Short Story Success
As a writer it’s easy to get into the doldrums and believe that your work simply isn’t good enough to stand out amongst the crowd. If you have a book out there it’s uplifting to receive a five star review because it affirms that what you’ve written is readable and enjoyable. Your work gave someone pleasure, so much so that they took the time to reward you.
When your readers are busy reading and not feeling like pressing the ‘rate this book’ button, then you need to explore other roads for encouragement. This is why I tried my hand at a shorter piece of work and turned to the opinion of accredited and respected writers to judge my work. I entered a short story competition.
Short stories are not my natural strength. Like all writers I started off by writing short stories at school – my teachers never requested a 90,000 word novel as homework! – so you’d think I’d be well-practised and comfortable with shorter pieces, but I quickly drifted away into longer stories that evolved into novels and never truly returned to polish the craft of composing the short story.
Deciding to enter a competition was a personal challenge at many levels. I had to revisit and relearn how to construct a decent short story. I also had to prepare for the possibility of failure and that I was not going to be recognised as above average by a panel of highly esteemed judges. It’s all well and good to recite the mantra ‘Failure is not an option,’ but with creative writing there’s no definitive formula for winning. All I could do was give it my absolute best and hone my work to perfection.
Of all the competitions on offer, I opted for one that gave a visual prompt. The image immediately inspired me and an idea for the story rushed to the surface. It was a good start. The competition was being run by Writers & Artists in association with Firewords Magazine, a prestigious literary journal. The prize was inclusion in Firewords Magazine and the kudos of being associated with Writers & Artists. There was no financial incentive, just an opportunity to showcase my work and be acknowledged as a writer of worth.
If you’ve read any of my novels you’ll know that my style is not literary. This was another personal challenge, plus the fact that the story limit was 1,000 words. My writing needed to be crisp with absolutely no unnecessary padding. In my real world of novel writing I can write a 2,500 word chapter in an evening, then come back and polish it later. In this new world of short stories it took me four weeks to write the first draft! It’s a good job I planned well ahead for this competition and didn’t try and knock something out at the last minute. Once the first draft was completed I read it to my critique group and made adjustments following feedback. I then sent it to a trusted friend who knows all about writing, and on her advice, tweaked yet again.
Having reached a point where I was terrified of making any further alterations and ruining the entire feel of the story, I sat back and waited a week before sending it off. In fact, I went in and undid some of my last minute tweaks, deciding that they didn’t sit right with me.
Next, I got on with writing my novel in progress; while keeping an eye out for updates about the competition in my Writers & Artists newsletter.
When the results came in, I was gobsmacked.
My short story, The Visit, was on the shortlist. I was one of the final 10 out of 550 entries. My feet hardly touched the ground all day!
I didn’t go on to win the grand prize, but I’m NOT disappointed. To be shortlisted in such a prestigious competition is a high achievement. These days, they do say that being shortlisted is as important as winning and goes a long way to proving your worth as a writer. I’m more than happy with that!
I challenged myself, honed my skills and came out on top. Thrilled to bits!
Now I intend to enter a few more short story competitions. I’ll pick and choose, and maybe even have a go at the hugely prestigious Bridport Prize. Yes, I’ll aim high and see where I land.
I’d love to hear your experiences of entering short story competitions and how they’ve helped encourage you to keep writing.