Three days ago, I saw an open call for a 2200 word short story competition and being a competition junkie, I grew excited. I had a story already written that I knew would be a great fit for what the call was looking for, but the word count on my written story stands at 3000, which meant I’d have to cut it down by a little over 800 words to have some breathing room. This particular story is one I deconstructed last summer and rewrote, cutting it from 4000 words down to 3000 and I thought back then, it was as clean as a whistle, and I still stand by that thinking. I knew the task of rewriting it and cutting another 800 and some words from the manuscript was doable and I was up for the challenge, but here’s where the rub came. The deadline for it was yesterday by 7:00 pm my time as the competition is in the UK.
Sunday was a family celebration, and though I managed to do a deal of editing on the story, I really didn’t have the time to address the rewrite fully, and I can’t say that I regret the family day, because I don’t. It was an emotionally fulfilling day and I’m glad we took the day to be together, and I knew I’d have all of yesterday, (Monday) to finish the rewrite. Well, that’s what I thought.
Monday morning came, and after my daily morning chores, I went to work, writing. I had such high hopes that I could cut my story to a little less than 2200 words without losing its integrity and still keeping the emotional impact, but I didn’t want it to read exactly the same as the original version. I was ready to tackle the challenge. Draft one came, and it hardly read any different, so I went to work on draft two and though it sounded a bit different, it wasn’t different enough and the story no longer felt like it flowed smoothly and somewhere along the line, I lost the integrity of the story and the emotional impact. Draft three came and it was 2:30 in the afternoon and I realized I began watching the clock tick off seconds, the hands growing to giant proportions and I knew then, I was playing beat the clock and the pressure was pure stagnancy. I didn’t actually sweat, but I certainly felt pressured and after the last read of draft three, I had to admit something difficult to myself, the story wasn’t ready for submission, I couldn’t seem to get it, not only the way I wanted it, but in fact, not even close. I very much disliked the way it turned out, and there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell that it was going to be even halfway ready before the deadline.
Now, I’m not one to give up easily, but in this, I felt there was no choice. I reluctantly threw in the proverbial towel, and then I spent an hour beating myself up over it, angry at myself for defeating my own challenge. I didn’t like the way I felt, but then I realized, if the story isn’t right, if it’s not what I would be proud to submit with my name on it, why would I even consider doing it? And more, why would I be willing to pay for a competition submission and waste my money on something I know without a doubt wouldn’t stack up or stand a chance. And no, I’m not being overly critical about my story and the day’s work I put in, I know it wasn’t good enough. The original is fantastic, though too long, but this third draft wasn’t good enough to enter the competition with and so, I let it go and forgave myself for getting angry over wasting my day and not meeting my challenge. If I’m being honest with myself, the day wasn’t a total loss, for two reasons. First, It gave me an article to write for you here, and second, and probably the greater of the two reasons, I learned a couple of valuable lessons yesterday.
The first, I’m limited. In time. In the inability to whip something out of story with too many words without the proper time required to address its needs as necessary to create something fabulous, cohesive and that reads exactly as I want it too, and I learned that it’s okay to admit I’m limited. And the second, I learned it’s okay to not put so much pressure on myself. I learned to take the necessary time I need to get the story done correctly. I learned that it’s okay to release self-imposed pressure after a good venting. After all, it’s not like there aren’t other deadlines – in this business, there are always deadlines – and other competitions; ones that I have already properly prepared for and have stories ready to go, written specifically for those submissions. So, I’m okay with what happened and even though I thought my day was wasted, I find, I was wrong about that too, because I learned valuable lessons and that makes yesterday okay. I did do something good with my day after all. That’s the way I choose to look at it, but maybe it’s because ‘I’m just me ‘ and the way I see it, if I’ve learned something valuable from an experience, then it wasn’t a waste of time, at all.
What are your thoughts and experiences? Feel free to leave a comment. And, as always, if you like my style, feel free to share me.