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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 298

Updated on March 2, 2020

The World Around Us

I was watching a powerful documentary the other night, “The Devil We Know,” about Dupont’s poisoning of a West Virginia town with chemicals used in the production of Teflon. It was a riveting ninety minutes, and it would take one cold-hearted s.o.b. to sit and watch that film without being moved to tears.

Apart from the outrage I felt, I was also reminded of this big old world around me. Here I am, in the northwest corner of the United States, in the tiny little city of Olympia. People go to work, come home, live their lives, deal with the trials of life, laugh and play and mourn the loss of loved ones, and then expand that to tens-of-thousands of similar cities around the globe, seven-point-six billion people, all with individual traumas and triumphs, all just trying to claw out a toehold of happiness, and I just find it all amazing, you know?

It is also an important fact to remember as a writer. What happens to me has happened to someone else times one-million. What happened to those people in West Virginia has happened to others. We all understand loss. We all understand being lied to. We all understand having our trust broken.

As storytellers, we must never forget that point.

Are you ready for the Mailbag?

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

Writing Prompts

From Lila: “I’ve noticed you’ve been posting writing challenges/prompts. I’ve never taken such a challenge? What is the value in doing so?”

Lila, that’s like asking what is the value in writing; the value is in doing it, or it should be. Prompts are just a way of helping your creative spirit to soar. Something reminds you of something else, which reminds you of something else, and before you know it you have a short story.

And each short story is an opportunity to practice and to improve your craft.

And, in my opinion, that should be one of our goals, each of us, to improve our craft. There is far too much mediocrity in the world today. Let’s raise a toast to those who want to rise above mediocrity in writing.

The latest writing prompt
The latest writing prompt

Writing Contests

From Joshua: “I’m thinking of entering my first creative short story contest. Do you have any tips which will help my chances?”

Joshua, I have one huge tip which you should staple to your forehead so you’ll never forget it: follow the contest rules to the letter. Do not deviate. If the contest calls for an entry no more than 500 words, do not submit an entry with 501.

Tip #2: Do not get discouraged. A huge number of people enter those contests. If you don’t win it does not mean you are a bad writer. Keep entering!

Tip #3: Do not stop improving your craft! There is always room for improvement. I have yet to read a perfect book and I’m pretty sure I never will.

Tip #4: Start with a bang! Editors pay close attention to the first couple paragraphs. Bore them and they will move on to the next entry.

Tip #5: Try to make your entry different in some way i.e. different setting, unique characters, unique problem.

That’s enough to send you into the fray. Good luck!

Hub Traffic

From Freddy: “I'm a Hubber here. Can you put out the question if everyone else's traffic is dipping like mine?”

Consider it done,Freddy! What say all of you? Is your HP traffic down? I pay no attention to mine, so I’m the wrong guy to ask.

I remember back eight years ago when I joined HP. I was glued to the computer looking at updates of my stats. It was a good day if my stats increased and a bad day if they went down. Today I just don’t care, but that’s just me. I know a lot of people out there do care, and so all of you, please share your stat summaries in the comment section so we can send this person off with the information he wants.

A great writing prompt
A great writing prompt

Making Hp Editors Happy

From Megan: “I’m new to HP. I just submitted my first article and it was rejected. They sent me back a form letter telling me it didn’t meet their standards, but they did not give me specific information about what it was lacking. How do I correct this? My article was 1,800 words long and I had three photos. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.”

Megan, welcome to HP. You know you are a member of HP when you receive one of those rejection letters from the editors.

My first words of advice are this: don’t take it personally. I think sometimes those form letters are sent out so the editors can justify receiving a paycheck. It is no reflection on the quality of your writing.

My advice: change it up a bit and re-submit. Your photos should be originals. Lots of writers stumble over the photos. They will use photos they find online, and that often leads to problems. You might want to add couple different capsules too. Add a video or two from YouTube which apply to your topic. Maybe toss in a poll about the article.

The times I’ve had this happen (twice) I’ve just added another capsule and it made everyone happy. You can always send an email to the editorial staff and then hope they respond, but that’s an iffy proposition at best.

Good luck!

No More Questions

I guess that’s it for this week.

A friend of mine, a cancer survivor, recently posted two words on Facebook. The two words were REMISSION ROCKS!

Two simple words but so very powerful. In those two words we can find unfettered happiness. We can find relief. We can find victory and rawness and arms raised above a head, fists clenched, and the human spirit soaring.


You are all writers. You are all storytellers. I beg of you, never forget that. Tap into the human experience and make it come alive with your words.

What you do is important. What you do is needed.

Do you have a question for the Mailbag? Include it in the comment section below or email me at Do you need a writing coach? Email me at the same email address. Do you want a cheerleader? You know where you can find me.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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