I’ve signed up again for SlingInk‘s Eurofiction short story competition. Fourteen weeks, seven rounds and hopefully seven new stories. It all starts with the first round’s prompt revealed at midnight tonight.
Last year in the midst of this madness I wrote what follows about the two-week cycle of getting prompts, writing stories, submitting them and getting feedback and scores.
The Stages of Eurofiction
- Stage one: procrastination. I’ve got loads of time, why rush it? My sub-conscious needs time to brew.
- Stage two: head-scratching and brain-storming – this usually involves writing whatever drivel is going through my head until…
- Stage three: an idea! This is one of the two enjoyable stages. Technically it’s not actually writing and usually happens away from the keyboard. It’ll last for anything up to five minutes before…
- Stage four: disillusionment with idea. This stage usually does occur at the keyboard when I’m actually trying to write down my beautiful idea.
At this point I’ll usually go back to stage one and so we go around the loop a few times. Eventually though I’ll make it past stage four either because – I finally have an idea I’m happy with for more than five minutes or (more likely) deadline is looming. Which leads to
- Stage five: exploring the idea. This is a stage where I pretend I’m a real writer and do things like write character bios, plot outlines, snippets of dialogue etc. In theory that’s what I do. In practice I usually spend a lot of time googling vaguely related topics as “research” (see also stage one)
- Stage six: draft draft 1. Not to be confused with an actual draft, i.e. attempt at the story, this is a draft that I will almost certainly throw away. It’s filled with meta-commentary (i.e. the narrative will be interspersed with “omg how crap was that?”/”what a cliche – is that the best you can do Paul”). and what I call “general outline” (e..g I’ll write “and then he says something cool and then something interesting happens“) Draft draft 1 usually involves no more than 250 words that can actually be considered story, all of which will be scrapped.
- Stage seven: Actual draft 1 (part 1). It’s probably less than 48 hours until the deadline now so I’ll make a concerted effort. If I came up with a useful outline in stage five I’ll use that as a guide. But it’s only a guide I can divert from it when I think of something better. Word count is now 500. Estimated word count to do justice to the story, 2500.
- Stage eight: draft 1 (part 2). Deadline 24 hours away. Realise that the outline is crap and needs major re-organise. Realise that my part 1 is crap and needs re-writing. Promise myself I will do this just as soon as I have a complete draft 1. Word count surges up to 700 words.
- Stage nine: Deadline 14 hours away. In desperation I’ve gotten up early to write. Still plugging away at draft 1. Crap outline is now fixed in stone as no time to change it. Curse the idiot who left me things like “he says something cool” to expand on. Wonder what the point is and why I ever thought I can write. My whole life is worthless, women will hate me and small children will point and laugh. By dint of great effort and pure act of the will force the word count up to 950.
- Stage ten: Deadline 2 hours away. Have rushed home from work leaving important client hanging and probably pissed off my boss. Am now actually convinced that this is pure crap but all that matters is finishing. All pretension to art or talent is gone, stubbornness is all that remains. Word count 1500.
- Stage eleven: Deadline 15 minutes away. I have finally finished! Draft 1 that is. Now for that ahem, final polish. This is simply a quick read to spot typos, spelling and grammar mistakes. Correct as many of these as I can whilst studiously ignoring massive plot holes, logic problems and other weaknesses it’s too late to fix. Achieve a Zen-like state of denial so that whilst simultaneously recognising the crap that is my story I maintain enough motivation to actually finish the process.
- Stage twelve: deadline +/- 1 minute (probably +1 but let’s not tell the judges that) Finally hit send. I am done. The sense of relief is a pure joy. This is the other enjoyable stage. This is the purpose of writing. Like beating your head against a wall, it’s so good when it stops!
- Stage thirteen: (actually part of stage one of the next round) – waiting for score+feedback. Remind myself (without actually re-reading) of the odd phrase or bit of dialogue that I quite like. Manage to recall that sense of self-satisfaction I had with the original idea. Become secretly convinced it’s a work of genius.
- Stage fourteen: score/feedback arrives. EITHER am deeply shocked and hurt that the judges didn’t recognise the splendour and excellence of my talent, OR am ridiculously proud of the mediocre score and few nice comments (despite the fact that they show that what the judges read in the story wasn’t what I intended and I’ve completely failed to convey the themes and ideas I originally had). Also notice comments like “Your plot/character/dialogue/grammar is weak, take a look at how Famous Author does it” and then tell all my friends that I’ve been compared to Famous Author.
(and yes writing this was part of stage one of task 6 last year)