Writing Forward with Retrospect

So, recently, I actually won a writing competition. Yippee-doo-dah!

However. It wasn’t the kind of piece of which I am all about. It was about, hmm, I suppose it was on travel and holidaying. It was a non-fiction essay on a family adventure. But it was still writing and I won it!. My prize was a book on micro-adventures (worth £16.99). Which really turned out to be quite a gem of a book that I definitely would have bought anyway. It’s jam-packed full of all the kinda shit I like to do. Camping, canoeing, climbing hills, etc.

Over the past few months, I’ve fired out a bunch of short stories and essays for competition and won none, short-listed, long-listed – nada. So, was feeling a bit miffed of late, but getting this prize for a non-fiction piece has kinda stoked my fire somewhat. Okay, it’s non-fiction, it’s not what I wanna do, but hey, I won a prize for writing something! For me, that’s fucking brilliant! I’m a writer!

Sci-fi and fantasy is what I’m all about. Yes, both! To me, sci-fi is fantasy and fantasy is, well, it’s fantasy but c’mon, elven high-lords wielding Singing Swords and Shards of the Scion is pretty scientifically fictional to me. I mean, creating a whole-new world is one of the most scientifically challenging (as well as personally gratifying) procedures a writer can have, of which, I’m sure, every fantasy writer will concur.

But I digress. The point I’m trying to make to myself, I suppose, is maybe I need to make my fictional writing more non-fictional. When you write non-fictional, you write something that is indubitable, something of unequivocal value on this earth and is quite simply fact. That’s how, I’m deducting, I need to write my fiction. Instead of trying to persuade the reader ‘this is real’, as in trying to ‘info-dump’ a load of facts about this newly-made world I should be writing about it as though taking for granted that everything is already known by the reader as if the reader currently resides in said world—if you know what I mean.

I think that’s what the secret to a good book is. Pulling the reader into a state where they feel like they are part of the ‘ether’ encapsulating the actual story. Like they are sitting on the shoulder of the narrator, experiencing everything the narrator experiences. And on completion it feels as though they had watched a movie, with all the images and emotions and the sounds still fresh in their memories.

This, thanks to winning a non-fiction writing competition, and in retrospect of previous short stories, is how I think I need to move forward. While I’m still exploring my first draft of the first story I’m going to fully complete (inc. rewrites and edits) and in accordance to the formats of the thousands of books I’ve previously read, I think I may just well be edging myself onto the right track.

Ooh. Yeah.

 

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
― Anaïs Nin

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First Draft Profanity and the Emergence of Angerpunk

Warning

For experimental purposes, this post contains, and some might say, is overindulgent in, profanity.

So, fair warning given, huh.

Trying to find a mould in which to set one’s writerly juices is something, which I imagine, every writer who is yearning to get published experiences. The style of writing which plays out most amicable to our strengths and that which flows through our fingertips to the keyboard without having to hit delete so much. It’s a process of elimination. But the truth is, and if we’re to follow the mantra about writing what you know or writing what is real (for you), that’s exactly what you’ve got to do, specifically during the first draft. If you exist in a world steeped in mother-fuckers and dick-heads, within a social circle where there’s a god-damn expletive in every shit-bastard sentence, then, surely, you hell-as-well better write like that otherwise it’s not going to look right or feel right for you. I would imagine this would be extremely important during a first draft. It’s gotta feel right and when it does the words will flow.

However, that’s not to say everyone’s world is like that. It’s not. Well, not entirely. In fact, in some places it is exactly like that. Go to the right (or wrong) bar and you’ve stepped over a theological threshold. And that’s the reality of life: some people swear like shit-crazy space-marines injecting nasal steroids and others don’t. But that leads to the essential question: do these aforementioned individuals read books, or more specifically, do they read the books that I wanna write?

