Thinking of submitting to the CBC Short Story Prize? Here are 10 tips from writers who know what it takes
'Know, above all, that your words matter and your stories matter just as much as anyone else's.'
The 2023 CBC Short Story Prize is open now for submissions, and the winner will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books. They will also attend a writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point, a cultural hub on Toronto Island.
You have until Monday, Oct. 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. ET to submit your original, unpublished fiction that is up to 2,500 words.
We know that submitting to a literary prize can be a daunting task. That's why we spoke to some recent CBC Short Story Prize winners and finalists as well as this year's three jurors to ask them what advice they have for those who might be thinking about submitting or are still undecided about it.
1. Make writing a habitual part of your life
Saeed Teebi says: "My best writing tip is to make writing a habitual part of your life. It is easy to fall out of the practice of writing, particularly if writing is not your career. It happened to me: I did not write for nearly 15 years before restarting. I made it a point to make sure I'm producing something every day, no matter how meagre or how ultimately unusable. Once I did that, writing became a regular part of my life. Stories I wanted to tell simply came to me, and characters I'm interested in spoke freely."
I made it a point to make sure I'm producing something every day, no matter how meagre or how ultimately unusable.- Saeed Teebi
Saeed Teebi is a writer and lawyer based in Toronto. He was shortlisted for the 2021 CBC Short Story Prize.
His debut short story collection, Her First Palestinian is currently a finalist for the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. He was born to Palestinian parents in Kuwait, and, after some time in the US, has lived in Canada since 1993. His writing frequently engages the immigrant experience and his Palestinian background. He is currently completing a collection of short stories.
2. Keep a notebook handy at all times
Susanna Cupido says: "Try having a notebook to jot down things you overhear on the bus or in restaurants. It's a good way to practice writing realistic dialogue and you can learn quite a lot, just by listening to strangers' conversations."
Susanna Cupido was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize.
Cupido is a student from New Brunswick. She attends university in Halifax, where she's currently completing an undergraduate degree in English and psychology. Her poem The Door won the Accenti Poetry Contest in 2021.
3. Just start
Jeremy Elder says: "Try not to feel pressured to sit down and automatically be wonderfully productive. Just like warming up your body before exercise, get your fingers moving and loosen up your brain with free-form writing. It can be anything — don't think about it and don't judge it, just start. Sometimes a great line or idea will come out of it, but that's not the goal. The goal is just to begin so that you're over the intimidating hump of the first couple sentences and into the flow and groove of getting thoughts out of your head and into words in front of you."
Jeremy Elder was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize.
He is a Toronto-based advertising copywriter and aspiring poet. His personal creative writing explores his own history and aims to add to the legacy of queer literature, art, storytelling and community that has always deeply inspired him. Desire Path is his first work of personal fiction.
4. Let the creativity flow whenever inspiration strikes
Norma Dunning says: "In 2019, I was writing my PhD dissertation and Tainna: The Unseen Ones at the same time. I would wake up at 2 a.m. and think about one or both of these manuscripts and instead of laying in bed thinking about them, I would get up and start to write. Sleep has always been elusive for me and something that I spend far too much time chasing but never catching. My one writing tip is: regardless of the time of day or where you are, if your head is on your creative work, just do it!"
My one writing tip is: regardless of the time of day or where you are, if your head is on your creative work, just do it!- Norma Dunning
Norma Dunning is a juror for the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize.
She is an Inuk writer as well as a scholar, researcher, professor and grandmother. Her short story collection Tainna: The Unseen Ones won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. Her latest book is Kinauvit?: What's Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter's Search for her Grandmother.
5. Look for surprising connections
Anna Ling Kaye says: "What sparks my curiosity is the energetic crackle of two, three or more seemingly unrelated things demanding to be connected in story. Pay attention to what associations are creating the most heat. That's where the power of the story is."
Anna Ling Kaye was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize.
She is a writer and editor based in Vancouver. Her fiction won the 2021 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and has been shortlisted for the RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award and the Journey Prize.
