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Articles > Short Story Challenge 2008 > Behind the Scenes with Short Story Challenge Writers


Behind the Scenes with Short Story Challenge Writers

by Dan Connolly (Seattle, WA)


It goes without saying that contests like this year’s Short Story Challenge are always relevant because a writers’ appetite for recognition is something that will not go away. Contests are inundated with the merely curious and even the fairly serious but most of all with the efforts of the tireless, dedicated few: writers’ intent on carving out a niche for them selves. And so it is that a forum like this is the perfect vehicle for someone peddling his, or her, wares. These events can often be a hot bed where new talent gets to be seen; where judges review writers and writers place their work before those in the know. The majority of these writers come armed and ready with a natural ability formally called ‘talent’ but which now assumes the name of ‘craft’. Unfortunately however, most will receive little to no recognition and a few, at best, will be given that nice pat on the back known as ‘the Honorable Mention’. Only one will be awarded the greatest of all prizes: First Place- the blue ribbon that goes quickly to the top of a resume and which is soon replaced, hopefully, with an even larger accolade. The group you are to read about has inevitably faced rejection, weathered rounds of bad coffee and has maybe even experienced the occasional computer crash where the fruits of great effort vanish in the blink of an eye.


To find out who will be in this year’s contest, and to find out what makes these people tick, I set out to create a sort of ‘interview’. This interview ended up morphing more into an ‘overview’. Regardless, I wanted to understand those who relish getting up every morning to work in solitary confinement for hours and then get rejected time and time again. I also wanted to find out where these folks are on their career paths, what they hope to gain by being in such a contest and if these assignments are tough to fulfill. And wouldn’t you know it, before you could sharpen a pencil my inbox was flooded with responses.


This group of writers hails from around the country and all agree that continuous effort and sweat equity are their keys to success. I asked if the assignments were stressful or invigorating and most agreed that they are invigorating. As Audrey W., from Austin said, “You're given a genre that you might never otherwise choose, and that helps you grow as a writer.” Jennifer F., from Escondido says, “It is more invigorating than stressful. …I like the idea of having to write from an assigned topic.” Jonathan S. from the Las Vegas area echoes this sentiment when he says, “Without question, it is invigorating. …the joy of creating a unique and creative story far outweighs any stress.”


When I asked how they keep abreast of writing opportunities- if their finger is kept continually on the pulse- I was humored when I read, “I was looking for a job for my son on Craigslist when I came upon a posting... The contest sounded interesting so I followed up.” Sometimes, I guess, that is all it takes. Jonathan S. states, “This is my first year in the short story contest. I found out about it because I participated in the 2007 script challenge and placed 2nd in my heat.” Nice work Jonathan! Audrey W. states, “No, this was my first time. I heard about it because I have competed in two previous screenplay competitions through NYC Midnight.” Some then, do stay on top of their game and are trying to nurture it regularly.


When asked if it is easy to write on spec, the typical response was that no, it is not. More than one person lamented the tight deadlines, which can sometimes mean solid ideas are not given the chance to be fully fleshed out and realized. Of course, it is good then that each of the contestants’ labor under the same, unforgiving circumstances. One writer however, mused that tight deadlines actually forced her to complete her work- otherwise she will tend to scrutinize it endlessly.


As to what each hopes to gain in entering the contest, the general consensus was that writing in varied styles gave them a chance to grow. Of course, all agreed that winning would not be so bad either… Jennifer F. was probably the most direct when she stated, “I'd like to place. Something to add to my resume.” Nicely said- and good luck!


My last question of, ‘Where is your writing career now?’ elicited some fun responses. One person simply replied, “What career?” And, while one person works as an editor and relishes the challenge of producing her own work, another has a novel in the works. She sees this as a way to pad out a portfolio that, she hopes, will help bring her book to market. One contestant says that writing on spec is what he normally does now in the screenplay world so, I suppose, this is just like any other day in the office.


So there we have it; a quick look into the minds of those who dare enter the emotional rollercoaster known as ‘The Short Story Challenge’. A brief glimpse at those who might have to stare rejection in the face then muster the courage to say, “Screw you”. Only one will be lauded after running this minefield. And, perhaps, that person is amongst this very group. But whether the aim of entering this contest is to add a ‘bullet’ to the resume, or to simply develop as a writer, they all will be producing the best work they can, in the short time allotted. NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge 2008 then is surely a cruel master that demands brevity and intelligent, lucid writing. It is the forum of the gifted, audacious thinker that we call ‘the writer’. And it is to each of these bold individuals that we say, ‘Good luck, and forever stay the course’.





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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