Friday, 5 September 2008

Coffee and competition

Good morning, everyone!

Someone with far too much time on his hands once did the math and determined that if you consider all of the options available to you at the average Starbuck's, you can make over 19,000 different drinks. I gave Starbuck's four years of my life. (Don't laugh - it paid the bills.) So go ahead and pick a drink. I can make it for you. Extra points for creativity.

Alright, down to business. Competition. Many of you have not only entered pieces in competitions but have actually made long lists, short lists and even won them. My hat goes off to you. I just took my second stab at the 3-Day Novel Contest last week. For anyone unfamiliar, it is exactly what it sounds like. You have 72 hours, and not a minute longer, to either produce a literary masterpiece or go stark raving bonkers in the attempt. I entered two years ago, a naive first timer. At the thirty-six hour mark I had to admit that my story was going nowhere fast. I started again and managed to finish with 12,000 words. This year I felt much more prepared, but fate, in the form of a computer glitch, stepped in. "Ready, my ass!" it said as it shut down my computer, improperly ejecting my memory stick and zapping over three thousand words I had slaved over on day one. I eventually managed to get most of it back so I only had to fill in the gaps, but it took up buckets of time and interrupted the flow. I managed to crank out roughly fifteen thousand words, much less than many other entrants, but I was happy with it. Many times over the three days I found myself asking 'What, in the sweet name of sanity, were you thinking?', but at 11:58 on Monday night, with two minutes to spare, I finished, let out my breath and decided that even though I was exhausted, sore and frustrated, it was worth the trouble. I learned a few things: (1) the body can achieve remarkable things on little or no sleep, (2) you should always back up your work in at least two places, even if you're just getting up to pee, (3) sucking up to the pimply-faced, teenage computer whiz at Future Shop can pay enormous dividends and most importantly (4)it is possible to crank out 15,000 words over one long weekend. It really is true that if you commit, apply bum glue and get down to business you will produce something and quite possibly astound yourself. It would be nice to win, of course, or to even make the short list, but I don't really care about that. In this case, the attempt is what was important because I wound up with a good story that I can expand into something bigger. Many people have published longer novels based on what began as 3-Day entries.

So my question to all of us this week is this: what do you get out of competitions? Why do you enter them, apart from the possibility of winning? What have you learned from them? And when the chances of winning are so slim and the work is so hard, why do you keep putting yourself through it? Feel free to shamelessly boast about past wins, near wins, glorious failures.

Have a great week everyone!

25 comments:

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I've won one and placed in two others, but not as Zinnia so no details I'm afraid! (Nothing major, though - no Fish or Bridport or anything.) I've entered far more than that, and I think I do it because it makes me try harder, produce something different, and there's always the hope of a win or a place - which does look good on the old writing CV.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Um. The only competition I ever entered was a total fiasco. Organisers lost my cheque (piddling amount), found my cheque, didn't cash it for six months (I cancelled it in the end), couldn't/wouldn't supply the names of long-listed, short-listed or winning entrants, claimed it was a prestigious competition. My *rs*. Have never bothered otherwise. I prefer to spend what little money I have on submitting to mags, agents, and publishers.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I go through phases in competitions - sometimes I'll enter one a day for a month and others I'll leave out entirely. I'm always broke, so 99% of those I enter are freebies. I've won a few (but then again, too few to mention) and I have a bookshelf of anthologies I'm in. I'm still waiting for the prize for my biggest win (actually a second place) to date - publication of 'An Ungodly Child' - but I've been assured it'll be out by Christmas.

We'll see.

A Chai latte with a shot of vanilla essence and a flake, please, Helen :)

Rowan Coleman said...

wow, that sounds all far too hard to me!! My hat is firmly off to you lady. I've only entered one competetion which was Company Magazine Young writer of the year. I was sitting around at work in my windowless office pretending not to be reading a magazine when I found the competition. I had two choices, either input about a hundred isbns onto a data system or whip up a story and post it off. I took the second the option. Incredibly I won!! And it really changed my life, led to agent and a book deal. So I always recommend aspiring writers to enter competitions, espcially hight profile ones like the Company one (which I believe is running right now?). For one thing its really good way to practise and focus you mind and for another if you do well it will help you get your other work into print, like Zinnia says its boosts the writing CV.

NoviceNovelist said...

Anything with a double shot of expresso and a strong hint of chocolate for me please Helen!

I've just recently started entering competitions (one recent placement) and I do it to give me a focus for my other writing (poetry & short stories as opposed to the novel WIP), stop me from going mad and to reduce the sense of writerly isolation. I also like the idea that I've created possibilities for my wrtiting and that when the phone rings or the mail arrives it could have something fab to do with writing. The ego boost if I should ever win would also be glorious!!!!!

CC Devine said...