6. Get out of your own way
Nancy Hui Sulaiman says: "'Do not let yourself get tossed away.' Natalie Goldberg repeats these words often in her online writing course. It is crucial as you continue writing to permanently imprint these words in your head and in your heart. Make copies and put them where you will see them often. Because it is up to you and only you to not let this happen. Because it is all too easy to let this happen. Because when we write, we throw up self-made obstacles in the forms of procrastination, resistance, fear, unworthiness, and my personal favourite: imposter syndrome. So, let the words, "Do not let yourself get tossed away," become your shield, your force-field, your nonsense detector, your opposing argument against any of these excuses to not write. So that eventually, these words become your battle cry to write, to put your words down on paper, to struggle and to fail, to get back up, and to know, above all, that your words matter and your stories matter just as much as anyone else's."
Know, above all, that your words matter and your stories matter just as much as anyone else's.- Nancy Hui Sulaiman
Nancy Hui Sulaiman was a finalist for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize.
She is a Chinese Canadian writer in LaSalle, Ont. She has a Honours BA from the University of Windsor in English literature and communication studies and a MA in journalism from Western University. She is currently working on short stories and a novel. In 2020, her story, What Fits in the Palm of Your Hand, was chosen as a runner-up in the Little Birds Contest from the Sarah Selecky Writing School.
7. Read your work out loud
"Read your work out loud — not just to yourself, but to an audience. An audience can be as little as one person, and this person can be a friend, partner or even your mom. The key is to get someone else on the receiving end of the words, as this will force your brain to shift slightly into a performance mode, so that you're hearing the words and their rhythms more objectively, as an outsider would. If you just can't find a willing audience, record yourself reading out loud. You might find that the process of recording reveals to you some of the pacing issues, clunky phrasing, inconsistencies or blind spots in the writing before you even get around to playing it back to yourself."
The key is to get someone else on the receiving end of the words.- Corinna Chung
Corinna Chong won the 2021 CBC Short Story Prize.
She received her MA in English and creative writing from the University of New Brunswick. Her first novel, Belinda's Rings, was published by NeWest Press in 2013, and her reviews and short fiction have been published in magazines across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain and The Humber Literary Review. She teaches English and fine arts at Okanagan College in Kelowna, B.C.
8. Write, then rewrite
Steven Price says: "Short fiction is such a compressed, tightly braided art form. Don't be afraid to go back into your story, once it's complete, and pull it carefully apart, and refashion it as needed. It's often said a writer can't know the beginning of a story until the ending has been written. The same is true of every part of it. Writing is rewriting."
Steven Price is a juror for the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize.
He is the author of Lampedusa, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the B.C. Book Prize. His previous novels include By Gaslight, which was longlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Into that Darkness. He has also written two poetry books, Anatomy of Keys, which won the Gerald Lampert Award, and Omens in the Year of the Ox, which won the ReLit Award. He is also the author of historical fantasy Ordinary Monsters, written under the name J M Miro.
9. Question everything
Kim Fu says: "My tip would be: Of every scene, beat and even sentence in your story, ask yourself: does this need to be here? Would the story be fundamentally different without it? Is it crucial to the voice, the plot, the atmosphere, or the reader's understanding? If not, try cutting it to see the effect of its absence. The short story — especially a story under 2,500 words — is a small canvas, and a little mystery and implication can go a long way."
The short story — especially a story under 2,500 words — is a small canvas, and a little mystery and implication can go a long way.- Kim Fu
Kim Fu is a juror for the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize.
She is the author of the short story collection Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, which is on the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. Fu's first novel, For Today I Am a Boy, won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her second novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. Fu's writing has appeared in Granta, the Atlantic, the New York Times, BOMB, Hazlitt and the TLS. Born in Calgary and raised in Vancouver, Fu now lives in Seattle.
10. Let the story guide you
"One of the greatest joys of writing, for me, are those moments when I surprise myself. It usually happens in a first draft, where I allow myself to let go a bit and let the story take me wherever it wishes to. You never know what you'll find just around the corner of that last sentence. There's a deliciousness to that mystery, one that brings me back to the page eager to see what happens next."
You never know what you'll find just around the corner of that last sentence.- Chanel M. Sutherland
Chanel M. Sutherland is a two-time CBC Literary Prize winner: she won the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize and the 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize.
She is the recipient of the 2022 Mairuth Sarsfield Mentorship, a component of the Quebec Writers' Federation Fresh Pages initiative. Born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Chanel moved to Montreal when she was 10 years old. She holds a BA in English literature from Concordia University and is currently writing her first book, a collection of short stories that explore the Black Caribbean immigrant experience.