As the deadline for the second quarter of this year’s Writers of the Future competition draws near, I thought I’d share my thoughts on my experience with the contest. I first heard about the competition in the fall of 2017 about a week before the deadline for the fourth quarter. After reading about its reputation and the alluring stakes, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, so to speak. Well, actually, I threw a sloppy 8,800 word story into the ring not expecting anything grand to come of it. My goal was really just to see where I could land with five days to conceptualize and write, and two days to edit.
To my surprise, about a month later, I received an email from Joni Labaqui telling me that I had placed as an honorable mention for the quarter. Hooray! Now what? Well, now I was dying to see where I could land with a submission that I had truly poured my heart into. In writing my current submission, I’ve tried to carefully pinpoint my mistakes and successes from my last story.
If you’re looking to enter, here are some things to watch out for in your submission:
Plot: I have less experience writing short stories than I do novels, and the transition wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be. My biggest mistake with my 2017 submission was trying to turn a concept that was much better suited for a novel into a short story. In the end, things didn’t feel nearly as resolved as I would’ve liked. The 17,000 word limit can make it tempting to tackle a large concept, but this time I’ve made sure that my eyes weren’t bigger than my stomach.
The little things: Even though this competition is only open to those of us who have yet to be published, the ones who win are people who are now writing at a professional level. That means no errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar, no inconsistencies with voice, no weak verbs…I could go on. With my previous submission, I didn’t give myself time to edit as thoroughly as I should’ve, and that definitely hurt me. This is one of the reasons I didn’t submit in the first quarter this year. I’m giving myself ample time to do peer review and think things through.
Description: While I don’t think this was my death blow, my description of setting could have been better. David Farland has commented on what makes or breaks a submission for him. If you’re thinking about entering, this is definitely something you should read. A point that he really hammers home is the importance of strong description. It’s not enough to comment on the weather or the lighting. Engaging the senses and remembering what’s in the middle ground and the distance is crucial to well-rounded description.
Are you thinking about entering? How have you fared with previous submissions? Since we don’t get personalized feedback from the judges, I’m always looking to start a discussion about the results.