I entered my first writing contest. It's a very small and informal contest held every week or so. It’s attached to a blog by NY Agent, Janet Reid. I've been reading her for a couple of years and love her. She's a straight from the hip shooter. Because she's blunt, people sometimes feel like she's chewed them up and spit them out. Being blunt myself, I appreciate her.
Her nickname is The Shark.
Every week or so I wait in anticipation for her contest. I read the rules (usually 100 word count or less, must include the 5-6 required words she assigns, submissions are made as a comment at the end that particular blog entry within a specific timeframe: Sat 10am to Sun 10am, and one do-over is allowed). The rules are the same every week. Only the required words change. I read the rules faithfully every week because she’s a stickler for following submission guidelines. The hardest she critiques anyone, is when she points out the rules they failed to follow. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but rumor has it she has banned people for this act of stupidity. There is no way I’m going to not follow her rules, so I read them every week. I even go so far as to develop a story most weeks.
But I never enter.
That’s not quite true. Last year I worked up the courage to submit a story. Luckily my submission didn't go through—so for all intents and purposes, I’ve never entered. In retrospect I was glad my submission failed to go through—all of the other submissions were brilliant. I would have been embarrassed for mine to have been included. Plus, if she had ripped it, I would have been crushed.
I'm not an award winner. Ever. I'm an Also Ran. My Best is never The Best. And that's okay. As long as it's My Best, I'm pleased. Could I do better? Always. Will I do better? Improvement is always the goal. Which is why my second favorite blog post of The Shark, follows the contest by a couple of days. It's the blog post where she declares the winner(s). I can usually pick out who the winner(s) will be even if the writing style or storyline is not to my liking. So if nothing else, I figure I'm at least honing my ability to recognize what a NYC Agent sees as acceptable writing.
Every week or so, I sit safely back and read her contest entrant submissions. Frequently I’m blown away by the writing as I read entry after entry of sheer brilliance. But every once in a while, I read an entry that is written by someone and I think, “I could write something better than this.” Sometimes I smugly ask the screen, "Did you not read the submission guidelines? I do not want to be in your shoes, when The Shark reads this!" At other times I scratch my head as I try to make sense of a disjointed entry I imagine to have been penned by someone with no social skills and even poorer written communication skills. I know I shouldn’t be so judgmental, but I am. I imagine others do the same thing as they read some of my inane prose. However, no matter how hard I might imagine others being on me, I’m even tougher on myself.
And I never enter, because too many things might go wrong...
The Shark might take note of my drivel and ban me from her site for life. The real authors that enter might laugh at my feeble attempt at composing a story. The wannabe's and posers might also laugh at my entry—or worse—embrace me as one of their own. Worse still, I might actually win one week—and then the pressure would be on to win again. There's probably not much worse than being a one hit wonder—which surpasses being a no talent hack by only a cat’s whisker. But, for me, the all-time worst thing that could happen would be for my submission to be totally ignored. Which is why I go through the motions of writing a story, but never entering the contest.
This week my story is very simple—it has no dialogue and is nowhere near as brilliant as some of the stories submitted. It's also the hardest I've even written. Not the story content. The stupid word count!
It’s only 100 words—but trying to tell a cohesive story in under 100 words is difficult. Strunk and White encourage writers to “make every word count.” Others say, “Write Tight!” This is much easier said than done. I started out with 156 words. That was the easy part. Then I had to cull and revise—and it would take me an hour or more, during each revision. I'd think, "Surely the word count is okay now." And I'd recount manually (iPhone doesn't have a WC function).
I gained 16 words.
Why couldn't I gain words when I participated in NaNoWriMo?! National Novel Writing Month is held every November and the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It’s actually a very doable goal if you plug away every day—all I would have to do is write 1,667 words each day. But every year, I manage to loose word count. They caution you to silence your inner editor, and just get the words on the page. I’ve never been good at following instructions. I tend to edit more than I write. As a result I tighten it up and loose word count. Editing or writing a 100 word piece of Flash Fiction should be easy. Right?
I finally pared my entry down to 100 words. Then I sat on it for several hours before coming back and rereading it. I edited it some more and gained more words. I took Steven King’s advice and killed off the little darlings. I managed to get my entry back to 100 words. I left to do something. When I came back and re-reread it....
Several rounds of add and purge later, I was satisfied with my story. Well, I was as satisfied as I get with any story I write. Then I noticed not too many people had entered the contest this week…
Maybe everyone else was busy with NaNoWriMo. I thought, “This might be a good week to enter. I might stand a chance.” If nothing else, The Shark might comment on a nicely turned phrase (I particularly liked my "Zamboni-smoothed rink ice" word picture).
I re-constructed my story to include her in a shameless attempt to sway her toward my story. I had seen that tactic go either way—sometimes she loved it, other times, she didn’t comment. She had been known to comment on word choices—especially if they were new to her, so I threw in a couple of (I thought) brilliant word choices:
Littoral = part of the shore where the blue water meets the sand.
Tiburon = shark (shamelessly alluding to her).
She calls her Interns her minions, so I made Billie and Max her minions. And, in case there was any doubt, I mentioned her walls—she paints her walls like every two seconds.
I rechecked her blog comments. Some of the submissions I read were poorly written—they either had errors or I couldn't get a sense of an actual story (I didn’t know if I am just too unsophisticated to understand some of the submissions, or if they really lacked clarity). I hoped to land in between two of those submissions so mine would appear stronger.
If I actually submitted it. I was still on the fence. And the fence was safe. The fence kept the critics at bay. But that was because only friends had ever read anything I have ever written.
Until this week.
I submitted my simple story that afternoon. But something happened to the submission—I couldn’t find it. I worried, "It's so bad she's not even going to let me enter! I know it's at least as good as so-and-so's submission. This is twice now—does this chick just not like me? Am I totally off with my story? Did I screw up the submission—again?!”
I was sick. I had spent the better part of my day and I had nothing to show for it. I would be doomed to a life of never knowing if I could construct a story—even a simple piece of Flash Fiction. Oh, woe was me….
Once I calmed down, I realized my error. I was on the old page. My submission was safe and sound awaiting my tap on the send button. I hit the button before I could stop myself.
Finally, it was submitted.
Then the waiting began. The contest was still open and every time I saw her blog my stomach would tie up in knots.
A couple of years (really just days) later my unspoken goal was realized: In the blog where she announced the winners, I received a shout out from The Query Shark!
I didn’t win. My word choices did not impress her. Her comment wasn't on form, content, or anything of any major importance, but it was a mention. I was not ignored.
In retrospect, I may have gone too far when I aged her to the point of requiring her to walk with a Rollator (wheeled walker with a seat).
I'm Loulymar and my submission was posted at 7:15 pm. It's about two thirds of the way in to the submissions: