Yesterday (or January 26th, at least, if you’re not reading this on the 27th) I took part in something I discovered a few years ago: WritersWeekly.com’s 24-hour Short Story Contest. Basically everyone signs up to compete (well, everyone or 500 people, whichever is smaller), and at noon Central Time the day of the contest, they email out the contest topic. Everyone’s got 24 hours to turn in a story, constrained only by the topic and a word count, which in my experience is usually around 1000 words. The topic itself is a few sentences that begin the story, though writers are allowed to change it around a bit (altering genders, names, ages, etc.) so long as the concept remains the same. Never one to be able to focus on one thing at a time (I blame it on a decade of working office jobs that force me to multitask), I decided to keep a blog as I worked. Below…is my journey. (Ah, I’m such a melodramatic guy…) The blog is in local time, so as I’m in Seattle I got the topic at 10am. Some of this stuff is written after-the-fact, but close enough. 😉
9:45am: Got up, rode the exercise bike for 10 minutes just to get the blood flowing, as I hear blood pumping in the brain is a good thing, and the brain seems to be used for writing, unless you’re penning something like “Meet the Spartans.” Ate breakfast. Food good for thinking, too!
10:00am: Checked email for topic. Nothing yet.
10:01am: Checked email for topic. Still nothing.
10:02-10:05am: Repeat previous entry.
10:06am: Realized I was checking the wrong email address. Got story topic that was mailed six minutes prior:
She always kept the object safe and close to her. Mama made her repeat the promise over and over again during those last days. “I will never show it to a living soul. I will never show it to a living soul.”
She cried about Mama less now, not as much as she had before. She was missing Mama now as she did each night when she removed her scuffed shoes. She then carefully peeled the gray sock off her foot, and waited for the familiar object to fall out. Nothing happened. Panicked, she quickly turned her sock inside-out. It was gone.
Hrmm. Sounds like the main character’s a little girl, which I’m not crazy about (writing kids is not my strength), but it’s better than the time they had a bunch of kids on a school bus. (I never did come up with a good story for THAT one.) I note it’s “never show it to a living soul,” not “ANOTHER living soul.” Maybe the girl is dead or a ghost?
10:07am: Jumped in the shower to get myself presentable and brainstorm ideas. Running water is, apparently, also good for creativity. (Note: This fact offered by sellers of running water desktop fountains, so is likely suspect.) First thought: I really don’t like that “Mama” in there, and I don’t quite know why. So far, however, no really good ideas for the rest of the story are jumping out at me.
10:30am: Done with shower and dressed. I’ve gotten an inkling of a kernel of an idea that I like well enough to try to develop, and I can somewhat see where the story might go, but nothing’s exciting me yet. I’m fairly certain I’m going to go with the little girl being a ghost, but I’m worried that might be too cliche or predictable. One thing I don’t want to do is come up with something that 499 others went with.
10:45am: After more pondering and writing a few notes down, I’m taking a mental break to let things percolate. The subconscious shall work on the story, while the conscious plays a little game of Civilization 4. Maybe I’ll try using the Zulus. I’ve never tried them before.
11:45am: After numerous game restarts, have come to the conclusion that the Zulus suck, at least for me. On the plus side, I’ve gotten a few other ideas/idea fragments written down as I played. I’m off to the cafe to apply caffeine and sugar to the situation. I don’t have a full story yet, or even a full story arc…or even any real characters in mind, but at least I have a kernel to work on so that my brain won’t completely explode out of frustration. I’m a little cranky that nothing’s really grabbed me yet, though.
12:15pm: At the cafe. I really need to stop sitting at the drafty table, but oh well. My kernel of an idea hasn’t popped. In fact, with further thought, I don’t quite think I can make it work–or at least not in 1,000 words. I still like the idea of the girl being a ghost, but I’m not married to it. Hey, what if the mother’s still alive, but a vampire?
12:30pm: Still working with the vampire idea, but it’s gotten more complex, and in an 1,000-word story, complex is NOT my friend.
12:45pm: Abandoning the vampire idea. It’s just not quite working for me.