Another question is, if it’s a first draft, then what’s the big deal? Expletives can be deleted during the edit. I mean, that’s what editors are for, right (or is that proof-readers I’m thinking about)? But why should this be the case? Why can’t these big, bad swear words be left in? Is it because society (aka-publishers) says so, and we need to conform to what society says we can or cannot do? In my opinion agents, editors and publishers don’t care for your vision of your book. They’re professionals, in it for the money—hey, absolutely nothing wrong with that—and they want your book to sell as many copies as possible, so they’ll try and omit as much expletives as they can.

Yet, if we are to follow the mantra that demands we should write for ourselves, then surely we shouldn’t give a shit about whatever anyone else thinks? Surely there’s gonna be readers thinking this is exactly the kind of fuck-wittery I’ve been looking for. Reading isn’t merely for the polite, the educated and the well-to-do, is it? The ‘normals’ of society? Do facial-tattoo sporting metal-junkies with pierced chins and sub-dermal scrotum implants read books as well?

Maybe the only reason that those who may not necessarily have a disproportionately low amount of education but are intelligent enough—just hated school—do not read books is because the books they would read are just not out there? Maybe they would rather read the Jane Austin classic Pride And Prejudice if it were written along the lines of: “Every fucker knows, that a single dude with a shit-load of cash, needs a woman to make his bitch.” (That’s only as sexist as the original.)

Maybe there’s a niche market out there for angry, aggressive writing. A non-conformist style in which stories are written to release a shit-load of steam, not only for the reader but the writer too. A book that not only tells a story but flips the finger to the ‘big-bad-man’ at the same time. Has it been tried before? I dunno, probably, but if so then it failed. Or maybe it’s just waiting for the right time. I see more and more writers using angry statements with profanity and I see it growing. Particularly in dystopian novels, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic tales— that kind of ilk. And with the onset of indie publishing these days the barriers are rapidly falling.

And it’s not restricted to dialogue, I’m talking narrative here. Using a heavily, profanity-laden narrative in the first person might not be such a bad thing if the idea is to promote the basilect of the narrator, however, to use the same shit-kicking profanity in the third person is definitely going to look vulgar as we’re simply not accustomed to such writing, no matter how dark and gritty the tale is.

I think, with the growth of self-published and e-book titles, and just like Grimdark novels are on the rise, we’ll see more stories being written in an angry, unpretentious style that just doesn’t give a damn what publishers are looking for. The only reason we don’t get to read books (or watch TV, for that matter—music, on the other hand, seems to be leading the way in unedited realism) just as it’s like in real-life, is because publishers and editors want to make as much money from the piece as possible. Thanks to indie-publishing, authors have started to write for themselves more now than in the past and this can only be a good thing as we’ll get to see the real, raw emotion on the page and this will help formulate to the world the newly, growing literary genre of angerpunk.

On the other hand it may just destroy self-publishing and leave it in the gutter. Wouldn’t the big publishing houses love that.

 

I’ve tried to reduce profanity but I reduced so much profanity when writing the book that I’m afraid not much could come out.

- Ernest Hemingway

 

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

- Voltaire

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Treading Softly

The Summer Holidays have been and gone and I’d like to say normality has returned but it hasn’t. I’m still kinda on holiday mode (aka cba mode) and writing has slowed down to a stand-still. Which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that big a deal really because there’s no rush (deadline idea didn’t work for some reason).

With the kids back at school, work returning to full-throttle, grey skies once again brooding over-head and ads for Christmas bookings starting to appear, the stars are in alignment for me to get back on top of the turtle that my first-draft has transmogrified into, which should be easy enough but isn’t really happening as often as I’d like.

My mean machine dial got a grain of sand in it while evading pesky beach-wasps and now it’s stuck between 0.1 and 0.2. So now my wordificating has. Really. Slowed. Down. But hey-ho, it’ll pick up soon enough.

The thing about stopping, for me, is that it takes a while to get back into top-gear. But batteries are re-charged, ideas still sloshing around (some I even got written down somewhere) and I’ve now resigned myself to be in this for the long-haul—3 months I said, back in January (what an idiot)—it’s a process.

When I sell my tale for big bucks, the first thing I’m gonna get is an office. Rented for a year. I think that would do wonders for my productivity. There’s far too many distractions for me at home. And in my office I’d have a single computer on a big fancy desk like this one with a really comfy swivel chair, probably this one. They’d need to be expensive for tax purposes due to the obscene amounts of cash I’d be getting for my best-seller. A person’s gotta dream!

 

But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

- William Butler Yeats

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Writing Wars Episode 5: The First Draft

Writing Wars

Episode 5

The First Draft

It is a dark time for the novelist. Although the need for spontaneous rewriting has been destroyed, Imperious Self-Doubt has driven the inner-editor from its hidden base within the psyche and pursued it across the vast pages of the manuscript.

Evading the dreaded Imperious Self-Doubt, a group of freedom thinkers led by a positive mental attitude has established a new secret base known as keeping to the story-line.

The evil lord Darth Vacillator, obsessed with destroying this positive mental attitude, has dispatched thousands of remote doubts into the not-so-far reaches of the novelist’s mind…

Let the story out.

If you don’t keep to that mantra the first draft can be a bit of an ass-kicker. There’s a pile of confabulations bursting through the thought process as each word is heedlessly slapped onto the page. Yes, I said heedlessly. Haphazardly. With as little thought process as possible. That’s how the first draft should be. Like one of those possessed writers, scoring the desk with their fingernails at two hundred words per minute.

No thought should be giving to spelling or punctuation, that shit can be fixed later. Don’t worry about prose either, your voice will find you—from your first idea to the last edit, your voice ascends through-out the entire process—it is not the way you speak but how your words are finally produced. Don the blast-shield helmet and let the force guide you.

But be only guided by the destination. Navigate that way and let yourself take any route which pulls at you naturally. If you don’t know your destination, even better, ramble onward without care or concern. Make it a soliloquy. A constant wordy stream of your own consciousness, relating your story. Take it beyond that, let your personality take over. Write what you daren’t.

When the words stop coming, then and only then, is it time to ask, Am I finished? If the answer is no and you’re struggling to move forward, find out where you took a wrong turn, go back and change direction. If the answer is yes; edit, re-write and repeat until it’s ready.

Just let the story run free.

 

 

“Train yourself to let go of the things you fear to lose.”
― George Lucas

 

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Catching Up

Just deleted thousands of words, for the second time. Didn’t cut and paste them elsewhere just in case because that wouldn’t promote a you-better-get-this-right attitude. Which I did do; got it right, that is. I re-worked the deleted wordage to the way it should have been in the first place.

And it’s great. It’s flowing well. I mean, it’s really flowing well. Earlier, I literally physically mentally had to force persuade myself to stop typing to go get something to eat. Which means all is well again.

The story really is coming along. It’s going fast and in the right direction. It’s got me excited again and I can’t wait to get back writing. I need more food. A shave, possibly a nap. And maybe a chilled pint glass of diet coke with ice and a slice of fresh lime.

Deleting what I thought was not working has really helped me. It was the right thing to do. I recognized that the flow of the story was becoming a gungy struggle — like rolling blue tack along the edge of a hand-saw — so I stopped, re-evaluated and re-started from whence the flowing last flew.

So, note to self:

When the flowing gets sticky: Stop. re-evaluate and restart from whence the flowing last flew.

 

Now, back to work.

 

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!

- Ray Bradbury

 

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Soldiering On

Summer has hit the weather-torn isle of Great Britain* like a slap of mustard to the face and with that comes holidays, days at the park, festivals, gardening (buying plants in pots), swimming, barbeques, panda-snapping, car washings, country walks, bicycle maintenance, Sunday road-trips, deep-sea-world encounters, sporting expeditions (the World Cup, Wimbledon, Commonwealth Games, Tour de France, Ryder Cup, MotoGP), midnight feasts,  animal grooming (aka de-matting), wine sampling, culinary experimentation, family day-trips, rum meanderings, country jogs, fruity awakenings, single-malt fueled and all with a full-English breakfast.  Devastatingly delicious. Wow. The U.K., if I do say so myself, for a working-class citizen, is one of the best countries in the world, rain or shine.

However, try writing during this summer extravaganza and you’re royally screwed. Or is that just me? Where to find the time to do what needs to be done? Time must be captured or grasped when circumstance permits, I’m told. But from whence does one grasp such time? In the morning before everyone is awake? Sure, but then your evening (and everyone knows all the great TV is on in the evening) is forfeit because you have to go to bed early.  Write in the evening then, when all are abed? Of course, but while you endure the wee hours of the morning all others are a-slumber and you become incongruous to the comings and goings of those around you. So, when then?

Whenever you can, says the wanton voice of flummoxing cognizance.

You do what you do because you choose to and you do it at every opportunity. You push beyond your limits and find the time while others capitulate to the entertainment culture. And when you can’t find the time: you make the time. That is what separates the professional from the dreamer. You set your own goals and you adhere to them. You don’t fail because only with giving up do you experience failure. Never give up.

The above is what I tell myself. Last week I got no writing done. But it’s a toss-up between not being able (or willing) to find the time and not being sure about the direction of the story. For a while, I’ve been at odds with where the story is going. It’s too generic, I’ve read it all before. Does that make it wrong? I mean, if it’s been done before, and been done good, then surely I’m on the right tracks. Every story has already been told, they say, you just need to tell it in a different way.

Do I follow the tried and tested route, keep it safe, let the current flow unhindered and plod along or do I tear those words asunder, revolt in circumlocutory paroxysms that James Dean would be proud of and traverse a dangerously untrodden path? Of late, I’ve been sliding along with the words like a carriage on a monorail but with a twinge of doubt pulling at my fingertips. The process has become so steeped in uncertainty it’s almost going in reverse.

But, I think, therein lies my answer. My sub-conscious, inner-self is nudging me to change it. So I’m gonna. Like so many authors have done before me, I’m going to go back to the point in the story where I feel I took a wrong turn and change the direction. It’ll be hard. I’m hesitant to do so as it’s a huge bunch of wordage. But it’ll be worth it. I need to get the story on the right track and instead of struggling on through this mire of ambiguity I’ve found myself in, I’ll be able to ebb back into sequence. All will be good again.

 

*Great Britain is the name of the island itself. The United Kingdom (or more precisely the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is the name for the combined countries that are Scotland, England, Wales (Wales is a principality as well as a country)  and Northern Ireland. Ireland is the neighbouring island which consists of Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland. While the denizens of each country will in fact declare that their country is indeed Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Wales, legality will in fact inflict that their country is The United Kingdom—a place where summer feigns and rain reigns.

 

 

I enjoy it too much – even if I knew I’d never get a book published, I would still write. I enjoy the experience of getting thoughts and ideas and plots and characters organised into this narrative framework.

- Iain M. Banks

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Tracking the Details & Following the Truth

City Map

I’m about half-way through my first draft and I’ve found keeping track of who’s who and what’s what is really getting difficult as the complexity of the story evolves. While I’ve got a lot of notes on background already, as the story develops and new characters, new twists and turns and new scenarios come into play, I’ve grown to realise it’s a good idea to take note. Location names, in particular, often prove stubborn to regurgitate when needed and I’m frantically skimming back through pages trying to find where in the world I was earlier.

Also, little things like engine sizes for cars or motorbikes, or what colour of dried paint was peeling of the boat earlier; Steel blue or Carolina blue or the position of an ear piercing; Conch or Daith, it’s all adding up. But it’s been an appreciated lesson to have learned the hard way.

