I’m delighted to be asked to be writer in residence during their annual writing competition. I am going to blog every month about the kind of things that emerging writers need to consider – how to find original ideas, how to craft a sentence or a line of poetry that sings on the page and what to do after the first draft.
In my first post, however, I think I should tackle the two ways writing competitions are a good thing. And why I think you should enter this one.
- The prize – being short-listed is a confidence-boosting validation.
- It gives you a deadline.
And the second is more important than the first. Without a deadline we flounder, crafting beautiful beginnings that wilt through neglect or dreaming up compelling characters that do nothing but sit in our imagination.
One of the worse things you can say to a writer is that you can write about anything you like, for as long as you like and it doesn’t matter when you finish. If you haven’t got a hungry publisher demanding the next chapter of your bestseller, competitions are the best way I know of creating your own deadlines.
If you don’t win you still have a story or a poem. You will have written and that’s what writers have to do. The Welsh poet and novelist Catherine Fisher says that her children’s novel Belin’s Hill has its roots in a writing competition run by the Welsh Arts Council many years ago. “The book was finished and I was proud of it. It came nowhere.” It was another 15 years before it was published. In the meantime, she learned her craft as a writer, published other books, won other prizes and came back to the manuscript of Belin’s Hill understanding what was wrong and how to put it right. Finishing that novel at the start of her career was an education in itself and it also developed another quality that writers need: perseverance.
That brings me to the Hysteria Writing Competition’s deadline. The end of August seems a long way away. Trust me, it isn’t. Start writing now. Get something down on paper and leave it to mellow for a few weeks. Writing in your head is not the same as writing. There’s something about words on the page that focuses the mind, even if they are written in soft pencil or the malleable clay of word processing.
Sharp writing takes time and thought. Every one of the 200 words you are allowed in the flash fiction entry has to earn its place in your story. The same applies to the 2000 words in the short story or the 20 lines of your poem. (These are all maximums by the way – never write up to the limit just because you can. Let your idea dictate the length of your submission.)
I’ll be back at the beginning of May, but I want to close with a writing tip that I think you’ll find useful. Put the closing date of the competition in every diary and calendar you have, virtual and physical. But bring it forward by three weeks. Lie to yourself about the deadline and lie to your computer – that way it won’t go into a sulk when you need it most and you won’t dash something off in a panic. Stress reduction all around.
And start writing. If you hate what’s coming out, if you fear it’s derivative and cliché-ridden, console yourself with the thought that it’s impossible to edit a blank page.