Saturday, 23 July 2016

Word Counts & Competitions

I’m happy with my efforts this year to enter competitions as I feel I’ve got quite a lot out of it. As ever, I could have done more, I could have worked harder, I could have been more disciplined, but it was a decent enough start and importantly, it’s given me a good structure to work to over the next few years.

At the start of the year I made a note of 85 different competitions that may be suitable for me to enter, and up to today passed deadlines  cover 66, of which I have entered 20. Some of them had very short word limits of maybe 500 whereas some went up to 10k. From a quick look it seems my combined word count from the 20 I entered comes to just over 30,000. (That doesn’t seem much for six months work when a professional writer could blast through two thousand words a day for example, that puts things in perspective a bit.) I am only going to enter one more this year, I have a longer short story, or rather a novella (up to 18k words for this particular competition) in mind. This is because I think I have got as much as I can out of it so far and I really want to return to working on my first novel before it rots. I set it aside as I wasn’t able to split my week (and my brain) into two periods, one day or one half of the week working on the novel, while the other on the shorts, I’m just not capable of doing two things at the same time, but that’s fine because I wanted to try and see if I could and it’s good that I have learnt I can’t! I think the practice and focus I have had this year working on competitions will help me when I return to the novel.

Aside from giving me the idea of how to timetable my year to allow for a novel and competitions, which I think I may blog about separately another time, working to deadlines and word counts has helped me improve my ruthlessness. It is something I have been conscious of for a long time but this year, for the first time, I feel I have actually improved. The need to cut down in order to qualify for a competition has been great, it’s been very difficult and frustrating also, but in terms of improving my overall writing, it has been beneficial.

I never expected to win anything, let’s make that clear. I feel I have a long way to go before I am of a level that can seriously compete but there is that sense of professionalism from paying a fee to enter your work that forces you to take it seriously. Perhaps more seriously than I would have if they were free because if it wasn’t costing me anything there’s always that chance of not bothering, as terribly lazy as that sounds. It’s easier to give up. Whereas what I have done is pay the entry fee before I’ve actually finished (or even started) the story so I know that it’s totally wasted money if I don’t see it through. Which is why late Sunday nights have been occupied working to a deadline when it would have most certainly been a pint down the pub instead. The reason that has improved my writing is that there has been no time to worry. If I need to get rid of a hundred words then those words, one way or another, are gone and usually within a quick space of time. No stress about rewriting or changing the story to adapt, it is cutting and making sure the rest of the words still make sense. Honestly, I know it’s such a basic thing, but it has really helped. This won’t be news to anyone who has attempted regular writing but it wasn’t so much a technical lesson I was after, it was more an emotional one. I feel I am braver and more concise in my first drafts now, and certainly more confident when it comes to rewriting or editing, I can take the knife to the page with far less horror than before.

All in all, the first half of the year has been okay. I’ll be thirty seven years old in a few months and with every passing day my attitude to writing is hardening, I’m so fed up of my lack of discipline and knowing I am capable of producing a lot more, that the thought of getting older and still allowing myself the same old excuses is wearing very, very thin. At the same time of course, I am not in any rush. I know that this is a very long journey I am on and I don’t have any delusions beyond my ability, but that shouldn’t stop me trying to pass important milestones. It’s a bit like the gym, you know you can’t become Arnold Schwarzenegger in a day but if you keep telling yourself that year after year you’ll never get anywhere, there are times when you have to shift gears, hurt yourself, put yourself through pain, anguish and outright terrorize yourself, stop saying tomorrow, tomorrow, else the difference between amateur and professional will never lessen.

Anyway, let’s see how the rest of the year goes. I think I have another two months or so working on this last novella, then another month to edit and so on. That should mean I still have a couple of months to get back to the novel and work solidly on that until the middle of next year when I’ll then see if I can get back to some short story competitions, but I’ll blog about the reasons I want to do that, and why I feel it is worthwhile, another time.

Have a great weekend,

R.G Rankine