How to format for submission

As you know in order for you to be taken seriously you have to cast your masterpiece in the correct format.

Enter William Shunn. He has saved me time and again. Below is an example of how to format a poem for submission to a publication. Next week we’ll have a look at how to format a short story.

Your name and contact information appear in the top-left corner of each poem. If a poem runs more than a single page, each subsequent page requires a header with page number in the upper-right corner. Read more about formatting and submitting poetry manuscripts here.

William Shunn                                            27 lines
12 Courier Lane
Pica's Font, NY 10010
(212) 555-1212

                           MEMORY LANE

          She strains at the leash,
          Trying to turn the corner.
          "Not that way," I say.

          But Ella insists,
          So I give in and follow.
          Not that big a deal.

          This short, narrow lane,
          It's a valid path back home,
          Not such a detour.

          Along the sidewalk
          We rush, my arm stretched out straight, 
          Not pausing to sniff.

          She stops at the porch,
          Looks at the door, looks at me,
          Not old now but young.

          We were gone six years,
          Back now in the neighborhood
          Not even six weeks.

          I wish we could knock,
          But our friends are not at home,
          Not now, not for years.

          They fled this city
          Even sooner than we did,
          Not fond of Gotham

          But fond of our dog,
          Who wags on their former stoop,
          Not fenced in by time.


William Shunn                                            18 lines
12 Courier Lane
Pica's Font, NY 10010
(212) 555-1212


     Between me, safe in my seat on this bus,
     And the decadent majesty of the salmon-red cliffs of
          eastern Utah,
     A ghost landscape stands sentinel,
     As if etched into the glass by a cadre of capering

     The residue of a hasty window washing--
     Loops and whorls of dirt left untouched, uncleansed,
     Unrepentent, at the bottom of the glass on each fluid
     It sparkles, gritty and salt-sharp in the oblique
     Like a series of pearly solar flares,
     Or a graph of the desert's pulsebeat,
     Or spectral negatives of a washed-out sandstone arch,
     Photographed in stages over eons of time--
     Snapshots from a child-god's flip-book--
     Frothing, leaping, peaking, then falling back into the
     Like fountains of earth,
     A time-lapse planetary signature
     That will melt and return to dust
     With the next unlikely rain.

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The caged bird

This poem caused a deep excitement the first time I read it. An excitement and a recognition. Being from Africa I’m acutely aware of human rights, about some ‘birds’ being free and others not.

by C Fick

And for me, human rights are encapsulated in the African greeting ‘I see you’. That is profound because the powerful never see the insignificant, or the poor. They become invisible.


Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.



About Africa

I am Africa, dark, mysterious, dangerous. At least that is what they tell me. I have disgorged my children all over the world. Although I love them the world has deemed them to be slaves. Their beautiful dark skins absorb my light, harsh to those not used to it. Their strong bodies dancing in war and in joy tickle my stomach.

I live to hear their rhythmic language.

Their blood has seeped deep into my crust. I hold them and they hold me. Even if they leave for generations their genes remember me.

Pale men came here with guns, bringing others from all the corners of the globe. Guns against spears, an unequal match foreshadowing what was to come. They brought a foreign religion that diluted my own, a religion that taught my children that they are inferior.

My knowledge in ancient Egypt was disseminated to the Greeks and the Romans, unacknowledged.  The city of Timbuktu in Mali which yielded scrolls from the thirteen hundreds became a pot of honey for avid historians.

My rivers run through gold, minerals, coal, and diamonds. My riches have attracted rogues, adventurers, outcasts.

I cradle my people in the warm sun. I welcome the afflicted, the enslaved.

The baobab tree with its thick stem and short branches, the acacia tree with its thorns; the majestic mountains, deserts; the lion, the cheetah swift, the wild dogs and wildebeest, the elephants – bounty given to me to exploit.

I am the biggest continent made to look small in maps. I feed the wretched who shall inherit the earth.

One day I will open up and swallow all.


Sorry that just fell out of me. Africa is in my veins. I feel its drums in my bones. From there it circles to my chest, which bursts with, what? Pride, sorrow, shame. The shame of not knowing my ancestry because it was deleted, a forgotten history. Too embarrassing to discuss, too guilt-inducing. It interferes with a settled lifestyle.

South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. Its citizens are riven in rage. Rage of the original landowner and rage of the current. Rage of lost privilege and past injustice. Anger leaps like flames, reflecting the cinders of frequently burnt buildings.

I feel a deep attachment to my land. At the same time an alienation. The places in it, for me, are the farm of my grandfather which was appropriated, before that the farm of my great grandfather where gold was discovered and they were evicted, family lost when race classification came and each had to go to a different area, my silent history of a white shopkeeper and a black girl, my birth town, a small village outside Johannesburg.

