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  • Tips Tuesday: Policing Your Own Work

    It is hard to look at your work objectively sometimes, but there are quick tips when you are revising to learn to police your own work. Some of these might be the same that we’ve posted on here before, but they are important.

    So, say I have a story that I wrote because I was inspired by the prompts on 3Elements. What are some things I can do before submitting it?

    1. Make sure you have followed the guidelines. At 3Elements, we look for the elements first. If we notice on our first read-through that they aren’t there, we decline the piece. Also, if it is way over or under our word count, we also decline the piece. There is a little wiggle room in that respect, but not much. Stick to guidelines whenever you submit a piece to a journal or magazine.

    2. Look for common words. I will do a read-through of my own work and put a box around any repeated word. I’ll do this with a different colored pen for setting and place on a second read-through. When the word is used too often, I challenge myself to find new ways to say the same thing. A lot of times, this is where the poetry comes into a piece.

    3. Plot outline. After a few reads, outline the plot. What happens on each page? Does the action flow from a cause directly before it? Do things progress naturally? If there isn’t much of a plot on the outline, sometimes I reconsider what needs to happen in the piece. If it doesn’t make sense, I find ways to make the reactions stem from the actions and then become their own actions for the next reaction.

    4. Read out loud. Trust me… you will find places in your work that just need help. You catch them when you hear them out loud and say, “Wait, what? I wrote that? Why? I need to revise…” Then, do the revisions.

    5. Get the work in “Clean Copy” format. This means, edit it for mechanics and grammar and format. If a piece does not look professional (inconsistent formatting, improper grammar and mechanics, run-on sentences), many journals will not consider the piece, even if it is brilliant. Invest in a good guide–many are out there at the bookstore. Find one that is easy to read for you (I like the ones that have few words per page but have pictures in them).

    6. Submit. ‘Nuff said.

    These are QUICK tips. This can still take 5-8 hours. The hardest part about writing is rewriting, so by policing your work like this, it’s like you’re doing a quick triage of revision to your piece. Use this method when you have to, but of course, spend as much time revising as possible until you feel the work stands on its own

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    How 3Elements Review was Born

    One day in 2010, when I sat down to write but didn’t know what to write about, my boyfriend came up with an exercise for me. He gave me what he called “three elements” and told me that all three of those elements had to be in my story.

    Those first three were: 13 year-old with a passport, hydrofluoric acid, and overspending parent. Well, if you give someone hydrofluoric acid, somebody is probably going to die. I wrote a story about a 16 year-old whose mother is a designer-wearing money-grubber. Her father dies suddenly and when she discovers a bottle of hydrofluoric acid buried deep in a hall closet, she knows exactly what happened. I didn’t finish this one, but I had fun with it.

    Last year, with another set of elements (yellow raincoat, $70, and mentally unstable), I wrote a complete story I am pretty proud of. A woman goes on a blind date with an acquaintance of a friend and things go well, but only for awhile. For fun, here is an excerpt:

         Angelina’s Ristorante was a small, Italian restaurant up the street, cozy with lit candles at every table, art on the walls, a Venus de Milo replica perched near the entrance with strands of garland wrapped around her neck and hanging from her stumps, plants making the place feel more like home.

         They sat at a table near the window, watching people step off of the 36 bus and scatter like rats to someplace dry. When there were gaps in the conversation, Sonya watched the rain trickle down the window, wondering if it ever froze in webs like that overnight.

         After a few bites of her chicken pomodoro (she’d wanted to appear controlled) and two bottles of wine between them, Sonya’s world was spinning and everything Derek said caused a high-pitched giggle to erupt from her red lips.

         The waiter dropped off the $70 check and two peppermints. “Come home with me,” Derek said, gripping her hand.

         “I don’t sleep with men I hardly know,” she said. “Take me home, please.”

         Derek hailed a cab and she nestled into his shoulder and dozed off.

    The elements don’t have to be the main idea of your story, though they can be. Tandem bicycle seemed to be a major part of most stories and poems. What can you do with helix, cower, and hammock? Your story doesn’t have to take place on a hammock. Maybe your character passes by a hammock or has a memory about one. Helix is a bit more difficult, and we did that on purpose. We wanted to see how creative you could be with it.

