Monday, May 19, 2008

Shavin' Words is like Shavin' Legs -- Necessary and Bothersome

So, I entered the Writer's Digest's Annual Writing Competition (late deadline is June 2, fyi) last Friday. This is the first writing contest I've ever submitted a story too. Go me! I hope I win the $3,000 grand prize! Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

I sent in Black Barn a short story that I used for my MFA applications and helped me get accepted to the University of Pittsburgh and UNH, and waitlisted at Hollins and UMASS @ Boston. The word length needed to be 4,000 and my story was pushing 5,400 plus change. So I had to shave off 1400+ words to make it an acceptable submission.

That was hard. It was harder to shell out $15 for the reader fee, but that's another story.

I wouldn't say I'm wordy. In fact, I'm pretty silent most of the time. (Unless I know and like you.) I like to think that I speak when there's something important to say--or if I just feel like making someone laugh. I don't feel like I speak a lot, but I do write 350+ page novels. I've written about four in the past 1.5 years. It's hard to switch gears and write a 20-page short story. Twenty pages is like a chapter for me -- only a snippet of a larger picture. It's incredibly difficult to write a beginning, middle, and end in such limited space. So, when I try to write short fics they tend to be long, and if I'm given 20 pages, you'd better believe that I'm going to take them all. I'm not very good at flash fiction. Any flash fiction writers out there who'd like to share some wisdom? I'm sure my future classmates would be appreciative.

To be limited to 15-20 pages for the MFA applications was hard enough, now imagine having to shave about 4-5 pages from that for the WD competition! Very difficult.

I sat down with my pencil, all ready to slash unnecessary adverbs, and found myself ADDING to the story. Ever the perfectionist, I saw things that needed to be changed and enhanced. I managed to slash a few paragraphs and needless words on that first editing-go-round, but I probably added at least 30-50 words in the process. I didn't think it was possible to really find 1,400 useless words to remove from my "masterpiece." It felt torturous. I nearly quit. In my mind I thought about all of those contests I saw in the back of my recent Writer Magazine--one of those could be my first contest. However, quitting difficult things is the Tanya from the past, so I buckled down and spent three hours (up until 11:55pm, five minutes before I was to submit) chopping off the beautiful arms of my little baby.

I ended up with 3989 words and felt proud that I could edit myself so much. The story is better now. Maybe not $3,000-better, but good enough.

Until the next contest! (I need to write a new story first... unless this one doesn't win, then I'll submit it somewhere else. I wonder what the rules are in regard to double-dippin'.)


Margosita said...

Check into the rules, of course, but I bet submitted your story elsewhere, if rejected from Writer's Digest is not only ok, but totally expected of writers. They may prohibit simultaneous submissions, though.

Best of luck! So exciting, your first contest!

Speak Coffee said...

For flash fiction I find that the only way I can write it is when I take a struggling poem and let it breathe deep, break out of its poetry corset, and become a story.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin