Out of Office



Dear Loyal ALoL Reader,

I hope this announcement finds you happy and in good health!

I am now on winter break, and I’m quickly approaching the 30,000-word mark for the first draft of my work-in-progress. I’m roughly 37% complete. In order to speed up the process, I will be taking a short break from blogging.

But I will return soon, reenergized, and with more new content. I have a lot of new ideas in the works, including a set of posts with my own suggested rules for writing.

In the meantime, while I am “out of the office,” all of my previous posts will remain undisturbed and available to you on this website. The easiest way to navigate them, by the way, is to search my past posts by category (located in the sidebar).

If you haven’t already, please click on the “+Follow” button on the lower righthand corner of the page and enter your email address to receive an email announcement when I have new content ready for you on ALoL, so you don’t miss a single post. And during this break, please feel free to still send me an email or drop me a line in the comments boxes.

Thank you for your patience and support during this very exciting time in my life.

And–as always–write your heart out!




Photo credit: Brett Kiger / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers


New Year's Resolution Coasters by Lucky Bee PressInevitably, around this time of year, people roll out their lists of New Year’s resolutions–these lists might include items like “Imma lose weight!” or “Imma quit dranking!”

Well, I have one more item to add to all of our lists: “We should be writing.”

It’s inspired by Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing, and if you follow it or not, you might’ve heard of the Magic Spreadsheet.

It’s a self-calculating Excel spreadsheet that awards points for how many words you’ve written in a day (1 point for 250 words, 2 points for 500 words, etc.) and how many days you’ve continued writing (1 point for 1 day, 2 points for the second day, etc.).

The goal being that by writing 250 words daily, you would write over 90,000 words in a year, surpassing the industry standard of 80,000 words for a novel.

I’m a competitive person by nature (I think most people are), and by seeing the points I’ve scored for each month, I feel a need to score more points on subsequent months. It reminds me of an RPG, or something–that I’m actually “leveling up” as a writer as I accumulate more points. I started writing with the Magic Spreadsheet last March, and I’ve been the most productive that I’ve ever been. Hands down!

So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is increasing your productivity as a writer, you should try downloading and using this spreadsheet. It’s definitely helped me maintain a more consistent writing routine.

Happy New Year, Everybody! May this year be a more productive writing year for us.

Write your heart out!


Photo credit: BazaarBizarreSF / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

ALoL’s 2013 Reader’s Choice Awards

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With each of my posts, readers have been able to provide a rating of one to five gold stars. To celebrate the final post of 2013, I’ve created a slideshow to share with you my top ten, most popular, highest scoring posts of the year. Clicking on the slides will redirect you to their original posts.

Some of them may even surprise you!

Also, if you haven’t already and if you’ve enjoyed my content throughout the year, please show me some love by clicking on the “+Follow” button on the lower right-hand corner of the screen and type in your email address to receive a notification each week I have new posts ready. (You may easily unsubscribe at any time.)

Thank you for reading, and Merry Christmas, everybody!


No. 10
Close Your Email and Turn Off Your Notifications!
No. 9
The Opening to Alice Munro's 'Thanks for the Ride'
No. 8
Formatting Your Fiction Manuscript for Publication
No. 7
Don't Tell Your Characters' Feelings
No. 6
Judging Books by Their Titles
No. 5
Steve Almond's Rules for Writing Fiction
No. 4
Establish a Writing Routine
No. 3
Every Day Fiction Publishes 'In Flight'
No. 2
Almost Five Quarterly Publishes 'The Widower'
No. 1
El Camino, Here I Come!


How to Write a Good Cover Letter


DicksMany moons ago, while I was still a graduate student, I worked as an Assistant Fiction Editor for Willow Springs in Spokane, Washington.

When you work as member of a literary magazine’s editorial staff, it’s easy to become jaded; you quickly learn “what not to do” by reading through piles of unsolicited manuscripts.

