Friday, May 19, 2023

Six Questions for Jessica, Réven, Seth, and Theresa, Editors, WayWords

NOTE: While this interview centers on WayWords, the parent site—The Writer’s Workout—offers numerous opportunities to submit your writing. Click on Publications, Resources, Potluck, or The Writer’s Games in the top menu to view other opportunities.

WayWords publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry to 5,000 words or 15 lines. “We want to see fresh, inspiring pieces; give us chills, fill us with awe.” Issues are themed. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Theresa: We founded The Writer’s Workout in 2014 for writers around the world. We wanted to help people improve their craft and build a strong foundation of writing skills that could help them succeed in whichever industry path they chose. When we started, we were running our big annual competition (The Writer’s Games) twice a year but that was the only publication opportunity we offered. We felt that wasn’t enough; we wanted to do more for writers to help them get their work out there so we started an annual anthology (Tales) in 2018. A couple years later, we decided we should go for it and launched WayWords in 2020 to provide four more publication opportunities each year—six in total. 

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Seth: When I look at a submission, the top three things I’m searching for are creativity, entertainment value, and depth. Like most people who work as editors or writers I grew up as a devoted reader, and that’s the lens I try to see things through when looking at a submission. A reader usually wants to read something they haven’t read anywhere else, so I look for creativity. Since creativity alone isn’t enough to hold an audience’s attention I look for entertainment value—after all, we’re supposed to enjoy reading, right? Finally, I look for a bit of depth, which to me means that I’m looking for signs that the author took some time and actually thought about how the parts of their submission (whether it’s a poem or prose) fit together.

Réven: I look for unexpectedness, flow, and personality. In my opinion, the idea of unexpectedness is when a submission contains a different interpretation of the theme and the meaning of the work is something I wouldn’t have thought to put together. Unexpectedness for me also means that the author somehow finds a way to include a variety of interpretations for the theme successfully. That brings me to my point of flow. The ways that words and ideas flow together can make or break a submission. Also, the flow of a piece could be chaotic, but if it’s intentionally done in a way that makes sense, I’m okay with that. Finally, I want to see personality in the prose and poetry we receive. I like when I can get a sense of who the author is or who they’re striving to be based on the way they put words, phrases, and statements together.

Jessica: When I read submissions, I want a hook to immediately jump off the page. From the first sentence, I want to be pulled into the story and I want the setting, characters, and narrator(s) to keep me fully engaged from the opening line to the closing sentence. The next thing I look for while reading is whether or not the story adhered to the issue’s theme. It doesn’t matter if the piece is well-written or creative if it doesn’t follow the guidelines of the theme. Thirdly, I look for narrative development. Does the story flow in a clear and coherent way? Do the characters overcome a struggle and grow from it? Is there a satisfying ending?

Theresa: I look for a relatable struggle, clear structure, and an invitation. I love when a writer approaches a common experience from an uncommon angle or shows that characters can think in unique ways to solve their problems. I want to see that the writer thought about the angles and layers to build depth. When a piece shows me early there’s a lot more to discover if I keep reading, I’m in.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

Seth: The thing that turns me off to a submission most often is an overreliance on writing’s artistic nature. What I mean when I say that is that there are times where a submission will have absolutely nothing to do with the prompt we gave, will be filled with references to incredibly dark subject matter, and then the author will expect us to welcome their work with open arms. Since I look for entertainment and creativity as mentioned above, a piece like that loses my interest very quickly. Art is about feelings, true, and not all feelings are positive, but if I was looking for a way to depress myself I’d just buy a newspaper or read political discourse on the internet. I look for content that I can remember fondly after I’ve read it, and that shows the author can channel more than just negative emotions.

Réven: There are times when submissions may be related to the theme for the publication but not necessarily relevant (in an effort to be humorous, think about a theme of cheeseburgers with a submission about hot dogs). That may be a basic part of the vetting process of submissions, but I feel that submitting a related piece means there was the potential for a relevant piece to have taken its place from the same author. Even if I think the piece is amazing, I have to put it on the “no” list.

Jessica: If the piece doesn’t adhere to the issue’s theme, it won’t get published—but sometimes, I find that authors have to work really hard to get their story to fit with the theme and this strain is obvious in the piece. For example, the theme is “Christmas” and the author writes a beach holiday piece in which one of the characters mentions Christmas in passing. This reaching is a big turn off when reading pieces.

Theresa: Personally, overwriting is a massive turn-off. Overwriting is when a writer tries to emulate someone else’s work without having lived those same experiences or they keep going over and over and over the same piece and follow a chain of synonyms until the word they eventually use has nothing at all to do with the word they meant. It’s okay—and often preferred—to “speak plainly” in writing: use your own voice. Be true to yourself. The writing process is easier and the work feels more genuine when you stop pretending to be someone else. I also whole-heartedly agree with Seth, Réven, and Jessica that ignoring the theme or repeating the theme word instead of exploring what it means to the writer is the fastest way to a rejection. 

SQF: What will readers find on the Writer’s Games page?

Theresa: The Writer’s Games is our award-winning annual competition. It’s free to enter and includes six surprise challenges (called Events) over six weeks, blind feedback from multiple judges, and publication for the top five pieces in each of the five scored Events. If someone clicks on the Writer’s Games tab, they’ll find all the associated pages: rules, FAQ, a list of Events we might run, and our most recent interviews with the top three overall winners. The Writer’s Games page itself includes information about the competition, sponsors, and the lists of winners overall and for each of the five scored Events from the most recent competition portion. In the month leading up to the next portion, this page also includes registration information. When the competition is actively happening, writers will find the current Event challenge at the top of the page. 

The Writer's Games inspires thousands of entries each year and offers at least 26 chances for publication. It’s important to note The Writer’s Games is not at all related to our literary journal, though writers who compete in the Games are encouraged to submit their work to any of our other publications if the piece fits the theme.

SQF: What other resources will writers find on The Writer’s Workout site?

Theresa: WayWords is just one of the many things we do. Other fun, free things our nonprofit offers include Back to Basics (our mini-course), loads of writing prompts, a monthly curated list of outside opportunities—all in the Resources tab, an annual anthology called Tales (2023 theme of “the strange”)—under Publications, our quarterly competition Fiction Potluck, our annual competition The Writer’s Games, and a whole Discord space (, plus monthly #WriteChat discussions every second Saturday at 7pm, UTC. We also keep an open door for collabs, guests, workshops, and other fun adventures.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

Seth: I’d have wanted you to ask what each of our favorite genres of story was, because that way you might have a better handle on what types of submissions each of us is most excited to receive. My answers would have been fantasy, science fiction, and humor - answers that match up with my desire to be entertained by what I read. I have a weakness for worldbuilding, and that makes me love any story with a setting conjured from the author’s imagination.

Jessica: How can I raise my chances of getting my submission selected for publication? My answer would be fourfold: follow the theme, write with passion, edit…and edit again.

Theresa: I wish you’d asked how people can get involved with our mission to help writers improve. We’re all volunteers and we love what we do! Anyone with any background or experience level is welcome to email us with a pitch, plan, idea, suggestion, or some loose amalgamation of a concept. We’ll have a text chat in Slack and see what we can do to move your project forward. Just click the “Contact Us” link at the bottom of any page on our website. 

Thanks so much for creating this opportunity for us to share our passion!

Thank you, Jessica, Réven, Seth, and Theresa. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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