Monday 18 March 2013

Last-Minute Larry

The Erewash Writers' Group Flash Fiction Competition closes on 21 March, so if you haven't entered yet and you like the sound of it, you'd better get a move on!

If you're here for the first time and don't know what I'm talking about, this is a free flash fiction competition I'm judging, in which the story must have a theme of "Start" (interpreted however you like). The maximum word count is 500 (there's no minimum). Up for grabs is a copy of my anthology, Somewhere to Start From, which I'll gladly sign and dedicate for the winner if they like. Additionally, the winning story will be published on the EWG website for all the world to see, and the winner and runner-up both get a free entry to the open competition later in the year, which has cash prizes. I listed a few tips on how to make your story stand out, HERE.

I've often wondered if there's an optimum time to enter a short story competition. Sometimes I think it might be best to be among the first entries a competition receives, so that if the judge is reading them as they arrive yours gets read while he or she is still fresh, before any similar plots crop up which might make yours seem less original. Or perhaps it might be better to be amongst the last entries, so that the judge reads yours towards the end of the process, giving it more chance of sticking in their mind as they come to make their decision.

But what if the stories are printed out as they arrive, and being first in means your story ends up on the bottom of the stack, with the last one received right at the top? Is that good or bad? Maybe it's best to aim to be in the middle ... or will that halfway-through stage be the point at which the judge is feeling overwhelmed and thinking they'd be quite happy if they never saw another short story in their lives and wondering why they ever agreed to this?

The thing is, there's no way of knowing what's best from one contest to another. Each one is organised differently and each judge will read the stories according to their own preferences. When I judged a competition last year, I wasn't able to set a big block of time aside to read all the stories in one go, so I looked at how long each one was, and read them according to whether I had 10 minutes or half an hour free, totally ignoring the numbers they'd been allocated by the organisers. Other judges might choose to read in alphabetical order according to title, or just pick from the pile at random, or any one of countless possible ways of organising the stories.

In the end, you have to go with what works best for you. There are super-organised writers out there who like to get an entry in weeks before the closing date. I'm a Last-Minute Larry, partly because it often takes the pressure of a looming deadline for me to fully focus on a particular story (usually I have two or three at various stages of completion at any one time), but mainly because if I send it off too early I really struggle to resist the temptation to look back at the story and - without fail - spot areas that could be improved.

It doesn't matter how much editing I've done beforehand, it doesn't matter how perfect I think the story is when I seal the envelope or press "send", there will always be something that'll leap out and make me wish I'd held off sending it for just one more day. It's a guaranteed way of convincing myself I've wasted the entry fee and making me feel dejected and annoyed. So, in the main, my rule is to send it during the closing week of the competition, so that the gates close behind it much sooner. I find it much easier then to consider it completely out of my hands, and I don't feel the same urge to look at the story again until after the results have been announced.

This can be taken too far, though. I've found myself on more than one occasion clicking "submit" with crossed fingers at 11.59pm on the day of the deadline, and it's a horribly stressful experience.

So, if you're feeling inclined to START writing an entry for the flash contest, don't worry that you've left it too late, but then again don't leave it any longer...


liz young said...

OMG! I meant to enter the competition but I did no writing while I was in UK with family. Well, only a couple of hours writing down ideas in a cafe. So someone else will have to get my prize! :)

Patsy said...

I send my entry as soon as I have something ready, otherwise I'm likely to forget. Of course it often is the last minute before I have something ready.

Dan Purdue said...

There's still time, Lizy! It's only 500 words :-)

Patsy, I know how frustrating it is to see a competition and then forget about it until it's too late. I never seem to have suitable stories just lying about, though, so usually I'll be working on something with a specific competition in mind. Not always, but most of the time.

Unknown said...

Oh gosh...