Aside from physical places there is the space of the oppressed which has wrought an upbringing of contradictions, go to church on Sundays but stand on the throat of your worker, read the bible every evening but choose only those verses that legitimizes what you’ve done,  love thy neighbor but take his land.

How do I detach myself from history when it’s so intricately linked to my identity?


Thinking and writing

Inside a flower


Sometimes I just like to write down what I think. It clarifies my thought process. In this instance I wrote what beauty means to me. It is a work in progress. Now that I reread it I’m not sure what I’m trying to say 🙂 What do you think beauty is?


Beauty is a strange thing. It is not the mere aesthetic appearance of things, as many people have come to believe. It is not a summer’s day, or a flower, or the filmy fluttering of a thin skirt about the ankles of a woman who might or might not be a descendant of Venus.

Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.

There can be no description of true beauty – the minute you turn to examine it, it evaporates and loses its colour. It can never be seen. It is invisible.

It is not sudden, and its entrance into your mind can neither be seen nor remembered. When it leaves, you will not notice until it is completely gone. And even then, it is only because you suddenly miss a feeling of serenity that you seem to have misplaced.

When you feel beauty, it vibrates with a melodic humming within your center. It fills you with the need to sigh and look up and find more around you – in the trees, in the faces of your loved ones, as a whisper on the breeze. It fills you completely, and you want for nothing. You realize true peace for that fleeting instant. You hold no grudges and though you may cry tears, the emotion filling them can no more be explained than the flooding of your heart with the love and quiet joy that can only have come straight from heaven.

And while the beauty lasts within you, you will only then understand. It is not in the eye of the beholder, but in their spirit.

Reading to feed your writing

Francine Prose in her book Reading Like a Writer states “Like most–maybe all–writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books.” A New York Times bestseller, Prose’s work attracted reviews such as “An absolutely necessary addition to the personal library of anyone who is a writer or dreams of writing” (National Public Radio), “quality reading informs great writing” (Publisher’s Weekly) and “…writers can learn from the careful reading of great writers as diverse as Virginia Wolf and Flannery O Connor” (USA Today).

This echoes my stint at Rhodes University where in the first semester we had to develop a comprehensive list of what we wanted to read to assist our writing process in a chosen genre. We were encouraged to be as diverse as possible in our selection because learning profound insights about writing could come from unexpected sources.

Below I share how my choices influenced my writing:

The authors and texts that have influenced my development as a writer the most are Leo Tolstoy, Lydia Davis, Philip Stevick, Flannery O’Connor, Maxine Chernoff, and the two stories Boys by Rick Moody and Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, one of the first books I read, set me on a journey into the murky ground of relationships between men and women. The isolation and shunning of Anna, the loss of her two children, which leads to her throwing herself under the wheels of a train, contrasting with little consequence for her partner who shares her transgression, made an enduring impression. A quality of Tolstoy I admire in the novel is his propensity to share his opinions about the issues of his day. However, in my own work this still has to be refined.

The collected short stories of Lydia Davis introduced me to an author whose work I hadn’t read before. Davis experiments with different forms. Her stories are known for being short, concise and infused with humour. Having this in common (very short stories, spare style, humour) I embraced her as a kindred spirit. I learned from Davis, a master of the compound sentence, how to construct sentences that could be moulded into saying exactly what I wanted. Previously, having imbibed copious writing advice which advocated simplicity, I’d construct short sentences which left me dissatisfied, rewriting for hours but never quite reaching the desired effect. From Davis I also learned (The silence of Mrs Iln) that in a long relationship a man could encroach so much as to occupy space in a woman’s psyche and that the woman can experience that as heaviness.

Davis doesn’t use a lot of dialogue in her stories. In her interview in The Art of Fiction series of the Paris Review she states “I find dialogue artificial…” But for me, coming from a background of writing for television and radio, I have an affinity for dialogue as a valuable tool. Davis also says that description is artificial. The lack of description in her fiction make me uncomfortable. I admire Alex la Guma for his wonderfully descriptive prose.

Maxine Chernoff writes in different genres: poetry, short stories, novels, and screen plays. She’s regarded as a master of the short story and writes with the care and attention of a poet. Chernoff writes about women and relationships, something that comes through in my writing time and again. Her humour appeals to me. In the story Degan dying a man has a stroke. The humour is dark but handled with such a light touch. Balancing light and dark, the idea that humour has to be balanced at all was such an important insight for the growth of my craft.

In a reading presentation, Boys by Rick Moody and Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid were compared along these lines: Compare the role of girls and boys in the two stories. What does Girl say about femininity and sexuality? What does Boys say about masculinity and sexuality? Compare how both stories succeed (or not) in placing men and women in a different social standing and class. It yielded a harvest of insights into this topic.

