Tag Archives: short story competition

The Waiting Game

I have a pile of paper on my desk which is almost two inches tall. It’s neatly stacked and clearly laid out; it is double-spaced and indented for new paragraphs and dialogue; each chapter has its own new page. It is 254 pages of hard work and mental toil, and it is mine.

It looks a lot like this! Image: hopeloverun.blogspot.com

It looks a lot like this!
Image: hopeloverun.blogspot.com

‘Tider’ lives!

Yesterday, I did my ‘last’ edits (I say ‘last’, but of course I don’t mean it – I’m sure I’ll have filleted the whole thing and sewn it back together again before the year is out.) The book is now at a stage where I’m happy to leave it to one side for a few weeks, hopefully allowing me to come back to it with fresher eyes and a more acute editing brain. The entire ending has been restructured, which involved working back through the whole book in order to shift the plot around slightly, just enough to make room for a new dénouement, and almost 10,000 words have been sliced out of the MS in the process. It’s now at about 76,000 words, which is still a little on the long side, but it’s a whole lot better than it was.

Also, recall if you will that the word count for ‘Tider’, in its first incarnation, was 150,000. I think that deserves some sort of editing award, or something.

 

Annnnd the Oscar for most copious editing goes to.... Image: homespunscrap.blogspot.com

Annnnd the Oscar for most copious editing goes to….
Image: homespunscrap.blogspot.com

I have a huge amount of words in my Offcuts file, too – something in the region of 60,000 for this book alone. Many of my favourite scenes, including whole chunks of lovely, lovely dialogue which were funny and sweet and so wonderful to write have ended up on the metaphorical cutting room floor. Entire characters have fallen. As plotlines shifted, huge swathes of the book became redundant and could not be salvaged. I have to admit I find this merciless cutting a little bit easier now than I have done in the past, but it’s still not a lot of fun to realise, after you’ve been grappling with a beloved paragraph for a few hours, that it’s just not going to fit any more and needs to be retired to the scrap-heap.

Printing the MS has a few benefits. Mainly, it’s easier to read from paper than it is from a screen, and reading from a printed page makes you feel like it’s a ‘real book’; I’m still of the generation, I guess, who feels that when something’s down on paper it’s legitimised and made official. However, the most important benefit to printing, for me, is the fact that it serves to move me forward in the writing process. That might sound strange, because I now intend to leave the printout alone for as long as I can before continuing with the work, but what I mean is this: if I left ‘Tider’ on-screen, I could literally spend the rest of my life just tweaking and fiddling with it. When it’s on a computer screen, and saved in a file, it’s an amorphous, unfinished thing, malleable and never-ending; it’s all too easy to allow yourself to keep waiting for it to reach a certain, undefinable point before printing it. ‘I’ll just fix this bit… oh, and that bit… and maybe I’ll rewrite this paragraph… and, you know, perhaps I’ll just fidget with this character for a while…’ This sort of procrastination could go on forever, unless you pick a point and just print the thing, and so that’s what I’ve done. Now, finally, I can – with any luck – come to the final stage in the whole process, and get it ready to query.

Having said all that, my brain is still clanging with things I want to fix and change. Every few minutes I think of something else that needs to be altered. ‘This reaction here is unrealistic’, or ‘surely if event A has just happened, event B would unfold a bit more like this…’ – but I’m trying to quiet that inner voice, just for now. I’m certain those observations will occur to me as I read through the printed MS in a fortnight or three weeks, or however long I can force myself to leave it. Printing the book and then trying to come back to it with the eyes of a reader, instead of a writer, is a vital thing; it’s so hard to get a feel for the story overall when you’re stuck right in the middle of it. Getting a broad view is important in order to work out whether the story makes sense, has a logical progression to it and – most vitally – is interesting.

This is not the look I'm going for. Image: igniteimagery.deviantart.com

This is not the look I’m going for.
Image: igniteimagery.deviantart.com

So. While I’m waiting for ‘Tider’ to settle in my brain, my plan is to work on short stories for a little while. There are a few competitions I’d like to enter, including The Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, which I can’t recommend any more highly, and I’m looking forward to changing ‘format’ for a while. Breaking away from writing a long-form novel and getting stuck back into short stories will, I hope, help me to forget about ‘Tider’ for the minute as well as enjoy the process of creating something new.

It’s all action over here this Thursday! Hope your day is going well. It’s almost the weekend, folks… hang in there.

Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest

Today’s blog post is about something wonderful.

Today, I want to tell you about an opportunity for those who write, and a promise of future goodies for those who read. I want to talk about a writer brave enough to take a stand against a culture of oppression which she found to be distasteful, unbearable and wrong, and about her attempt to shine a light into the darkness.

That writer is Susan Lanigan, and her statement against the dark is the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest.

The talented and lovely Susan Lanigan. Image: twitter.com

The talented and lovely Susan Lanigan.
Image: twitter.com

Susan’s debut novel is set to be published next year, but she is a long-established blogger and writer. She’s been long- and short-listed for pretty much every big writing prize you can think of and boasts a list of publications that make neophytes like me swoon with admiration. She has also been a generous and supportive guide to me in my first faltering steps towards making a life in words, and has offered her help, encouragement and advice more often than I can remember over the past year.

However, as well as being a successful and talented writer and a professional IT analyst, Susan is a mental health advocate and a person who feels strongly about the societal imbalances which affect those who suffer with mental ill-health. She has set up the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest in an attempt to get people thinking and writing about these issues and – hopefully – to start changing the prevailing mindset, and upset the power structures that keep people crushed, and which keep them voiceless. She has poured a huge amount of personal effort and love into getting this contest off the ground, and every aspect of it is a labour of devotion for her.

But here’s how we can all help, too.

The contest is almost ready to roll. Susan has secured a judge, and she has procured funding for prizes. She has a website which contains all the information you could need about the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest.

The only thing she needs now is… entries.

Image: washingtonpost.com

Image: washingtonpost.com

If you think you’d like to contribute a story between 500 and 4,000 words based around any aspect of mental health – the struggles of those with mental health issues to be treated with respect, dignity and equality; the societal structures which are directed towards stigmatising and disrespecting those who live with mental illness; the powers-that-be which disenfranchise and dehumanise them and make them into ‘problems’, or ‘statistics’ – then I reckon I can safely say Susan wants to hear from you.

In her own words (taken from Susan’s website, http://www.walkingonthinice.org):

The Walking on Thin Ice short story competition has one aim: to produce powerful, new, high-quality short fiction (500 – 4000 words) on the topic of mental health, stigma and power by means of an open blind-submission short story contest… The last of that triple theme – power – is particularly important, as the question of power – who wields it, who creates the bar for sanity, who enforces social norms from macro to micro – often gets quietly dropped in these discussions.

I really hope that those of you who can submit work to this competition will consider doing so. The closing date for entries has been extended until November 15th, so I heartily encourage everyone who can to put their pens to paper, or their fingers to keyboard, and get writing.

Mental health is something I feel strongly about, too; I’ve made no secret of my own struggles with depression, anxiety and obsessive thinking here on my blog. It’s something I’m not ashamed of, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel like failures because they live with similar issues. I wish we existed in a society where those who battle with a heavy mind could feel that help was at hand whenever they needed it. Instead, people are slotted into ‘boxes’, made to believe they are faulty when the box into which they’re put is unequal to the task of containing them, and forced to conform, under threat of shame.

Walking on  Thin Ice aims to start the process of correcting that. I’ll be doing my bit to help, and I hope you will, too.

Now, go on. Check out the website, have a look at the competition themes, and get writing!