February 02, 2018

Well, the countdown clock for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge is ticking away. Just over 20 hours to go. And am I finished my story? Heck no. I have 20 hours left, right?

You might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to the stress of writing, editing, and polishing a 2500 word story in eight days. And having to write that story within the confines of three prompts.

I admit to wondering that same thing myself as this deadline approaches, and I’m trying to write this brand new story at the same time as I’m revising an existing novel, working on a new project, and doing this daily blog.

But, as strange as it might seem, I do it because this is fun.

I like writing within constraints. Instead of stiffing creativity as you might imagine, I find the exact opposite is true. Having constraints allows me to be more creative.

Imagine staring at a blank page and being told to write a 2500 word story. About anything.

A daunting task.

First, you have to think up a genre, then a character, a conflict, a setting, and on and on. The possibilities are endless, and it’s that very openness that terrifies me into doing nothing. I sit and stare at that paper, jumping from one idea to another, and ultimately ending up without a single word written.

But, hand me a genre, a character, an object, or a setting, and tell me to write a story within that framework, and it’s like a magical door to my creativity is blown wide open.

Of course, not every story I come up with in this manner is worth talking about, but at least I have words on a page, a substantial story seed that may one day turn into something more worthy.

This past summer I participated in the NYC Midnight Flash Challenge. My first attempt at this sort of thing.  In this challenge, participants had to write a 1000 word or less flash piece in 48 hours.

In the first round I just wrote a story. I didn’t bother to read the provided genre categories, or read past winners to get an idea of how this whole thing worked. As a result, I did okay in that round, but not great. I got 11 points. Only the top 15 out of the forty participants in each of 80 categories received points. 1st place received 15, 15th place 1 point, and so on.

For the next round I did my homework, and to my surprise, I won my category with a suspense story featuring a fishing tackle shop and a pina colada. lol

This gave me enough points to move on to the third round. Sadly, despite this story being my favourite of all three, I did not place. This round consisted of only the top 400 writers out of the original 3200, so much harder. Still, I’m pretty darned proud of my attempt.

So what did I end up with after all this effort, not to mention stress?  Three stories I would not have otherwise written, the opportunity to practice my craft, and a whole lot of fun.

Now, here I am again, putting myself through this all over again for the exact same reasons. And I’ll probably keep doing this, with absolutely no expectations of ever winning a single thing.

We writers are odd like that.

Oh, in case you’re interested, my constraints for this round are: a fairy tale, a coal miner, and a pay cut.

I’m so grateful to the NYC Flash and Short Story Challenge for giving me this fantastic opportunity to grow as a writer.

Check it out, you might surprise yourself with the stories you can come up in such a short period of time.



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