Tag Archives: writing websites

Keeping Up

Have you ever taken the time to really search the internet for writing competitions? Perhaps it’s because I’m based in Ireland (the land of Saints and Scholars, lest we forget), but it feels as though there are literally hundreds of competitions and possibilities for submission. Everywhere you go there are more and more.

Image: spc-intheworld.com

Image: spc-intheworld.com

I’m definitely not complaining about this. It’s wonderful that there are so many places interested in, and willing to take a chance on, unpublished work and authors that are just starting the process of carving out a career. The only problem I have is keeping up with them all. For every opportunity I find, I know I’m missing ten more; I have to tell myself that this is okay, and hope that I’m being drawn to the ‘right’ ones. It’s annoying to not know about a competition until after the closing date has passed, particularly when it sounds like one which would have been really enjoyable and challenging – and even more particularly when the closing date has only just passed.

I’ve no idea how hard this process must have been before the internet existed, and all these competition notifications weren’t available at the touch of a few buttons. I presume, perhaps, that people were more proactive about attending writers’ groups or events and actually talking to one another about what sorts of openings were available. That’s not always practical or possible, of course – it’s a lot more convenient to keep up to date with this sort of information through the web. There’s literally no excuse not to submit work, at least not in terms of there being a lack of opportunity – the opposite is definitely the case. It’s a full-time job in itself keeping on top of everything, though. I’m the first to admit I don’t always manage it.

In the past four or five weeks, I’ve written about twenty-five short stories of various lengths and styles. The longest was 3,500 words, and the shortest 99; I’ve experimented with form, voice, and content. Some of them have found homes in competitions or in submissions, but most of them are just like delicate linens, wrapped in soft tissue and stored out of direct sunlight. I hope that these stories will be brought out and displayed at some point, but there’s no real guarantee of that. A lot of competitions, and even some literary magazines which call for submissions, will be looking for stories written to a particular theme. This can be very inspirational – being given a theme and/or a word limit can definitely spark the creative flow – but it also means that if you’re drawn to writing stories about psychopathic rabbits dressed in luminous spats who go on to reform their characters and fight crime against cucumbers, you might struggle to place your work with some literary magazines. Also, there aren’t a lot of competitions (at least, not that I’ve seen) which call for that particular theme, though the world would be a better place if there were.

I’ve tended to write whatever stories come to mind, not worrying too much about writing ‘to order’, and I’m enjoying the feeling of building up my personal stockpile. I’ve actually enjoyed this process so much that I don’t really want to bring it to an end (or even to a temporary halt), but I do plan to do that during April in order to focus again on my longer pieces. I wish I’d tried to write short stories years ago! It goes against my instincts to edit or change a finished piece, one that I’m happy with, to suit a particular competition or fit with particular submission criteria, so I hope I’ll be able to find a place to let all these more or less miscellaneous tales out into the open sometime in the future, just as they are. Even if they never get lifted out of their storage drawer, their value lies in the fact that writing them stretched my brain and got me to think, and that’s fantastic.

Image: colourbox.com

Image: colourbox.com

A lot of competitions and calls for submissions are quarterly, which means that March 31st is a deadline I’m seeing all over the place. This is why I feel April is a good time to get back into the novels I’ve neglected for the past while – I can spend a few weeks, perhaps a month, immersed in the longer forms before focusing on shorter works once again. I can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed my experiments with short fiction, though, and it’s quite possible my brain will drag me back to the short story form a little bit ahead of schedule. Of course, I can keep my eye on the various calls for submissions that regularly pop up even while I’m not focusing on the shorter forms, and if a story I’ve written is suitable I can happily send it on its merry way. It’s great to get the best of both worlds.

I’m lucky to have a husband who does his best to help my writing endeavours whatever way he can; this includes making me a nifty Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the stories, submissions and competitions I’ve entered, as well as those I want to enter. I also keep a separate folder in my documents file for each magazine or competition to which I submit work, so there’s no confusion over what I’ve submitted, and when I submitted it. As well as that, a lot of places use software called Submittable, which is a great way of tracking your submissions and finding out at a glance what stage your submissions are at. Technology can help not only in finding out where the opportunities are, but also keeping track of what pieces have gone where. It wouldn’t do to submit the same story twice to two different places, of course. You want to give yourself the best chance, so it’d be a shame to disqualify yourself over a silly mistake.

