Contests…and More Contests

photo-1429051781835-9f2c0a9df6e4With the end of the year approaching, I realized it was time to give an update on my writing projects. It’s been a busy year with all aspects of my life, but I’ve picked up the pace of writing. At the start of the year, I posted about three projects that were in process: So Many Projects, So Little Time. All three of those are still in process. The anthology piece, however, has been submitted and is awaiting some editing before publication. Throughout the year, I have entered a few contests and I wanted to share those with you.

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
Okay, this is a big one. I entered this contest earlier in the year, but it didn’t start until July. This one has definitely been a challenge. It’s basically a tournament style contest. Each contestant has 48 hours to write and submit a thousand word story (or less) based on the assigned criteria of genre, location, and object. It works like this… There are three rounds with four challenges. The scores from both challenges in Round One are combined and the top five scorers in each group move on to the next round. Rounds Three and Four only have one challenge each. There are 60 groups with 30 people in each. If you’re decent in math, you’ll realize I’m competing against 1799 other people. Talk about pressure.

photo-1445109673451-c511bb51bd17So what was my first challenge? A horror set in a photography studio with an onion. Now, the onion didn’t have to be a major part in the story; just mentioned. I integrated it with the story. “Layers” is about Gus, a nerd. Gus loved beautiful women, and he couldn’t pass up an extraordinary woman and a photo shoot. He’s surprised, however, when the past meets with the present. I do not read or watch horror, so this one was a true challenge for me. Thanks to my boss and a horror loving friend, they gave me a couple of ideas that helped make it creepy.

In two days I will find out what the piece scored and two days after that, I get the new assignment. I won’t know if I move to the next round until the first week of November when I get the score – two days before the next round. My fingernails have slowly disappeared over the past couple of months.

This piece I submitted to Wow! Women on Writing’s quarterly flash fiction contest earlier this year, but it didn’t place. Using the feedback and critique from the judges, I tweaked it and resubmitted it in August to their fall contest. It’s about a woman who has a difficult time coming to grips with some life changes.

The Murder of Mrs. Jones
Originally posted on my other blog site, I submitted it to Wow!’s quarterly contest back in the Spring after quite a bit of editing. It went on to the final round of judging, but it didn’t place. This time, I took the feedback, polished it, and submitted it this month to Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest. Dr. Joe Simon, a therapist, finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation when one of his clients, Mrs. Jones, is assumed dead after a lot of blood is found in her apartment.

A Hiking Disaster
I think I’m in love with this one. It was inspired by one of my own hiking trips when fatigue took over my imagination. Sarah, a humble school teacher, is caught up in a murder investigation when she witnesses a body dumped on the trail sbb9f9777he’s hiking. She’s put into protective custody when it’s discovered her life is in danger, and then more disastrous things happen while she’s in custody. “A Hiking Disaster” is almost ready to submit to Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction Awards, which has an approaching deadline next month.

A Love Story
That is not the official title to this story. For some reason, figuring out a title for it has been difficult. This is probably the one short story that is closest to my heart and has taken the longest amount of time to finish. It’s inspired by my grandparents whom I didn’t know, so the story is embellished and imagined. I’m doing my best to get it edited and polished so I can finally submit it to Glimmer Train’s New Writers contest. The submission deadline: October 31.

My Own Upcoming Contest
In order to focus on finishing all these short stories that have been in process far too long, I put the editing of my book on hold. But once they are all completed and sent off, it’ll be time to refocus on the book. Which, by the way, still needs a title. That’s where you, my readers and followers, come in. In the upcoming months (maybe after the first of the year), I will announce a book title contest. The winner will receive a $25 gift card to their favorite restaurant. So be on the lookout for that announcement.

In case you lost count, that’s a total of five contests with submissions to keep my fingernails as little stubs. Sometimes I do think I’m crazy to have so many writing projects at once, and it can be overwhelming at times. But I’ve been having a blast tapping into the dark, twisted corners of my imagination. And that’s what matters (the fun part, anyway). The way I figure it, the more pieces I get out there, one of them is bound to get published. These aren’t the only contests I plan to enter, by the way. There are a few with deadlines in November and December, but I don’t have specific stories for them yet.  To keep up with all my madness and the results, keep an eye out here on my website or follow me on social media. I’m still finding my way on the various social media sites, but I will make sure to post contest results.