Next, I’m aiming on buying street maps of cities where the action takes place. Online maps are great but I’m a stick-pins-on-a-wall-map kinda guy, just so I can track character’s routes. I love it when a book describes real places that you can look up online and gasp when it’s just as described. Being able to follow a character’s tracks around the world or around a city creates, I think, a different kind of connection between reader and writer, more than the words on the page. It says look, I’m here too, just like the character.

This is something I’m learning with my first draft—the beauty of paying attention to details. The small things that only register on some sub-conscious level. The things that only grounds-keepers or light-aircraft pilots or sewage engineers or casino croupiers would know to be true. The more little-truths that are explicitly contained within the story, the more the narration will ring true in the readers mind. It’ll make sense.

Spending several hours researching a manufacturing design or the structure of a building or the way the wind chills in spring when the jet-stream isn’t where it should be, just for a couple of sentences in a paragraph might sound over-the-top but, as a reader, that’s exactly the kind of commitment I want an author to display. If, while reading, I know that the author has got something wrong, it diminishes my enjoyment. Even though it’s fiction, if I think an author has been lazy—got it wrong because they didn’t research something—and has just made it up, not only will I be disappointed with the book I’ll probably not read anything else by that author.

So, my tip for me is: take note of all names, dates, numbers, routes, days-of-the-week, times-of-the-day, colours, sizes, character inter-actions, non-character inter-actions, promises, real-life events, flashes of the past, world politics and weather. Also, research the shit out of everything.

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Short and Sweet

Editing

Who knew editing a short story would involve so much work? Not me, that’s for sure. Over the past several weeks I’ve fired a handful of short stories out to some competitions, just to see what’s involved (only free ones for me, of-course). And while it may take only a few hours just to sit down and write—to write a first draft without worrying about mistakes of any type—it takes a whole lot more time to edit and re-write. Spending a couple of hours per sitting, days quickly turned into weeks and the deadlines speedily approached. But it was fun. It was writerly.

Although, it gives me dread to think about the editing required for a novel. In fact, it made me cry like a baby at night, curled up under sweat-soaked covers gripped tightly while peaking out into the darkness with one eye. Because, while I’m still on my first draft, my novel is full of holes and grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and structure rifts and story ambiguities and character dubiety. My first draft method has established in such a way where it’s a case of just getting the whole lot out of my head and on to the paper (screen) as quickly as possible, letting the story guide me along it’s arc while stopping off at a few pre-designated stops along the way. While this has proven to be a great approach for short fiction, I’m still trying to work out if it suits for longer pieces.

Editing has always been a major part of the writing process, this much I know from what I’ve read and researched elsewhere (and from what little professional attempts I have myself endured) but I didn’t know how big a thing it really was. Author Jeff VanderMeer says he takes around 27 edits to get it just right. A few weeks ago I would have thought he’d be kidding saying this amount but now, after editing my own short stories, I don’t. I suppose it’s all down to how close-to-finished the first draft is and I reckon that the more you write a full piece the closer-to-finished that first draft gets.

Another neat thing about short story competitions is that once it’s over, you’ve got yourself a finished piece of work ready to be sent off to magazines and journals (as long as you’ve not won, and part of the prize for winning involves you giving up rights for said short story to be published in anthologies down the line—which may or may not be a good thing, depending on where you are on your journey as a writer).

So, I’ve whittled myself down to; editing old short stories, writing new ones, dabbling in flash/micro fiction and adding words to my novel length as and when I can, while compiling lists of short story competitions and journals that may be helpful down the line. Oh yes, and a wee bit of blogging here and there. Blogging is fun but it’s not really captured my addictive hook yet, which I reckon’ll change just as soon as I get good at the aforementioned.

Next on the hit-list, now I’ve got some short-fiction-writing out of my system, is to get my first draft finished. I’ve given myself a dead-line—purely because it worked while doing the competitions—of 31st July. So, head down, fingers a-tappin’!

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Short Fiction

Ok, so after bemoaning writing competitions I resolved to enter a handful. What’s that all about? Don’t ask me. The competitions I did enter, however, were free and local, producing both an element of trust—you know who you are dealing with—and without risk—can’t resist a freebie.

The great thing about writing short stories is that after a handful of hours, you’ve got yourself a story of up to 5000 words. You’ve completed (at least the first draft is completed) in a single sitting, which does wonders for the flow of any anecdote.

Continuity

Continuity allows the story to be written in the same outlook. It’s like drawing a line: If you draw a line in one single movement it appears fluid and complete whereas if you attempt to draw the line in several strokes it looks rough and cobbled. When an overall theme is required—typical with short stories—the wholeness of completion in one attempt helps.

A story in a single sitting presents your definition of a tale in whatever mood you are currently setting yourself up with. We can choose to symphonise our moods to fly together with the context of the narrative and writing a tale in a oner allows us to keep this overall essence of harmony.

Setting The Mood

While writing, it’s a bonus to have the ability to define the tenor of a piece. To be able to step into writer-mode, donning the cap of creativity and pulling the multi-coloured veil of disposition over our writerly minds. As when depicting our characters, we need to be able to step into their heads and believe their experiences, tuning our mindsets in to: dark and scary, fluffy and sassy, romantic and sultry, thoughtful and severe.

Tidying Up

Just like a full length novel, the short story deserves a professional attempt at editing and re-writing. Even the most beautiful cars in the world get a polish. Editing is more straightforward with short fiction simply because it’s smaller. Mistakes are spotted sooner. Re-writing, however, is just as hard. Every sentence is scrutinized and re-structured. Themes and tones are implanted with every nuanced word. Narrative should be much more effective because everything has to be straight to the point, there’s no fluffing around. It’s like a slap in the face instead of a 2-hour head massage. Everything is compact and concise.

I like my short stories to feel like a karate punch to the solar plexus, with a twist at the end. I’m a fan of the old T.V. series Tales of the Unexpected (created by Roald Dahl) where every story had an unanticipated ending. Something that makes you go: “Ahhh. I should have seen it coming.” And when you re-read it you see the little clues which, in retrospect, all add up.

Skillset

It’s a different form of art as writing a novel. The fundamentals are the same but delivery is different. With a short story everything has to lead to the finale. Every sentence has to be pointing in the same direction, which is, a meaningful end in a few more paragraphs. And it’s even more so for flash fiction. The short story starts at the end. To me it’s the end scene of a larger story.

All in all, it’s great fun. It’s quick and exciting. Turning out loads of short stories over a short period of time helps to get better with each result. The vocabulary grows as well as building a specialist mental glossary with every new subject. Also, learning more about the industry due to constructing the story for given assignments builds professionalism.

It’s all going in the right direction.

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Trust as a Requirement for Writing Competitions

Button

I sent a short story off to an online writing competition last month thinking if I got a mention, even on the long-list, I’d be happy. I didn’t get on the long-list and, needless-to-say, I was initially somewhat disappointed. It was an old story I had written a few years ago but I liked it and it was only 1000 words (originally it was bigger but for the sake of the competition I cut it down to 1000). At the time of sending it in I thought it was okay as short stories go; it had a beginning, a middle and an end, it had suspense, it had mystery and it had a twist in the tale—it kinda fitted the bill to what the competition was looking for.

In retrospect, it was never going to win anything. Looking at it now it’s not as good as I originally thought (it’s slow, uneventful and has an inconsistent voice) and almost certainly didn’t deserve any recognition but I’m sure I could make it better (especially now I’ve since read How to Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton). The entry fee was only £5—with email verification upon receipt of payment and story—and the site itself has been going for years. It has many winners, several judges and sections for stories and blogs. It’s all very much legitimate. I think.

Faith In Judges

It’s the lack of transparency which I have a problem with. There is no way for anyone to know that a submitted story has been read—unless you achieve a placing. Which, for me, simply isn’t good enough, especially when other people’s money is concerned. Okay, it’s only a fiver but it reportedly has hundreds of entries every month. However, the money itself isn’t the problem—I just want to know if my story got read. And with all due respect to the judges, you’re only human (not just the judges for my competition entry but judges everywhere—except Simon Cowell, who doesn’t really fit into this category, does he?).

Being Human

Humans make mistakes. It’s what makes us human. We’re not perfect, apparently, and sometimes, some of us, get it wrong. Sometimes we’re just too tired and the coffee isn’t doing the job its paid to do. Sometimes there’s a deadline to meet, so corners get skipped. Sometimes we don’t like a person’s name because it reminds us of our ex (and hell will freeze over before they win any competition I’m judging). Sometimes we hit ‘submit’ before we should for no other reason than we’ve been doing it for the past three hours and it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Sometimes, for kicks, we just do things the wrong way to see what happens. Sometimes we get so angry at the extremely gifted yet ungraciously, ill-mannered narcissist running the show we’ll take it out on the wrong person just because they’re less likely—unable—to retaliate.

In other words, shit happens. So there has to be a way to make sure than when mistakes are made: someone will notice. Especially when other people’s money, time and effort are being used. We wouldn’t buy a lottery ticket then let the seller read the numbers and tell us if we win or not—we’d want to see proof. We don’t get our wage slips and expect the hours we’ve worked (including overtime at time and a half) to be right without checking it. So why do the same when entering a writing competition? Why do we automatically trust?

Trust

Well, it’s being human, isn’t it. To trust our peers is part of our DNA. It’s there from the beginning and it’s not until we get older does it diminish. But diminish it must for as we age we learn that blind trust is foolish. We only need to look at our bankers, financiers and politicians to know that we cannot blindly trust the system. There has to be transparency. Western governments, of late, have been going on about transparency being the way forward and this might be part of the seed that has instigated my strike upon writing competitions but for me I can’t blindly trust that my story is going to be read so I feel unable to traverse that avenue of writing joy. I’d rather send it to a publisher or an agent. At least the rejection slip is proof enough that it’s been gazed upon, if only the first few words.

I think paying to enter a writing competitions, where you run the risk of getting absolutely nothing back, is like a writer’s version of betting on the horses. I bet there’s a ton of writers who enter competition after competition, winning some, losing most and keep on entering because one of these days it’s gonna be the big one. One of these days… There should be a writer’s anonymous.

Sure, you could say: what’s the problem, it’s just a bit of fun. But there are hundreds, maybe thousands of writing competitions out there. Most are just ways for English graduates to earn a living as a consultant: you pay to enter the competition but then you need to pay again to get a ‘professional’ appraisal or critique of your work. I’m not saying I want a free appraisal. I’m saying I don’t want a writing competition to reel me in, in an attempt to get me to pay for an appraisal. Just say it how it is. Don’t hide it under the cover of a competition. It feels like one of those get-rich-quick websites that promise wealth but only after you’ve sent some money. (If you offer a critique service, great for you—don’t make it a part of the competition. Have it at a separate section on your website) At least, that’s how it felt to me. That was my experience on entering a writing competition.

In conclusion, my advice to myself is to stay away from writing competitions where:

  • There is no way of knowing if your entry was read.
  • The judges are not recognized or names are not in full.
  • There is no accreditation or affiliation on the website.
  • A critique service is offered in the rules of entry.
  • A critique service is part of the competition in any way.
  • The website is made by the kid next door.
  • Any of the prizes are lower or equal to the entry fee.
  • I damn-well plain don’t trust the whole shnaboosti.

Of course, had I won a place on the long list of the writing competition this post might have been altogether different. Just saying.

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