Flannery O’Connor shows that prejudice is learnt, very pertinent to South Africa. One of her themes is the foolishness of women who trust too easily. I love how she uses words. One old lady is ‘ravenous’ for a son-in-law. Ravenous used in this context arrested my attention. O’Connor has a sly humour. She demonstrates in her stories that nothing is as it seems and pokes fun in a gentle way at the sometimes futile efforts of older people to teach the young.

Underscoring the above has been the ground-breaking book by Philip Stevick Anti-story: an anthology of experimental fiction which describes eight ways of telling modern stories: anti-mimesis, anti-reality, against event, against subject or theme, against the middle range of experience, against analysis, against meaning and against scale. This is crucial for me in my experimental stories.

In conclusion, another author who has influenced me is Cathy Acker. Her novel Blood and guts in high school is like a cold shower, a reality check about the vulnerability of women in society. Initially shying away from such naked anger which has the potential to alienate me as a reader, it acted as a shock into awareness.

As you can see from my process above, you have to, in this age of instant everything, make time to enjoy “the delights of slowly imbibing a book, savouring every word, sentence and paragraph, tasting morsels of metaphor” (O, The Oprah magazine).

I’ll let Francine Prose have the last word “though it’s impossible to recall every source of inspiration and instruction, I can remember the novels and stories that seemed to me revelations: wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction.”

Which books have inspired your writing journey?

The Fourth Stage

One of my stories was published in Spelk


by Cornelia Fick

Aunt Janet choked on her beer, and then wagged a finger at her husband, Ted. “I hope the worms eat you ragged, you swine. I hope they start on your soft parts.”

“That was uncalled for,” her daughter, Elle, said.

Aunt Janet, Elle and two other women were sitting on kitchen chairs in a semi-circle under a peach tree. The meaty smoke from the barbeque enveloped them. They were celebrating Aunt Janet’s seventy-fifth birthday.

Once proud and beautiful, Aunt Janet had become a bony woman who couldn’t wait for the morning to put on her brown coat in search of brandy. Flecks of discoloured skin on her lips were wet with spittle. “He had a child with a woman in my church,” she continued. “He slept with all the women in the Mother’s Union.”

“He was a good father,” Elle said, desperate to believe in a man…

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The nicest rejection letter

Do you know how you hesitate to open an email from a magazine or journal where you’ve submitted your work because you can’t stand the punched-in-the gut feeling when you read some of them? Especially when you’re as brave as a mouse and each rejection letter makes your courage plummet and you ask, Why do you do this to yourself.

Well, I just received the following letter and I feel encouraged:

Dear Connie Fick,

The editors of ….. are honored that you chose to share your work with us.
Although your submission had many strengths, it does not meet our needs for this year’s issue. Nonetheless, we are grateful that you thought of us, and we hope you will consider ….. when submitting your work in the future.

We accept only one submission from each writer during the regular reading period, but you would be welcome to submit again for the …….’ Contest, which opens for submissions September 1.

Thank you for your interest in ….. We’d love to stay connected via Facebook, @…, and/or to see you at one or more of our events this year.

Best wishes,

The Editors of ….. Poetry


The ‘under-arrest’ test – how to see the holes in your story’s ending

Nail Your Novel

It’s hard to see the flaws in our own work, and the ending is especially a problem.  We know ourselves how it’s supposed to pack its punch, or we hope we do, but will the reader?

Here’s a handy test.

You’ve seen arrests in movies. And you know, don’t you, that a person may harm their defence if they don’t mention any evidence they later rely on in court.

This is like story endings.

A good ending

First of all, what’s a good ending? It has a feeling of ‘rightness’, even if it has surprises, leaves questions or unresolved issues. It must be fair (to the reader, not necessarily to the characters). It mustn’t look arbitrary.

When an ending fails, it’s usually because it wasn’t sufficiently set up.

It fails the arrest test.

Which is this:

It may harm your story’s effectiveness if you fail to mention any evidence (about events…

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Write a brilliant novel by asking the right questions – guest post at The Creative Penn

Nail Your Novel

Questions…. they’re the reason a reader gets intrigued by a story. And, at the author’s end, the writing process is an entire cycle of questions, big and small, some arising out of other questions. Some of the process is figuring out the right answers. Some of it is figuring out what to ask in the first place.

If that sounds like a conundrum, some of the most important questions are conundrums in themselves. Confused?

Today I’m at Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn blog, attempting to make sense of all this. Do come over.

PS If you’re curious about the latest doings of my own creative pen, here’s my latest newsletter

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