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Happily Addicted
Category: Writing
Tags: short story competitions


Am I glad to see the back of June? No question. I become a bit manic at the end of each month as the short story competition dates head for closure. Last month I entered five separate competitions. Two stories were new, first-time submissions and the other three had all been entered in at least one competition unsuccessfully before - one short listed and the other an unpaid runner-up.

It's like an incurable disease. If, like me, you can't bear waiting for months or a year to hear from magazine editors (or not at all) you'll find entering competitions much more exciting. Instead of imagining my story mouldering in the depths of some edito'rs in-tray, I picture it neatly stacked in a pile awaiting a judge's appraisal. If it doesn't make the cut, I won't even need to cope with a rejection letter or email.

The closing date approaches. I edit and edit. And edit again. Then press the 'send' button. Too late for that inspiration that comes later, but a great sense of relief and achievement. Next is the agonising wait for the shortlist, and too many visits to the website concerned to see if I've already missed out. I leap in the air with joy if I'm short listed. Once I've peeled myself back off the ceiling, I prepare myself for disappointment. 'Just be happy with that, you can't possibly win' I tell myself but all the time desperately hoping.

Even more fun is when several WA writers enter the same competition. For some reason it feels less nerve-racking - safety in numbers perhaps. And if any one of us wins it will feel like an achievement for everyone, for the group as a whole.

Like an addict reaching for a fix, I entered the Writers Bureau competition. The winner takes a four-figure prize. Okay, you're right, I was only hoping to be short listed. Or more like 'commended'. But just as people throw money at the lottery, you never know. And there's no room for modesty in this profession (or so I'm told).

And did you see how many people entered the 'unpublished author' Britwriters Awards for that big prize? 21,000! And I think the same for the 'Open' one. It should be no surprise. I expect you'll agree - including the novel writers among us - all writers have a hunger for recognition.

So it's back to the waiting game. And if all my stories come back unsuccessful, I'll just tell myself, 'The winners were better story tellers than me, or the judge just preferred them', but I won't be cured of my addiction. I've got to the stage of taking rejections positively. A story can always be written better. I see there's an article on how to win competitions in the latest Writing Magazine. Must read it, there's bound to be something I've overlooked.

Now which ones were closing 31st July?

Writing Interruptions
Category: Writing


A few of my fellow ‘Writer Abroaders’ have, like me just lately, been frustrated by a number of interruptions in our writing schedule. Not all of them have been unwelcome; the arrival of new grandchildren, moving home, planning a wedding are things, which fill our life with a whole bucketful of joy, worry and stress but in the main are pleasurable distractions. Others have been out with our control; the weather – leading to virtual meltdown, stolen laptops and I have to mention the ‘F’ word…football.

However, one of the key interruptions for expat writers in particular I think is that of the visitor. For most of the time the arrival of friends and family to stay are I would suggest in the ‘welcome’ category of distractions. Being an expat often means we are a long way from our loved ones and of course we can provide them with the opportunity for some R & R away from their everyday life and in return we can turn off, relax and enjoy the company, the chat and the catching up.

Can’t we?

Well most of the time, but interruptions to a daily writing routine can be quite disrupting and I tend to get a bit tetchy when I haven’t been able to fulfil my writing needs. The Italians have a saying that visitors are like fish – they go off after three days! But I’m not for a moment comparing anyone to a fish (more than my life is worth) but it has made me think differently about managing my writing during the fast approaching visitor time. I’m not going to get stressed about it because there is no point. I will try to get ahead of myself, which means looking at story submissions well in advance of deadlines but if I miss them so be it. I will set myself some short writing goals; undertake the Monday Muse for instance, use my observational skills to improve my character development and dialogue. Things that can be easily picked up and set down again. And, I’m going to make the most of the opportunity to read, so important for writers, yet we very rarely allow ourselves the space to undertake it. Therefore, I’m going to write down my ‘summer booklist’ and I’m going to join my visitors out on the terrace in the sunshine… and have a reading holiday all of my own.

Writing takes self-discipline

“Do you realise how much time you spend on the Internet?” I drew my head into my shoulders and closed down the screen. 

My husband was right. When I added it up, I must have spent several hours fiddling around with my blog (mostly looking at the visitor stats and willing them to increase), dropping in and out of Writers Abroad, looking at other writing sites and generally not achieving very much. 

I was even Googling myself to see how many mentions I got (Lorraine Mace does it too, so I’m in good company – see July’s Writing Magazine). That day was by no means exceptional. 

I have tried justifying it to myself by saying that I am doing essential research. After all, writing follows the 80/20 rule just like any other occupation: 80% of it is research and preparation and 20% is writing.  

If I am brutally honest, though, I can’t pretend that most of what I do on the Internet is research. I’m just putting off actually doing any proper work. It’s not so much writer’s block as sheer idleness. 

Does any of this sound familiar? 

The point about all this is that writing doesn’t just happen by itself. Mostly it is hard graft, often when you least feel like it. Samuel Johnson said, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Knowing that makes it even harder sometimes to get down to it. 

Here is my self-administered prescription, starting this very week: 

  • No more than half an hour every day on my blog
  • Ditto on Writers Abroad – try to use the time to make useful interventions
  • Spend the morning analysing magazines, speaking to editors, writing pitches and (on the odd occasion I do get a commission) writing articles 
  • Spend the afternoon on fiction. Choose a few competitions from those listed on WA, research carefully what’s required and then focus on crafting good entries
  • Use the Internet in support of the above activities and not as an activity in its own right
  • When it doesn’t flow or I’m tempted to backslide, do a writing exercise (the WA site is a good place to start for prompts)

If I stick to this medicine, I will allow myself the odd self-Google as a treat.



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