Writing Competitions

After making my first submission last month, I’ve decided to start entering more competitions. Of course that means I’ll have to be writing more, but I need to do that anyway. Next up is a short story to CrazyHorse for their short fiction competition.  I have until Jan 31 to submit & have no ideas!  I’m hoping something will come of my attempts from the various writing prompts I work from.

Submitting my work to competitions, as well as to literary magazines, is the best way to get my work out there & (maybe, hopefully) get some feed-back.  It’s easy to say that I want to be a writer, but that statement isn’t really true unless I’m doing something to make it happen.

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First Submission

So yesterday I submitted a short story to a competition. It’s titled ‘No Contact’ & is a revision of a story I wrote in a college creative writing class. I’ve been revisiting some old work & stumbled across this one. My professor had noted that the story had great potential.

After giving it a lot of thought, I finally decided to put myself out there a little & open my work up to some professional judgment & criticism. The hardest part was pressing ‘send’ & knowing that the draft had become final. Now there is just a combination of nerves & hope.

Results are announced on Feb 28, after that I’ll either post a link to the published piece (hopefully!) or the whole story (if all else fails) here.

Voice

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Stephen King discussed opening lines. My favorite opening line is from Rebecca – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  Immediately I wanted to know who the speaker was, what Manderley was & why she couldn’t go back.  So much feeling & promise contained in nine words.  So intimidating to a would-be writer!

He also discusses the importance of a writer’s voice, that way of telling a story that identifies the writer. My struggle has always been: how does one go about finding their voice?  I think that a writer develops her voice only by writing, by finding what she’s comfortable with, what feels right.  And that takes time.  And it takes writing, actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  That can be daunting and full of ‘mistakes,’ which makes it difficult for someone like me.  I don’t like to do something unless I can do it well.  I don’t like putting out a product that I’m not completely satisfied with.  Those traits don’t often mix well with creative endeavors that require trial and error.

Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg has said “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline.”  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Joanne Lipman recounts Weisberg’s findings that “there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.”  I might hang that quote in my home office.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another National Novel Writing Month.  At midnight, writers everywhere will begin work on a 50,000 word novel.  You can visit here to find out more about how it works.  I participated last year, but sadly did not get very far.  This year I am determined to get those 50,000 words!

It’s common for authors to write from an outline.  The entire plot is planned out before the first words are written.  This year I am trying to write from an outline, but am struggling to get the outline together.  The hardest part for me to get the story started, to come up with the idea.  Once I have an idea, I can run with it.  It’s all of the little moving parts that overwhelm me – the plot twists, the character traits, the over-arching theme.  What genre do I want to write?  First person or third person?  Impartial or emotional?  So many decisions to make before midnight!

To be a writer, you must write

Nicholas Sparks says that “You can’t be a writer if you don’t write, it’s just that simple.” To write well, you must write often. He writes 5-6 days per week, averaging 2,000 words per day. That amount is intimidating to me, who struggles with every word. How am I supposed to come up with 2,000 words in one day when I can barely get 100 out?!?

I write two posts per week for another blog, Lynn’s Place. They are commentary on reality TV shows. Not hard hitting stuff, but I get to put pen to paper & write something that people read.  You can check out my latest on the Real Housewives of Miami here.  It’s been an amazing opportunity to spend time writing each week and it’s much easier to write when the topic is provided.  Plus, I’m becoming part of a community that encourages & supports each other’s writing.

To be a writer, you must read

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Right now I’m reading Carol Goodman’s The Seduction of Water. It’s made me think about what it really means to be a writer. I have always loved books & the way in which an author can transport you to another time or place, can make you understand & empathize with a character wholly unfamiliar to you. I credit my mother, also an avid reader, and my grandmother, a librarian, with my love of reading.

The first book that made me want to be a writer was Rebecca, by Daphne de Maurier. It was an assigned summer reading book in middle school & I was immediately enthralled by the language, the characters, the suspense. I was in awe. After Rebecca, I thought ‘I want to do this, I want to create stories like this.’

In his Advice for Writers Nicholas Sparks says “you must read, and read a lot.” I was once told that you should always read with a pen in your hand. I tend to read with a pen & notepad so I can jot down my thoughts or ideas without being limited to the margins of a book. Plus, I just can’t bring myself to write in most books. I know that notes, markings, and dog-eared pages are the sign of a loved book, but I just can’t do it.

Stephen King’s On Writing & Kate Chopin’s The Awakening are two books I own that are full of highlights & notes. I also own both in paperback & eBook, but my struggle between the need to posses physical books & my desire to access them anytime is another story for another day.

Another great piece of advice from Mr. Sparks is to read in all genres. If you can’t tell from my Book Challenge list or Goodreads profile, this is something I strive to do. Within the last month I’ve read historical fiction, young adult/fantasy, and mystery. My stories & ideas tend towards realistic fiction/mystery, but I’ve found that you can pick up useful techniques in any genre so I will give almost any novel a shot.