Friday, October 21, 2011

If you cut my story, does it not bleed words?

I don't know anything about writing contests. I have been a finalist in two of them, but I really don't know what distinguishes contests from the usual query for publication/get rejected dance, except that there's payment involved. I'm talking about quality. What is it about these stories that makes them good enough to deserve a prize, rather than just the prize of publication?

I also don't know what kinds of writers win these contests, and what they do with the money and prestige that they win (if any). I don't know how many writers I'm going up against, whether a few dozen or a few thousand. I don't know if there's some kind of a scheme to winning them, or whether they matter more or less than regular-style publication. I just don't know that much about them.

But I've dived back into writing during the fullest swing of the fall contest season, and I'm damn well going to take advantage of it. Two nights ago I decided to enter a short story into a genre writer's contest at Writer's Digest. The short story in question was 4,800 words, and the word limit for the contest was 4,000. I am pretty happy with this story the way it is; it squeaks going around corners maybe once or twice, but I don't think it needs shortening, unless it's the Crisco kind of shortening. But I was sure it was a good idea to enter this story in this competition, so I put on my Fictator hat and I sat down to chop until I could chop no more.

It was a nightmare. It was two hours of work to lose those 800 words. I must've read through it seven or eight times, lopping a word here and a sentence there. When my progress was too slow, I held my breath and cut 400 words of really fine character development. I do not think this made for a better story, really I don't, but I had 800 words to lose and, in the end, I lost 804.

And I paid my $20 and entered the contest. Lord knows if the story even belongs in the horror category, or if it's up against stories by much more seasoned and worthwhile writers, or if the contest will decide to go belly-up and they'll keep my money (it's happened before), or - what is most likely - I won't win and won't know why.

Once I entered a contest where your entry fee paid for a copy of a book with all the winners published in it, and when I was sent the book (so many months after the contest ended that I'd mostly forgotten about it), that was my first notice that I hadn't won anything. When I read the stories, I didn't really understand what they had that my story didn't; sometimes I understand why I got rejected from a publication when I read a copy of the publication, and sometimes I don't, and this was one where I didn't.

So, that's that. Fictator success; contest entered. Everything is super.

I am exhausted this morning. For the third time I am the victim of temporary insanity leading me to agree to substitute for a sunrise yoga class, and I had to get up at 4:30 to make it there in time. And all night I woke up every hour because my brain was worried I would oversleep. And no one even came to the class. Fool me thrice, shame on me.

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