I'd love a creamy latte with an extra shot of coffee please!

I must confess that I have never entered a competition though am in awe of your participation in the 3-Day competition, Helen. I must get my act together as it's clear that they often help focus the mind and can lead to many fantastic ideas for larger pieces (and even more success as was the case with Rowan).

Paige said...

Not allowed caffeine so can I just have a hot chocolate? With cream and marshmallows?

Competitions. Only entered one and got no where. The infamous Miss Write novel competition by Waterstones/Cosmo mag last year. No winner just 5 runners up... waste of time in other words. I didn't stand a chance of winning because my entry was rather rubbish, I can see that now.

Would I enter another competition? It depends who was running it and what kind of competition it was. But probably wouldn't waste my time.

DOT said...

Lucky pimply-faced, teenage computer whiz is all I can say!

Your post about competitions has inspired me to blog on same as I have only competed in two, one when twelve or so, and more lately for a flash fiction thingy. The latter I have posted.

As I say in my post, I am in two minds about writing competitions, on the one hand they motivate you to write, on the other, when you fail, they make you feel demotivated. So I am not sure of their worth. Please correct me.

Calistro said...

Gosh, you're talking to the competition entering queen here! Well, not so much these days but back in 2005 and 2006 (and 2007 to a certain extent) I entered almost every short story competition going!

Why did I enter? Initially it was to see how my short stories compared to those of my peers. When I got my first commended or runner up prize in a comp I was absolutely delighted as it meant that, maybe just maybe, I wasn't a totally shit writer. After that I got a bit obsessed with placing in the top 3 of a comp and the first time I won first prize I was absolutely ecstatic. I should add here that all the comps I've won prizes in have been quite small ones in the short story world - ones run by writing groups rather than the biggies like Fish or Bridport! I also entered a lot of themed comps because they forced me to write something new and fresh. There's a real danger, when entering short story comps, to just recycle the same few stories, sending them to comp after comp after comp without writing anything new.

I have to admit I started to find comp entering quite addictive. Whenever you send off your story (with attached cheque, I spent a LOT on entering) there's a huge sense of hope and when it's time for the results to be announced you're on tenterhooks. Winning or placing is an incredible high and there's nothing quite like it. I also looks good to list a few comp wins on your covering letter to agents IMO.

I do think, however, that the allure of comps can wear off a bit and I realised last year that it was muct more rewarding (and profitable) to send my stories to women' magazines. It only costs a stamp to send them off and when you make a sale you know your story is going to, potentially, be read by hundreds of thousands of people. Lots of comps don't publish your stories or, if they do, they're only read by a tiny readership and, without sounding wanky, part of the reason I write is so I can, hopefully, touch other people with my words.

To anyone that hasn't entered any comps I'd definitely recommend it. It's a buzz, it keeps you motivated and writing and it looks good on your CV.

*waffle over!*

Kate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate.Kingsley said...

I like a good comp, but i have got out of the habit of entering them recently.

Like Cally, I think the reason I started entering was because it was a way to see if what I was putting out there was any good. I've not had anything like Cally's success, however: Just a couple of shortlists, and a handful of runner-up places, but still, it meant that I wasn't the worst writer out there, and that spurred me on.

The other plus with comps is that, for procrastinators like me, the theme + deadline combo motivates me into getting on with the writing, and I get quite a buzz out of coming up with a great idea for a theme that I was initially uninspired by.

Enjoy the rainy weekend, folks ~ highly conducive to big fat word counts!

Leigh said...

When I started writing shorties, I entered loads of comps, but got nowhere. My most glorious failure was not making the long list, in a field of twenty-six.

Of course, I tell myself, I had no idea how to write a short story in those days. I was a raw beginner and obviously total crap.

I have spent two years learning my craft, practising, and polishing, and now I'm much too scared to sub anything, in case I find that I've made no progress at all and am, in fact, still total crap.

Kate said...

Sorry, guys, have edited a bit as I realised my post before could have come across as appallingly arrogant, which it really wasn't meant to be - I was trying to take the p*ss out of myself for winning an Olga Korbut book and a trip to an offshort gas platform etc, and of course, I hadn't mentioned the many, many competitions I had entered and nothing happened.

But I did win a publishing contract from one contest: the prize was actually £75 worth of books, but it was judged by Piatkus who went on to publish my first novel - the one I'd entered in the competition.

So as you can guess, I am a fan. I think that in that pre-publication phase, they give you a deadline when it feels that no-one cares one way or another about your writing, and often they give you a subject too, which can be a nice pick-me-up if you're at the blank page stage.

In other news: finished my first draft this week, YAAAAY! This was a book I began on the 1st May or so, and I am now editing like a crazy lady to send off to editor next week.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Didn't come across as arrogant at all Kate ~ very inspiring though, especially as you're the reason we're all here as novel racers!

