Writing Challenge: Round 2

If you’ve been keeping up with my writing challenge updates, you know that I got the results of my NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 1 story on Wednesday and then feedback from the judges on Thursday. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read this and this first.)

Round 2 then started at midnight EDT Saturday when I received the email informing me of my next assigned genre, location, and item.

(The nice thing about living on the west coast is that email arrived 9pm my time, so I had several hours to think about it before heading to bed.)

My group got romance, garden, and telescope. In other words, the story must be a romance primarily set in a garden and at least mention a telescope.

I immediately saw the garden and telescope, but had no idea how the story went. The first round story just came to me all of the sudden, like a flash. I simply had to write it down and then edit it for length. But this time, I struggled to conceive an idea.

Romance isn’t my writing genre.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love a good Hallmark movie. (Who doesn’t love the Hallmark Christmas movie marathon weekends?) I cry every time I watch The Notebook. I admit I’ve read a Nora Roberts book or two. I’ve even written stories where I included a romantic interest. But writing a romantic interest in the middle of sci-fi action novel is not the same thing as writing a romance story.

But I digress.

I struggled. I thought about it Saturday morning as I reread the Round 2 email. But I wrote nothing.

I could see the garden. I had the garden all planned out in my mind, including where the telescopes would be placed. (It’s really a lovely garden, with a little bit that gated park in Notting Hill, a little bit the Secret Garden, a little Central Park, and a little bit labyrinth-esque.) But for the life of me, I could not see the rest of the story.

So I did what I normally do, I ignored it and went about my Saturday as if I had nary a care in the world.

I admit I’m normally a procrastinator. Procrastination is my typical MO, particularly when it comes to writing. (Hence the sporadic blog posts.) But if I’m being honest, some most of the struggle was from my Round 1 results. I got 0 points. And despite NYC Midnight assuring that everyone still had a chance to move onto Round 3, I felt I had already lost. Even if I placed first in Round 2, I’d still only have a total of 15 points. And since I didn’t place at all in Round 1, I felt the odds of me placing in the top 15 in my group in Round 2 seemed astronomical.

In other words, I was seriously doubting my writing ability.

So this morning, I gave myself a good lecture. Since I’m trying to practice mindfulness and positivity, I took this as an opportunity to use what I have learned. I told myself:

  • Writing is always a good thing. I need to write every day and this provides me an excellent writing exercise.
  • This gets me out of my writing comfort zone and will help improve my writing.
  • The challenge isn’t over. Despite overwhelming odds, there’s always a chance.
  • Even if I don’t place in Round 2, I still will end up with two short stories that I can continue to work on and make better.
  • My mom still likes my stories. Or she’s a good liar. Either way, it still makes me feel better.

So this morning, after I lectured myself, I sat down and wrote.

Well really, I started looking through some of my old NaNoWriMo projects. I reread some of the romantic interest scenes for inspiration and maybe plagiarism. (Although technically not plagiarism since I wrote them and none of them have actually been published.)

Then I started writing.

Let me tell you, writing romance is not as easy as it seems. I now have new admiration for the queen of romance, Nora Roberts. Despite the formulaic plot of most romance novels and movies, actually writing a romance story is rather hard. I don’t think I’ve ever completely rewritten a story before. Seriously, I completely rewrote it 4 times. The first three times, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it under 1,000 words. I finally had to come at it from a completely different angle to get it under the word limit. The only constants in all four versions were the garden, the telescope, and the main female character’s name.

Fifteen minute ago, after rereading my story out loud for the fifth time and double checking the word count for the nth time, I finally submitted it. Now the waiting begins.

Round 3 will be November 8-10, 2019. So I don’t expect to get any word on my Round 2 submission until a couple days before November 8.

It would be amazing to at least place 15th of 15 this time. I realize I won’t make it to Round 3, but just to place in this Round would be a great ego boost. So here’s seeing if I write romance stories better than thrillers! (At least my group wasn’t assigned horror.)

Fingers crossed!

Writing Challenge: Receiving Feedback

The results came in for the first round of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2019. (Catch up on my writing adventure here.) But in short, writers have 48 hours to write a maximum 1000-word story in a specific-assigned genre.

Yep, 1000 words. 48-hours.

And can you believe NYC Midnight does a micro-fiction contest where the word limit is 250?

Me neither. Needless to say, I’m not signing up for that one.

While I didn’t expect to place in a writing challenge where 3,500+ writers enter, I had at least hoped to at least make it into the bottom 10-15. But sadly, not to be. Needless to say, I’m still disappointed.

NYC Midnight also sent us feedback from the judges (via email). I received feedback from 3 anonymous judges that included both what they liked and what they thought needed work.

Overall, the feedback I received is good. Feedback is always a bit of a tough pill to swallow, particularly when you’ve worked hard to create something. Luckily, I’ve had enough experience now and some excellent mentors who have helped me learn to accept feedback.

For me, I’ve found it’s a two-step process to deal with feedback.

First, I have to get out of my own way. I have to take a deep breath and realize that feedback (and I’m speaking of constructive feedback here) is not a personal attack. It’s not a comment on my person and that I’m still awesome no matter what.

I’ll stop here to say that if you ever receive “feedback” that personally attacks you, says some derogatory about you, or insults you on a personal level, then that’s not feedback. That’s just unacceptable rudeness masquerading as feedback. And you shouldn’t take it.