    3Elements Review was born to jumpstart my imagination, and my hope is that it continues to give other writers a creative boost. The submissions we received for issue one were so thrilling. We can’t wait to see what everyone does with helix, cower, and hammock. You have exactly six weeks to submit!

    How do you incorporate the elements? Which ones sparked ideas for you?

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    Elemental Conversations: Isaac Blum

    Elemental Conversations is a new weekly blog post where we ask our contributors various questions about their art and about themselves. We thought it would be fun for our readers (and us) to get to know the people whose work makes 3Elements Review possible.

Contributor: Isaac BlumMauch Chunk (short story)

    Isaac Blum's stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Baltimore Review and Poetica Magazine. He has a story entitled Mauch Chunk, which appears in 3Elements Literary Review.

    Isaac Blum is the 2013 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State Altoona. He recently finished up his MFA at Rutgers-Camden. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the New York Times, the Baltimore Review, the Oklahoma ReviewPoetica MagazineWest Trade ReviewYARN, and the Humor Times, among others.

    3ER: Was there a specific element that sparked your story idea?

    Isaac: I had trouble thinking of a way to fit “tandem bicycle” into a story. But tandem bicycles make me think of older times, eras you see in pictures tinted with sepia. And that made me think of Jim Thorpe, an old town in Pennsylvania, where I set my story.

    3ER: If you could choose any three elements, what would they be?

    Isaac: Any three? Not sure. Here are three I like: Chicken Lo Mein, Tajik, Gland

    3ER: Describe your writing process.

    Isaac: I used to be very deliberate in my writing, choosing each word carefully. But that was slow. Writing is a race, right? Now I just vomit a whole bunch out onto the page, and I come back and edit later. It’s more satisfying to produce a lot of work—even if the work is sub-par and you’ll have to tear it apart later.

    3ER: Who are your favorite writers?

    Isaac: In no particular order: E.B. White, Roald Dahl, John Barth, Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut. I like writers who make me laugh. E.B. White doesn’t make me laugh, but I like him anyway.

    3ER: What book/story/poem do you wish you had written? Why?

    Isaac: It seems cheap to just say Harry Potter because J.K. Rowling has more money than god. I’m supposed to have artistic integrity, I think. Though I do love Harry Potter. I’ll go with Holes. There are some books that strike me as being perfectly constructed. And that’s one of them. You have these two plots—separated by decades—that are so perfectly woven together, and in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. It’s also funny, and well-written, and appeals to readers of just about every age. It would be neat to write something with such universal appeal.

    3ER: Why do you think writing matters?

    Isaac: I’m not sure that it does. I think that self-expression is important. And I think art is important in its reflection of, and critique of culture. But writing is just one piece of that, and without writing there’d still be music, and dance, and painting, and film, and gourd pyrography. I write because it’s fun, and I’m a much better writer than I am a dancer. And because watching spectator sports isn’t a vocation. But I’m not sure how crucial writing is.

    3ER: Where can we read more of your work?

    Isaac: In a few places. Here are two URLs:

    Phone Fiction

    Yarn Review

    3ER: What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?

    Isaac: This isn’t a “dream” per se, but I have a consistent daydream in which I acquire telekinetic powers. And I use the powers to pitch for the Phillies. And I’m the best pitcher of all time, because I can make the ball do whatever I want, with my mind. And the Phillies and I win a number of consecutive World Series.

    3ER: Do you write in a certain place? Do you listen to music? What are your rituals?

    Isaac: I write at home. I can’t work where there’s ambient noise, or other people. I tend to listen to classical music while I work: Sibelius, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff. I like it to be music I’m familiar with, so it doesn’t distract me.

    I need to be alone. The door needs to be closed. I like a cave-like atmosphere. I should try writing in a cave, but I don’t see a lot of caves around. And in my experience, caves generally lack electrical outlets.

    It also helps if there’s beer, and if there’s no sporting event happening at the time. Sports distract me very easily, and with the Internet, there’s almost always somebody playing a game somewhere

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