Last night I got the results from Round 2 of the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. The short answer:
The good news: I actually placed this round! w00t!
Out of 30 people in my group, I placed 12th and so I received 4 points. I’m pretty stoked about that because there were some entrants that didn’t place either round. And some placed in the top 5 in Round 1 and didn’t place at all in Round 2. So for my first time, I’m feeling pretty good.
And after two rounds of flash fiction writing, here are 3 things I learned:
(1) Flash Fiction Requires Succinctness.
Flash fiction is a work of extreme brevity typically told in 1,000 words or less. I, like many in my profession (law), tend to be verbose. But when writing flash fiction, I had to be concise. No extraneous words. No over explaining.
I also couldn’t write a structurally complex story. That doesn’t mean the story had to be like a simple child’s book. It just means that a reader has to understand the character, get the action, and follow the resolution in 1,000 words or less.
Let me tell you, that’s not as easy as it may sound.
For example, my first draft of Round 2 started at 1586 words. And that didn’t even have the main action (the romance). My issue? I started off with some complex way to have the two characters meet. Well, that’s great if you’re writing a novel or even a novella. But not so great for flash fiction.
Flash fiction requires some creativity and succinctness in word choice to craft a story that the reader will get while still clocking in under 1,000 words. It’s an excellent challenge for any writer.
(2) Editing with Fresh Eyes Is Key
Fresh-eye editing is when you put aside your story and go do other things. You allow the writing to settle, marinate, age like a fine wine. Once you haven’t looked at the story in at least a few days (or even weeks), then then you come back to it so you can see it anew and not be reading what you think you wrote.
In this contest, I had 48 hours to write a story and so tended to edited as I wrote. And even though I put the story aside for a few hours and even though I kept reading it aloud to see how it sounded, the story was still too much in my head. I couldn’t see it clearly. I never really had the change to edit it with fresh eyes.
After I submitted my second entry, I didn’t look it again for over 2 weeks. When I finally did reread it, I read it with fresh eyes and found some parts that I would have written better or structured differently had I had the time. Of course, that’s part of the flash fiction contest challenge. But I now appreciate the value of fresh-eye editing.
(3) Make Writing a Daily Habit
I was reading some of the previous years’ winning stories and damn, they are good. And a common theme among the winners? Most, if not all, write professionally (i.e., every day).
But like Alice, I give myself very good advice, but very seldom follow it. I’ve told myself many, many, many times before that I should write every day. Even if only a few hundred words, I need to do it every day because writing, like many skills, improves with practice. So if the writing challenge taught me anything, it’s that I need to practice more. And not only practice, but let other people read what I do write to get constructive feedback. Because how do you improve if you don’t know what’s not working?
Will I Enter Again?
So after completely tanking the first round and only getting 4 points in the second round, would I do it again? Absolutely.
Although I experienced some anxiety in trying to write a story that had an assigned genre, I did have fun. And I liked my stories. I was pleased with how they turned out. More importantly, this contest got me to actually submit a story that I wrote for strangers to read! I haven’t even allowed anyone to read one of my NaNoWriMo works. (I keep saying I’m editing it.)
Some who know me will say, but you’ve published and we’ve read things you’ve done for work. Sure, in my professional life I have written a lot and I have published (once and I’m currently writing a second article). But it’s one thing to write in my professional life and have other people read it (which is fact-based non-fiction). It’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish to have someone read my fiction work. But again, that’s part of the challenge—opening yourself up to constructive feedback. (Although I’m still waiting to get my feedback for round 2.)
So even though I’m out this time, I will definitely enter the contest next year. And I have 364 days to practice.