The most important thing, of course, is to enjoy what you’re writing and not stress overmuch about competitions and submissions. But when you’re ready to submit, there’s no shortage of opportunity. When and if you do, good luck!

 

Following your Instincts

I’m only starting to learn how much of being a writer is following your gut, doing what you feel is right and hoping for the best possible result. It’s inherently unstable, unreliable and unpredictable – but it’s also exhilarating, of course.

Felix Baumgartner knows what I'm talking about...Image: abcnews.go.com

Felix Baumgartner knows what I’m talking about…
Image: abcnews.go.com

That’s not to say I haven’t been on the receiving end of some wonderful, helpful advice from people all over the world – people I’ve met through blogging, most particularly. It’s great to read how other people manage their writing goals, and how they achieve the word-counts they want on a daily basis. Everyone has their own style, their own technique, and their own ‘tricks of the trade’. Some people manage their writing completely differently from how I manage mine, and some use techniques that I know I never could. The more I read, and the more I write, the more I realise that writing is a game of doing your best, and doing the best you can to be true to yourself. At the same time, there are hundreds of websites out there offering the secrets of how to write, the tricks of the trade, the absolutely foolproof ‘rules’ – but I’m beginning to think there are no rules. How can there be?

Writing is, like any artform, completely subjective. I bring my own life-experiences to what I write, as does anyone who puts one word after another. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid this, particularly at the beginning of your writing career. Perhaps I’m just particularly bloody-minded, but I really think when it comes to writing I have to learn how to do it myself. If someone tells me ‘don’t do it this way,’ I have a suspicion that I’ll be inclined to try to prove them wrong. Just because a certain technique didn’t work for one person doesn’t mean it’s ‘wrong’ in itself. Of course, there are general rules governing writing (spelling, grammar, sentence construction, paragraph usage, consistent punctuation), designed to aid a reader’s comprehension, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Those are rules worth following, by and large, though sometimes interesting effects can be created by breaking or bending these guidelines. Even the old rule of ‘a piece of writing needs a beginning, middle and end’ is sometimes jettisoned, to sparkling effect, by writers. It takes great skill to completely throw the rules out the window, though. I’m not at that stage yet, and may never be. In order to break the rules you need to have mastered them completely and be in total control of your technique and material. But how to get to this level in the first place? Hard work and practice until you’ve mastered the rules of structure and composition. Then, experimentation – and listening to your inner voice.

Trying to write in a different way to your normal style can also be a good idea, from time to time. If a person usually writes ‘straight through’ – i.e. linearly – perhaps it’s a good idea to write scenes out of order, and put them together afterwards like a patchwork quilt. Or, as Kate Curtis has recently discussed, sometimes it’s best to start at the end and work your way back. This technique works very well for her, but I’m not sure it would work for me! However, it might be a brilliant thing to do in order to get my brain thinking differently about words and structure, and so it’s a useful nugget of information to have in my writing arsenal. One of the most useful writing exercises I ever did was take a scene I was having trouble with and rewrite it from the point of view of another character; I couldn’t believe the insight this gave me into the scene, the connection between the characters, the dynamic of their relationship, and – most importantly – the motivation behind the behaviour of each of the characters. This technique really helped me to understand why they were acting and reacting the way they were in this particular scene. But no matter what way you write, whether it’s writing each character separately, or whether you stand on your head and write with a pen attached to your eyelid, or whether you can only write on every third Wednesday – if it works for you, it’s right.

As strange as it may seem, having written a blog post which concerns itself with giving out writing tips like lollipops at a doctor’s office, I’m going to conclude that listening to tips may not always be the best thing to do for your writing. I think, from now on, I’m going to limit the amount of advice I take in from others, and rely more on my own instinct. Advice relating to publication, gaining an agent, the book industry, and so on is a different animal – that sort of advice is always worth having under your belt, I think. But I’m going to ration my intake of writerly advice, because reading all sorts of conflicting advice has, lately, been making me panic a little. There is, undoubtedly, a lot of useful, well-intentioned and good advice out there, but it’s a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Instead of trying to take on board all the advice I’ve been hearing about and reading, and changing my writing to suit the advice I’ve been getting (which, now I think about it, is a little bit crazy), I’m just going to write as I feel, and hope I manage to bumble my way towards my dream, bit by bit.

Happy Friday, and happy weekend! May your writing flourish and may your word-goals inch that little bit closer, and may you write in the best way possible – your own way.