Becoming a Writer Update: Competitions Rule.


In the last few weeks I have entered a couple of writing competitions. One of them called for a 600 word short story with no particular theme. For reasons unknown to me, my brain was infected with a story of a mum who was in a hospital grieving for her recently killed teenage son (and I handed it in before I spent two days in hospital with my daughter so I can't even blame that). 600 words is not many, every word counts, so I focused on a scene in which the mother converses with a well meaning but hurry-up-and-let-him-go kind of nurse. It was a grim tale and I’m glad I didn’t have to think about it for more than 600 words. I was starting to grieve for ‘Brendan’ myself. The other competition I entered was for a 400 word unpublished picture book manuscript. I entered two stories; one of them was a very revised version of a manuscript I had critiqued by my recently attended writing group. As I wrote it, and rewrote it, and rewrote it, I could hear our writing group leader Cristy Burne in my head, subtly talking me out of the bad bits and enthusiastically praising the good bits. She was very helpful!

The second manuscript I entered was actually a bit of a boring one. It was a lame plot but I felt like the writing was lovely enough to catch the judges’ eye. My devious plan was that the judges might vaguely like the first one, but wouldn’t quite get it…until they read the second one. Then they would know my ‘voice’ a bit better and (in their minds) re-view the first one with a clearer sense of what it was all about. I am sure my plan will pay off nicely as both stories hit the shredder before the short list is prepared. ‘But it’s all good practice,’ I am telling myself.

Speaking of practice (time to practice more exciting segues?), I gave myself an interesting exercise today. I must be missing my writing course so much I am starting to devise my own activities to punish myself with. I pulled out a very popular modern children’s book from the kid’s shelf and tried to ‘copy it.’ There are not many authors that can do rhyme really well, so it was a worthwhile process to try and match the rhythms and rhyme patterns of this particular award-winning story. I already had a plot in mind from a manuscript I have been working on and it seemed to work well hung on this rhyme. Using similar patterns to a beautifully crafted rhyming story was a good way to avoid this sort of shemozzle:

Boo boo the bear loved everything,

His pets, his house and even to sing,

He loved the weather and all the seasons,

He didn’t even need to find a lot of reasons.

But Boo boo got angry and very tall

When every Tuesday down he would fall.

That’s when he became a really mad dad.

And would tell everyone he was really sad.

 You know what I mean? Bad rhythm, bad rhyme, bad grammar and, on this occasion, bad plot. I only need to write the opposite, and a winner I would have to posit. Sorry.