Have you ever won a contest? If so, what was the prize?


Retreating to Write

First stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

First stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Retreating usually means to withdraw from something. A scene from “The Patriot” comes to mind when the militia retreats from the British in order to lead them into an ambush. I sort of did the same thing. Without the bloodshed, though. I retreated from my everyday life and schedule, and retreated to something. This writing retreat was scheduled months ago, and it turned out to be perfect timing. Last month was Mayhem March with a full schedule that didn’t allow any writing time. April is calmer; however, there is a huge event at the end of the month that requires a lot of preparation on my part. As it turns out, it’s another retreat – a women’s retreat. So I set out with road trip snacks and several goals down on paper, and headed to the mountains of southwest Virginia, not far from the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

A spot on the campus to think, write, pray, or just distress.

A spot on the campus to think, write, pray, or just distress.

I chose this particular location, because it holds memories for me. The last two years of my Bible College years were spent there preparing for ministry. The college was closed years ago and is now a conference center among other purposes. As a licensed pastor, I have the benefit of using one of the apartments for up to one week each year at no charge. It makes it a cost effective, and beautiful, place to run away to write.

Since this was the first writing retreat I’ve done, I gathered many tips from friends and online articles which were very helpful. My intent is not to rehash what others have already put out there. I’m sharing my own personal experience, what I learned, and what I might do differently.

Things I Discovered:

  1. Outlining a book is essential for me. When I started my book ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any plan at all. Nada. A few years later, I took an online writing course and put together a very basic plan and partial outline. The problem: I was at a place in the book with no plan. It’s hard to knock out thousands of words when I have no idea where I want to take the story. It meant I had to spend some time after I arrived to decide where the book would go.
  2. I would probably never make it as a full-time writer. I don’t see this in my future anyway; however, I definitely don’t have the focus or discipline to write for hours straight every day. In my last blog, “Discoveries of the Writing Process,” I talked about how I am my own distraction. And nothing has changed since then.
  3. Detailed planning is key. By detailed planning I mean, detailed planning. I sketched out a schedule each day, in 30 minute increments, to help guide me toward my goals. Granted, I didn’t stick to it exactly, but that’s okay. Without it I would’ve been willy-nilly all over the place and not much writing would have happened.

Things I Would Do Again:

  1. Pack printer and supplies. I’m old school and prefer to edit off of paper as opposed to the computer screen. Since my printer is small and portable, this was a feasible idea. Turns out I didn’t need to print much, but it still came in handy and I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t taken it with me.
  2. Make goals and break up the tasks. I tend to over plan and had a total of eight goals written out. Then I broke down each one by the four days I had available in order to make them doable. For instance, my goal was to add 10,000 words to the book, which averaged out to 2500 words per day. Because of my short attention span, I broke those 2500 words down to four to five 30-minute segments throughout each day.
  3. Sightsee and eat out. This really makes it sound more like a vacation instead of a retreat. I’m not Wonder Woman at writing (or anything else for that matter), so there’s no way I can write 24/7 and not take time out for a bit of fun and relaxation. The reason I would do this again is it helps to break up the time and gets me out of the confines of an apartment. I was strategic, though, and took writing stuff with me which weaved a little bit of productivity into those times.
  4. Plot stories in my head and pray while traveling. The six hour road trip provided plenty of opportunity to think ahead about the stories to be started as well as pray for the trip. About halfway into the drive, however, the mountain curves demanded my attention. I think I’ll blame those curves for why I didn’t plot out the cavernous holes in the book’s story.

