Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Short Story Contest

The stocky brown haired man in the yellow rain slicker looked up from the front desk as if he'd been waiting just for me. With a twinkle in his eye and a broad smile that matched my own, he said, "Short story contest?" and motioned with his head towards a blue box with a slit in the top, and a sign taped to the front.

I heard a soft laugh behind me and saw that I was being followed by a petite blond woman waving a brown manila envelope similar to mine. She and the friend she was with both looked as though they were vibrating with as much excitement as me. Our eyes sparkled with it!  

Before I put my envelope into the slot I asked if the friend would mind taking a photo of me putting it in. She laughed--she had brought her own camera to capture the moment of significance. We posed together with envelopes poised over the slot and were spontaneously joined by another hopeful contestant, a tall man with glasses perched atop his salt and pepper hair.

As we walked away from the contest box I asked my new writer friends to tell me about their writing, and we spent a few minutes together savouring the moment and our shared passion before going our separate ways.

People trickled in steadily now, all headed for the contest box and the foyer hummed with voices. I thought to myself that the man in the yellow rain slicker would spend his whole day directing hopeful contestants until the deadline arrived at 5.00 p.m.

A month earlier at the end of January, a friend had texted me the details of the contest saying, "You should enter!" 

Being retired, I finally have the time to pursue my passions and I felt that it was now or never. But then I procrastinated. I cleaned my house, baked pies and began reading an excellent book from my bookshelf by Bill Roorbach: Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays and Life into Literature. 

My rationale for starting writing by reading was that I was "preparing." The truth was that I was "avoiding," although I did learn a lot from the first three chapters, including the importance of the first line.Thank goodness for the friend who told me, "Don't waste time on that first killer line, Belinda, just get the story down and worry about that later!"

The last week before the contest deadline, which was on a Monday, I began writing in earnest. By Thursday I had 750 words written and 1,750 to go. I thought that I was well on my way.

I learned over the next three days that all the steps that I had learned about but had not practiced, are there for good reason. 

  • allow the writing to rest for several days
  • read and rewrite, rinse and repeat
  • have trusted friends read your work and give feedback
And furthermore, you need to allow time in order to implement the steps. I wished I had started sooner.

By Friday evening I sent the story to the few friends that I hoped would read it and give feedback. I woke up the next morning wishing I hadn't been so quick to do so as I realized in the cold light of day that the story had shortcomings and needed more work...lots more work. 

Over that weekend I worked hard, into the early hours of each morning, writing and rewriting, chopping and strengthening it. My friends faithfully gave feedback and advice. Right up until Monday morning, when I steamed open the envelope to make more changes to what I had thought was definitely the final version. 

Much paper and printer ink later, as I left the city after dropping off the story,  I thought that no matter what happened now, I was already a winner, because

  • I had actually done it, and 
  • I learned so much in the process. 

I fantasized about how wonderful it would be to actually win the contest, knowing that about two thousand other entrants would be doing exactly the same at that moment.

I thought about my six grandchildren, all of whom work hard on an area of talent that they are honing to a skill, whether it is hockey, dance, caring for animals in an animal sanctuary or other areas of gifting. 

One of them. our 18 year old granddaughter Tippy, is never without a sketch pad. She ceaselessly works at her craft, polishing it by practicing consistently. All of them inspire me. 

Which is why Tippy's heartfelt response to the story meant so much when she was at our house this past weekend. As her mom read it out loud, I watched her eyes widen with surprise in some places, and smiled as she laughed at others. But at the end  I noticed that her cheeks were glistening. 

"Darling, are you crying?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, her voice choked with emotion and the earnest expression in her eyes saying more than her words,"I am just so proud of you." 

She came towards me with a hug, and I--well I had just won the trophy of all trophies.


Anonymous said...

Well done!! The hard work will pay off, already has! I've entered a few "contests" here and there for various things and I am surprised each time how much I dread being "judged". I know it is part of the process, but when you put so much of yourself into something, I find it a bit soul destroying to have someone say "it isn't good enough". I find creative projects so hard to put any qualitative boundaries around. It would be exciting to "win", but the example you have been to your family has "winner" written all over it!!!

Belinda Burston said...

Thank your for that amazing encouragement my friend. As we all stood chatting in the lobby, we had a shudder go down our spines at the thought of that first set of judge's eyes reading our stories, and the possibility that they could be culled in that round. That's when I decided that I couldn't focus only on winning the prize (wonderful though that would be,) but on seeing all that I had already gained through the experience of trying as hard as I could.

mercygraceword said...

Yes, for me the amazing thing would be the finishing. I remember a friend being part of a UFO club (unfinished objects) and thinking mine would include - craft, writing, studying, organizing, decorating etc. etc. etc. projects.
I'm delighted for you, especially for your grand-daughter's priceless response.


Belinda Burston said...

UFO club! I love it!! I have several UFO's tucked away around here. Being retired sure helps though Deborah. I have hope that those things that are important in God's plan for my life will get done now. It's so lovely to hear from you. :)

arils and castles said...

Belinda, I had tears in my eyes as I read this post. I echo her words of being so proud of you! I am so thrilled for you and you inspire so many others ...including myself. Many of us put up our own barriers, but you were willing to be vulnerable and put your gifts out there into the world.

Belinda Burston said...

Nicole, thank you so much. You inspire me too. No end. And I'm so proud of you too. I love reading your thoughts each week, and I fully understand the commitment it takes to do that with all that you have going on in other areas of your life.