> Short Story Challenge 2008 > International
Writers Take on the Short Story Challenge
Take on the Short Story Challenge
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.