For me entering writing contests hones my skills. Of course, a win is a bonus to it and I have won several plus received Honorable Mentions. Some give writing prompts or pictures for the writer to weave the story around. This is a boon to the imagination necessary to developing a good story. Recently a contest was posted asking a story using only six words. Yes, a writer can actually write a story with a beginning, middle and end using just six words. Ernest Hemingway did it when he wrote: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” See what I mean?
Other advantages of writing contests: many times a judge is an editor. This is especially true if you are entering a contest that is promoted by a writers’ conference. This could be a way to catch the eye of an editor who is looking for a work like yours. Every advantage in relationship to writing needs to be taken seriously if a writer is serious about writing and getting published. Practice, practice, practice as well as edit, edit, edit is what produces an eye-catching story and hopefully lands with the right person.
Again, I quote Ernest: “Look how it is at the start-all juice and kick to the writer and can’t convey anything to the reader-you use up the juice and the kick goes but you learn how to do it and the stuff when you are no longer young is better than the young stuff-” 1929
Is there such a thing as overwheliming our readers with too much of the ‘show, don’t tell’ theory? Maybe at times the reader just wants the writer to tell!
I’m the first to admit there is a thin line here. Showing is an artform for the writer who scavenges for words and descriptions that show without being too overdone or flowery which translates to an overwhelmed reader. On the other hand the writer wants the reader to enjoy imagining the scenes and characters; in fact it is of utmost importance that the reader do this in order to side with the villian or the victim. We can’t take that away; stories and books would never sell and that is a goal for writers, let’s admit it: reader gets emotionally involved, writer sells.
We’ve all read the first few pages of a book and tossed it behind the couch or in a closet to gather dust. This is a case of where the writer has left nothing to the imagination for the reader. If the villian is sneaky and fooling everyone around him or her, the reader wants to be sure before the end of the book he or she gets their just dues. In the meantime the reader wants to relate to at least two more characters, if not more, in some way. This moves the story along. When I’m the reader, I want to feel scared, angry, elated and experience other emotions that surge within me. It’s true, as a reader I have known my blood pressure to rise on occasion but it’s worth it for a good story. For that matter, it rises at times when I’m writing, especially if the villian parellels someone I’ve known in the past and I’ve never let go of injustices hurled at me for no reason. Sorry, I digress.
So should a writer never tell? Of course not. Writers are allowed to tell here and there but showing is more fun and more productive for both reader and writer.
One day at age eleven I settled comfortably on the backside of the sloping levee across the road from my childhood home. Opening my dime store (not to be confused with Walmart) tablet, I chewed thoughtfully on my #2 yellow lead pencil. Words stored in my mind began to transfer onto the page. Poetry flowed in sync with the sounds coming from the Mississippi river in the near-distance.
I listened to the wails of a loon echoing from the meandering waterway. The voice, like a grieving mother after the loss of a child, fed my melancholy thoughts. I depended on the loons and the croaking bullfrogs to give me inspiration. At age eleven I was a dreamer and I felt driven to write sentimental and lonely poems.
Today when I revisit my hometown I still hear the loons, ever consistent, continue their mournful tones that reverberate from the rolling river. The bullfrogs answer, gruffly chastising the rest of the water creatures.
I have since realized I’m not so much a poet after all though an equal amount of creativity remains embedded within me. Every time I write a story the imagination of an eleven year old launches itself forward. The loons still inspire me though now they are cataloged in their own niche to be utilized when melancholy may settle in again. I’m still a dreamer and it’s imperative I stay a dreamer. It allows for an enormous amount of material for my storytelling.
The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live. -Norman Cousins-
I’ve taken several writing courses in the past. I faithfully read blogs and newsletters pertinent to writing. I have even had contest entries critiqued from time to time by Submission Editors. Still, I get conflicting opinions about what a writer should write about. Many tell me to write about what I know. That is quite a span over years of learning so much. No, I’m not saying I know everything but I have experienced a lot of life-learning, adventurous, disappointing, uplifting and in between experiences. I’ve traveled and learned intricate and fascinating details of most of the USA, especially the western and southwestern states. Each offered something unique to that area that I have stored in my mind and imagination to last a lifetime. Which brings me to my next point.
Now that I’m writing in earnest I have found that one should write whatever is in one’s imagination, whether the subject is known firsthand or not. Let’s face it: few of us will ever experience, much less know what it is like to live in wooded areas overrun with trolls and bubbling creeks where a princess finds her prince but it sure feeds the imagination. Children love stories like that. The child in each of us love them also.
Some of us will experience living in poverty-laden parts of the world. I have been blessed with the bounty of America but if I decide to write about the realistic poverty in America or another country I could do so. It would take interview after interview with those who have seen it for themselves as well as research on the internet and visits to a library. After the research my imagination would allow me to get a better picture when putting it all together. A story like that works best if seen from the view of the interviewee.
To conclude for now, I’m convinced that for me revving up my imagination works well in my writing. That’s not to say I don’t draw on what I know from living my own life. It’s a wide open world for writers so I try to take advantage of every possible subject that makes for a good reading.
It is ironic I think writing that leads to acceptance and selling is a real pain and yet I’m continually driven to something that is impossible not to do. That’s not to say I have become a member of the best seller list by a longshot. Most of the time I start thinking something I write is definitely going to make the editor jump with so much joy that he or she causes every other writer’s submissions to scatter across the world of cyberspace out of anyone’s reach just because my creation has caught his or her undivided attention. And then there it comes: that dreaded – ugh – rejection slip and I remind myself that authors like Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway and other famous writers received endless rejection slips before that day their masterpiece was accepted and, well you know the rest of the story.
So, as writers we keep writing and writing. The painful writers’ block, rejection slips, countless interruptions and scornful, yes scornful, looks thrown our way telling us to give it up don’t deter us. Sure, negativity throws us for a day or so but then we find ourselves back at the computer again knowing this will be the one!