PS: well done on the finished draft
:-)

wordtryst said...

Never entered a competition,(well, sending out queries to agents and publishers is competing, I suppose), but I'm really impressed with those who have done, and won too.

KAREN said...

I used to enter a lot of competitions, but smallish ones. I placed 2nd in a couple of them, which gave me a real boost and made me feel that my writing wasn't a complete waste of time, so maybe it was validation I was after. Big competitions attract too many entries so I tend not to bother (hardly the spirit, but there you go!) but occasionally I do like to flex my literary muscles and write something completely different, and that's where comps come in handy.

Having said that, I'm currently trying to cobble together something for the Little Black Dress competition which I'm enjoying hugely!

Debs said...

I'll have the same as leather please, it sounds delicious.

I've only entered one or two competitions, the most recent being for a script that had to last fifteen minutes with the winner (not me I hasten to add) having the joy of their script being made into a short film and shown at a small film festival.

I mainly entered to see how I enjoyed scriptwriting. I did, very much, but maybe I need more practice. Much more.

Congratulations on finishing your first draft, Kate.

hesitant scribe said...

Late but here... competitions... hmm. I've won one,got a merit for another,and been short-listed once, and that's been a really good for my writerly confidence. I like entering comps because it forces me to write to a deadline. I haven't done an awful lot since treatment started last jan, but I do ear-mark suitable outlets in mslexia - it just gives me something to aim for!
p.s. It's nice to be back for coffee - can you heat a nice latte up for me purleeese?!

Flowerpot said...

I did the One Day Novel competition back in 1995 - it was held at the Groucho Club and I cant remember how many of us were picked to enter it. My god it was hard work! I aimed for 20,000 words and we wrote from 10am-10pm on Sat and from 10am sunday till you finished. then we hit the bar. It was a very strange experience and I'm not sure what I learned from it but I wished I'd had time to talk more to the others - we were all too busy writing until we briefly met int he bar at the end!

Debs said...

Talking of competitions, I've just been reminded that I recently entered a children's story competition.

I'm reminded because I received an email today letting me know that I'm not on the shortlist. :)

Lane said...

Apologies for being very late. Latte with a squirt of hazelnut would be just the ticket.

I used to enter quite a lot of competitions. Won a short story one and long listed in a (very small) poetry one, so nothing spectacular. I stopped entering when I decided my time - and money - would be better spent focusing on actually writing pieces to sub.

Having said that, I'm still tempted now and again:-)

Well done on your writing marathon Helen. That certainly deserves a prize!

UN PEU LOUFOQUE said...

Sorry late back from long summer hols ( during which I managed to write a childrens nonsense story.Well one has to do something on the ferry between Greece and Italy and it was either that or watch Beauty and the Beast in Albanian on the TV) I am desperate for a decent milky coffee as only teh Italians can make them please if you can rustle up one !

I only ever entered one two writing competitions one for a womans magazien from whom I never heard and one for an online writers forum for which I suspect my writing was too non American to have any hope. I entered both with bouncing enthusiasm adn expectations adn was rather glum at not even getting a well done sticker or a thanks but no thanks letter, niave I know!

I do admire all those of you who have entered so many though, where do you find them?

Clare Sudbery said...

I've never won anything, but then again I've never entered anything!

It's on my list of things to do though...

It seems to me that if I could get into the discipline, it would be a good spur to get me writing short fiction, and it could also be a potential way of earning money, as my aim would be to have a permanent and ever-changing pool of stories which I would send to every competition going, in the hope that I might win one or two. But I'd also be submitting them for publication.

I wouldn't enter competitions with an entry fee though, I reckon they're an outrageous rip-off.

Oh, I just remembered, my first novel was once nominated for some American award or other, but only cos my publisher were very small and regularly nominated their whole catalogue. It didn't get anywhere anyway, so that was a non-event.

I can imagine it could get pretty depressing pretty fast...

Captain Black said...

I'm, shall we say, not a fan of Starbucks, so can I have a large Costa Americano instead?

So far, I've not entered any writing competitions. I have one short story ready to go, but haven't selected a target place to submit it to. Something seems to be holding me back on this, but I'm not sure what it is. Probably just lack of confidence.

I also hear a lot of scary stories about writing competition scams and other tricks designed to capitalise on writers' desires and humility. I guess this puts me off too.

Well done to all of you who have entered or been placed in competitions.

Annieye said...

I've recently won a competition organised by my local newspaper to find new local talent. Last Monday I was presented with my 'prize' - a pen set - and had my photograph taken with the Editor. I felt a right nelly! I didn't really want to enter the competition, which was featured in the newspaper last Feb/March, but my husband persuaded me to at the eleventh hour. I must admit it was a great feeling to have actually won something. It felt like a little injection of self-belief somehow.