For one thing, you’ll be amazed how many writers fail to read and adhere to your magazine’s submission guidelines. As part of these guidelines, many magazines will request some additional information from you in the form of a cover letter.

At Willow Springs, a few cover letters were pinned to a cork board for ridicule in our main office. These cover letters were truly awful. One spanned four pages, walking us through the details of a man’s sad life. (Magazines want quality poetry and prose; they don’t care about your life story.) Another contained a headshot of a very ugly woman. (Including a headshot in your cover letter is unprofessional and unnecessary; magazines don’t care what you look like.) Most readers on editorial staffs are looking for reasons to send you a rejection letter. Don’t let them find these reasons while reading your cover letter.

First, make sure to address your given editor by name. If you are submitting fiction, find the fiction editor’s name on the masthead and address your submission directly to her/him. Even if your manuscript gets rerouted to other readers, you will still give these readers the impression that you are familiar with their magazine. Just make sure that you spell her/his name correctly. And since some first names are difficult to distinguish as being male or female, I use the person’s full name in the address.

The goal of a cover letter is to establish your own credibility as a professional and give yourself a fair read. As such, you will want to share any past publications you’ve had. If you haven’t had any yet, that’s OK. Many magazines pride themselves on publishing unknown writers. They want to be able to say, “We publish X new writers per year” or “We published her first story before she ‘blew up.'” As such, to signal the close of your letter, if you haven’t been published yet, I highly recommend explicitly stating, “This would be my first published piece.”

Make sure you edit and proofread your cover letter. Your sentence skills in the cover letter give readers a first impression of your grammar and punctuation skills. Be sure to make this a positive first impression.

Unlike this post, your cover letter should also be short and sweet. Editors are reading tons of manuscripts. Send them into yours with momentum, and hopefully, positive thoughts.

Here’s what I currently use as a cover letter:


Dear [Fiction Editor’s full name],

Please find attached my X-word short story, “Title.”

To tell you a little about myself, I hold an MFA from Eastern Washington University; and my previous work has appeared in Live Wire, Almost Five Quarterly, Every Day Fiction, Breakwater Review, Penumbra, Double Dare Press, and Konundrum Engine Literary Review. In 2007, I placed third in Zoetrope’s Short Fiction Contest. In my free time, I contribute to my blog, “A Labor of Love: A Blog for Struggling Fiction Writers by a Struggling Fiction Writer” (RyanShiroma.com). I live with my wife in Southern California, where I teach English at Fullerton College and El Camino College.

I hope you like my story. Thank you for your time.


Ryan Shiroma


Well, there you have it! I hope this information helps you create your own professional cover letters when you’re ready to submit your work for publication. (And if you’re ever in Spokane, I recommend Dicks Hamburgers.) Write your heart out!


Photo credit: Patrick Q / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Sharing a Longer Work-in-Progress


Isaac Watching the Planes Taking Off at Castle Island

Have you ever written a solid chunk of a work-in-progress and you wanted a second opinion to reconfirm you’re on the “right track”?

During this crucial time, you might be looking for a general reaction, constructive criticism, or unabashed praise.

However, for longer works-in-progress, I highly recommend that you hold off on showing it to readers for several reasons:

1. If your reader gives you a lukewarm reaction, it may destroy your enthusiasm to finish it.

2. If your reader gives you poignant constructive criticism, it may force you to rethink your vision for your work-in-progress–possibly destroying your enthusiasm to finish it.

3. If your reader gives you unabashed praise, you may suspect that your reader is only pitying you, and it may force you to rethink your vision for your work-in-progress–possibly destroying your enthusiasm for it.

In general, when writing, be confident with the story you are telling. You know why you’re writing it. There’s something there. Hold onto that something. Hold onto that feeling, that sense of wonder and possibility. Don’t let other people’s voices distract you from what needs to be done: writing.

Get it done. Then show it to your readers. Their feedback will be much more helpful at that stage of your writing process.

Write your heart out.


Photo credit: Chris Devers / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND


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