12:50pm: Spent 5 minutes staring at a blank paper and watching other patrons, completely devoid of ideas. I suppose I could just give up, but I really want to get SOMEthing written, especially now that I’ve got the book out. Nearly out of caffeine.
1:05pm: I think I might have something…
1:35pm: Okay! Not only do I have a feasible idea, but I’ve got a full outline written for the story! Or most of an outline, anyway. One of the characters isn’t quite fleshed out yet, and there are various technical details that I need to do a bit of quick research on, but I’ve got an idea that I can work with. This is going to be one messed UP story. My main character needs therapy. Headed home.
2:15pm: Back at home, having just researched a bit of the things I need to know, mostly having to do with horses. (I say “researched,” but mostly I just asked people. Thanks again, if you’re reading this!) Time for another break, frankly. I should revisit the Zulus.
2:45pm: Definitely not good with the Zulus. Okay, I really ought to start getting this story WRITTEN, huh? As Dan Simmons once wrote, I love being a writer, it’s the paperwork I can’t stand. Okay, focus…
4:00pm: Going little by little here. I’m easily distracted right now, and working my way through a paragraph at a time. I’ve forgotten to give my characters names, so right now I’ve just got placeholders. I’m terrible at naming. Curious note, the placeholder names I’ve got all seem like they belong in the Old West, though the story is set in Britain maybe 300 years ago or so. I’m blaming this on the fact that I’m reading Lonesome Dove right now.
6:00pm(ish): First draft…mostly written. Kind of. Well, sort of. More or less. The beginning is going to need tweaking (I want to change what they gave me to give it a little more of a hook and to help it stand out from the other entries), and the end doesn’t QUITE work for me. I think I may be hanging onto an element that shouldn’t really be in the story anymore, but I’ll see. The placeholder names are still there, and some of the dialogue seems to be skewing Old West, too. (Durn you, Augustus McCrae!!!) Sending the story off to two friends online at the moment for reactions, and to see if they think the ending doesn’t work, either. Oh, and I ought to eat.
6:15pm: Sounds like they both actually like the ending. Hmm. Maybe I’m better than I thought. One of them even called me a rat, which in this case is a good reaction. (I TOLD you this would be a messed up story.) The beginning does need work, though. And I need better names. Someone suggested Genghis for the name of the horse, but as this is a kindly, gentle old horse, I ain’t namin’ him Genghis, gol durnit! I’m going to do a little more tweaking and then take a break. A friend has persuaded me to go see Cloverfield tonight anyway, and that sounds like a good break.
6:45pm: Off to Cloverfield. Hope I won’t need a Dramamine.
10:00pm: Back from Cloverfield. If I get my act together I’ll have to write an actual review of that movie. I’m not sure which was more indestructible, the monster or the camera. Back to the story, though. Time for more tweaking, plus I have to get the word count down. The first draft was about 1079. Right now I’m at about 1020 or so. (I was at 1010 at one point, but I had to redo stuff.)
11:00pm: Okay, getting closer, dangit. It just occured to me that I have to TITLE this thing. Ah, well. At least I’ve gotten proper names for the characters now.
11:30ish: 997 words! …Er, wait. 998, not counting the title or “The End.” Still needs a title, though.
12:00pmish: (Okay, so the last few things I didn’t blog at the time and a making up as I type this now.) I really hate coming up with titles. Took me a while of pacing and throwing stuff out to come up with something I liked. I kept coming up with stuff that I figured 75% of the other stories might be titled, so I threw those out after realizing that. I’m going with “Troy,” which is the name of the horse. Plus it’s also got some nice subtext relating to the whole Trojan War…which I hadn’t even planned on, but it makes me look clever. (My subconscious is smart!)
12:05pm: Story’s been submitted. Hopefully the caffeine I just had won’t keep me up TOO late…
So I hear about how I did in about a month. The first time I entered, I won (2nd place), and each time since I’ve tried not to expect that I’d do as well so as not to be disappointed, but each time I do anyway. Who knows, maybe this one’ll win. I’m pretty happy with it, at least.