But I digress.

Second, I have to look at the feedback with a critical eye. Just because someone gave feedback, even if it’s valid feedback, it doesn’t mean I must follow it.

But this is where it gets tricky.

In order to judge the feedback, I have to be honest with myself. I have to look at my product (in this case my short story) and honestly evaluate it with a critical eye, as if I were reading it for the first time. In this case, it helps that I haven’t looked at the story since I submitted it.

Once I got out of my own way (I may have had a little pity party when I read the results), I took a deep breath and with fresh eyes re-read my story and the feedback. More tweaking, a little tightening, a bit more explanation and maybe I would have made the top 15 in my group.

All things I will keep in mind for the next round. Because at the end of the day, that’s what feedback should do—make you a better writer (or artist or musician or electrical engineer or whatever).

But while I felt I received overall great feedback, I’m not necessarily going to use all of it. For example, here are two snippets from the feedback I received:

I would generally advise against using all caps for sound effects – find other ways to get these across.

Tighten the dream sequence. Use it to clarify: why would mercenaries be after her and Mark? Let that fear percolate and color her dream.

Both provide valid feedback. But I view the first one (against using all caps) as more subjective. How many times have you read a story where a sound effect was all caps? Or italicized? Or some other kind of font stylization? While this is valid feedback, it addresses style rather than substance. Where one person dislikes all caps for sound effects, another reader will not see any problem with it.

And really, at the end of the day, all caps versus not all caps is minor point. It won’t help make the story stronger. It wouldn’t have propelled me into the top 15 (I wouldn’t think).

In comparison, the second one provides specific feedback going to the substance of the story. It identifies a weakness in the story and provides me something to consider to make the story stronger. For me, that’s constructive feedback—it’s specific and useful.

Now I still get to go on to Round 2 (which starts at midnight EDT tonight). Everyone who entered gets to do Round 2. But the odds of me making it to Round 3 are rather low at this point since I’m going into Round 2 with 0 points.

But that’s okay for several reasons. First, I actually took a chance and entered and most importantly, submitted a story. I consider that a huge win for me.

Second, I’m actually pretty happy with the story I wrote. The genre was completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not a thriller writer. I don’t even usually read thrillers. So the fact that I wrote a thriller short story (in less than 48 hours) is a win for me.

Third, I completely acknowledge the story is what I’d call a second draft. It’s a bit more than a rough draft, but it really did need someone else to read it and point out the flaws. It would’ve been nice had I been able to have someone else read it and provide that feedback before I had to submit it, but like I said upbove, I will definitely internalize the feedback to make my Round 2 entry stronger.

I won’t know until midnight EDT tonight (9pm for us west coasters) what my Round 2 assigned genre, location, and item are. Let’s hope I get a genre I’m much more comfortable with. Fingers crossed!

Where I Enter a Short Story Writing Challenge

A couple months ago, I saw an advertisement for a writing contest by NYCMidnightThe Flash Fiction Challenge. It cost a little money to enter, but winners receive prizes (first place receives $5,000!).

Like the impulse buyer I am, I immediately signed up. Who can resist a writing challenge? But I promptly had buyers remorse. I’ll never win. What was I thinking? And then I proceeded to forget about all it.

Until two days ago.

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The Magic of Letter Writing & a Challenge

Along with my great affinity for obsession with pens and all accessories that go with pens (including inks, paper, journals, wax seals), I love to write.

No big secret there. I’ve talked often about writing (NaNoWriMo anyone?). I journal (occasionally). Hey, I have to justify buying new journals somehow. And of course, I write blog posts. (Or at least I do when I’m not being a big slacker).

But there’s something magical about writing an old-fashioned, handwritten letter.

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Tis The Season

It’s that time of year again! No, I’m not referring to PSL season (or really, pumpkin spice anything and everything season. It’s actually gotten a bit out of control IMO). And no, I’m not referring to the pre-pre-Christmas nonsense (why am I already seeing Christmas things in the stores?).

Tis the NaNoWriMo Prep Season! It’s the season to get ready to write like mad!

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Blogging Basics

A friend asked: Could you share some tips for those of us wanting to get into blogging? 

Absolutely! And here’s a fun fact: did you know that blog is a truncation of “web log?” A log on the web.

To start, I will say that the interwebs are full of information and advice on getting into blogging. Personally I found some of it helpful, some of it not so much. Some of it I agree with, some I don’t. This is my personal considerations, suggestions, and tips for starting up your own blog. (And if you blog, feel free to comment below with your tips and suggestions.) Just remember, there’s no one right way to blog. Continue reading

Post-November Updates

Wow. Has this year flown by or what?! Here we are already a week into December and since I was writing furiously last month, I’ve been lax on posting. So let’s catch up on what’s been happening. Continue reading

NaNoWriMo 2017: The Midway Point

Today marks the middle of NaNoWriMo 2017. We have survived the first 15 days. But I still have over 25,000 words to write in the next 15 days to reach 50,000 and the end of NaNoWriMo 2017.

At this point, it’s easy to be fatigued. To wonder how can I possibly survive these next 15 days. To worry that I’ll never reach 50,000 words. To feel that everything I’ve written is just awful.

Is anyone else feeling something like that?

Well, my advice to surviving these next 15 days is to be like Doryjust keep swimming.  Continue reading