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Articles > Short Story Challenge 2008 > International Writers Take on the Short Story Challenge


International Writers Take on the Short Story Challenge

by Valerie Bean (Toronto, ON)


Writers are natural procrastinators.  Ask any writer with fiction languishing on the side – too much structure stifles the process, too little structure and it falls flat. But, is seven days enough time to create an original short story … and win?


According to the entrants, yes.


And if the pressure to produce a compelling story within a specified timeframe affected their creative process, several writers we spoke to were showing no signs of wear, even as the contest’s closing date was 24 hours away.


Because the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge tests writers creatively by forcing them to move outside their comfort zones of familiar and/or preferred genre, there were times, as one might expect, when things were trying.


Particularly at in the first few days of the contest. 


“Slogging around for six days trying to think of a fantastic idea was stressful at times,” admits Tom Jubert, a video game scriptwriter living in the UK. He is used to writing for assessment and deadline, but “finding an approach to the genre that appealed to me, while still qualifying for the competition was difficult,” he admits.


If the fantasy genre threw Laura Kjolby Bovencamp “for a loop,” it was “getting it out on paper initially” that the BC graphics artist found most challenging.


Fellow participant Sharon Fiennes-Clinton, who was sick the week of the competition, agrees. Getting down the first line of her horror story involving a remote control was difficult, she says, but “knowing that the rest of the story is right behind just waiting to be typed” helped soothe any nervousness about meeting the deadline.


After tossing around ideas and storylines for days, competitors got down to the matter of writing, some waiting until the last day of the contest to start. Some wrote longhand and transcribed, editing as they typed, others created as many as five typed drafts.


As these writers polished their final drafts, each maintained that the pace of writing an original short story in seven days spurred their creativity and tested their skills despite the inherent challenges of writing in an unfamiliar genre, on an assigned subject, within a strict time limit.


 “It takes more discipline to focus and not get sidetracked,” says Jennifer Lapointe, a Montreal jazz vocalist and voice teacher.


First-time Short Story competitor, the substitute music teacher and reading tutor, found the contest’s close timeframe allowed her to keep the excitement of the story fresh throughout the week. “The birth of the story that gives you the rush and the connective flow of the process within a small time frame” kept her “deeply” involved in the story, and took breaks to bake homemade desserts despite her indifference to sweets.


UK resident Leila Nicotera also took breaks from her daily writing. “It’s good to “take breaks and talk to people,” she says, “It’s amazing how a seemingly random conversation can spark the nugget of an idea that will make your story work.”


For these writers, the seven-day pace sharpened the creative process as did preferred location, which for some means established, for others it means frequent movement.


Visual effects artist Nicotera wrote in her bedroom, at her desk, “on the bus, the tube, and any coffee shop” she found open for business, whereas, Lapointe preferred to write at the same spot each day with a souvenir surfboard hanging overhead.


Toronto medical administrator Sharon Fiennes-Clinton, too wrote “while in transit, at my daughter’s dance class, at work. Shift is what I do,” she says.


On the other hand, Tom Jubert composed his entry while sitting comfortably on his favorite “huge, plush, swivel chair” he’d “carted around to five different houses in the last five years.”


No matter where they wrote, or the time of day, or night, contestants focused on their entries, despite work schedules and family commitments.


Laura Daphine, a former Manhattanite, suffering from a “raging head cold” during the length of the competition, set aside time after work because, she says, she has a “night-functioning brain.” Martin Gooch, UK director for film and television, composed his story on his laptop “between the hours of 11pm. and 2 a.m.” while sitting on his bed listening to music through headphones.


Feeding off the energy a tight timeline provides, writing with one eye on the clock, challenges writers in creativity and craft, but it does not mean sacrificing downtime either. 


Laura Kjolby Bovencamp, didn’t feel pressured by the timeline. “If I did, I wouldn’t have watched both two-hour shows of American Idol this week.” Besides, she says, “I’m not sure a lot more time necessarily makes for better work,” she says.


The deadline is essential, agrees Leila Nicotera, “It drives everything forward, especially if you are writing as a hobby.”


It is important to “test yourself and see if you have what it takes to be creative, meet deadlines, juggle things. I think it’s important if you’re serious about writing.”


“I live in this timeframe and prefer it as I have a breathtaking array of procrastination techniques,” joked Laura Dauphine. “Look for my entry at 11:58 p.m.”


As a copywriter for a downtown Toronto bank, Dauphine consistently has “a graphic studio breathing down my neck for copy.” And with an assigned genre of comedy, with text messaging as the subject, she was more apprehensive of fellow genre competitors from the UK – known for strong wit and sarcasm – than the deadline.


By all accounts, the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition is challenging, unnerving, and exhilarating.


For Tom Jubert, who was assigned the horror genre with a topic of a rest stop, the best part of the contest “was most likely the simple challenge of writing to a specific end. Usually, the idea comes, and the genre and topic follow. Writing to order was an interesting change.


  Leila Nicotera Martin Gooch Sharon Fiennes Jennifer Lapointe




Article by Valerie Bean

Between corporate and technical writing gigs, Pickering resident Valerie Bean writes magazines features, news, profiles, and general-interest articles. She is a published book author and an internationally published poet.





This article is part of a series of articles on writers participating in the 2nd Annual Short Story Challenge.  In 2008, over 550 writers from around the world were challenged to write an original short story (2,500 words max.)  based on a genre and subject assignment.  Click here to view the 1st Round Assignments.  The winners advance to compete for thousands in cash and prizes by writing a short story in just 24 hours.



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