tweet your process to our feed, or send in follow up questions

I need some help. Whenever I write, I find it hard to vary punctuation because I tend to use dashes and brackets all the time but my worst case is that almost every paragraph I write consists of an ellipsis. Using ellipses is the only way I know how to create tension :(

I think you need to take a step back from your writing and imagine it as a moving rhythm. If you’re trying to build tension, ellipses are your enemy. Tension lives in a fast pace. Short, choppy sentences speed up the heart. They force you into motion with the narrative. Ellipses… slow down your story telling. Used often, they detach the reader from the weight of a situation and force them to look at it from the outside. 

Don’t overuse your ellipses; save them for special occasions. Otherwise, when building tension, move from longer sentences to shorter ones and use as few distracting punctuation marks as possible. 

Do you have a master list of character skeleton sheets?


We do now. Here are a few of the best/most interesting character development sheets we could find around the internet. Use them to answer questions as you develop and create your new characters.