Things I Would Do Differently:

  1. Fewer and healthier snacks. After my last few road trips, I’ve noticed a tendency to go overboard with the snacks.  While it’s essential to have snacks to fuel my brain’s energy, I don’t need five boxes of crackers, two bags of chips (which were never opened), pretzels, etc. Healthier snacks packed with protein are better at helping my brain function well.
  2. Limit the number of projects. Like I said, I tend to be an overplanner. Over four days, I had a total of six writing projects in addition to some reading and spiritual activities planned. I think if I were to focus on fewer projects, I wouldn’t have felt so schizophrenic.

There are other, smaller things I would do again, like leaving the laptop on all the time so it’s ready to go in the case of insomnia (it happened). While I think this will become an annual tradition, I don’t always need to “get out of Dodge” in order to have a writing retreat. For example, I’m finishing up this blog at the local beach before I head a few blocks over to the library, and then to my favorite restaurant for a late lunch. Everyone’s experiences and goals are different when it comes to getting away. Whether you retreat to write, get alone with God, or to have some time away from the spouse and kids, plan it well and it will be a success.

Another favorite place on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Another favorite place on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Where is your favorite or ideal hideaway place?

Discoveries of the Writing Process

I’ll admit it. I’m a newbie to the writing life. Sure, it’s been two years since I started making some headway on this writing journey, but I’m learning all kinds of things on this adventure. And like most adventures, there are discoveries to be had. Every writer has their own process, or even quirks, when it comes to writing. Now that I’m getting (or more like attempting) to be consistent with writing, I’m learning a bunch of new things about my own writing process.

Short Attention Span
Ok, so this does not only apply to writing, but it shines through every time I sit down at the computer. Sometimes I think I have ADD “Attention Deficit Disorder.” It doesn’t have to be a bird outside the window or even an unidentified noise. “I am my worst distraction,” I always say. All it takes is a random thought: Oh yeah, I wanted to light some candles or I forgot to turn off the light in the other room. This is a real problem for me. One day I was having an especially difficult time at work focusing on the task at hand. So what did I do? I searched online for a motivational poster on focus. What else could I do? I found the perfect one for a Star Wars fan like me: Luke Skywalker attacking the death star. Because of this lack of focus and short attention span, I have discovered that thirty minutes is about all I can do at one time except for the rare occasion of being on a roll or if I’m editing. Whether I’m writing a new story, blog, or editing a work in progress, I set a timer on my phone for thirty minutes. This has two purposes: 1) it forces me to keep working for another fifteen minutes when it feels like I’ve been at it for an hour, and 2) it reminds me I’ve been sitting long enough.


Basic Story to Final Draft
A few weeks ago I posed a question in my Facebook writing group to see if I was the only one who ends up with more questions and quandaries with each edit. One person replied that she settles those things during the rough draft stage and uses the editing stage to fix the grammatical and technical stuff. It did not surprise me that I am backwards. I learned a long time ago that my brain is wired opposite from the majority. High school algebra class was a prime example. I picked up the difficult formulas quicker than the easier ones. In adult life, I’ve noticed that if there is an easier solution or method to accomplishing a task, I’m not the one who thinks of it. The way I go about things tends to be more complicated for others, yet it’s easier for me. No wonder I confuse people when I explain things to them. When I write, I get the basic story on paper while fixing grammatical and spelling errors as I go. Then it’s during the editing process when I look for inconsistencies in the story line. What typically happens is the story expands while I’m editing. At times the final story ends up being twice as long as the original draft. There is no right or wrong way to write or edit. Every writer discovers what works for them and then goes with it.

Best Time & Place to Write
Writing advice on when to write will vary from person to person. Some say to squeeze in thirty minutes in the morning, while others suggest staying up later to fit in some writing. For me, neither one is the “best” time. Since my brain wakes up about two hours after my eyes open, mornings are definitely not an option. By the end of the day, my brain is fried like an egg that’s been in the skillet too long. While the occasional late night does work for me, I’ve noticed that anywhere from afternoon to evening is best, depending upon my schedule. As far as the best place goes, I can concentrate better when I’m somewhere other than my house, like the library or Panera Bread (my favorite place). However, most of my writing is done from the comfort of my couch. I do have a desk at home, but it’s usually cluttered with papers and personal financial stuff. Besides, I spend close to forty hours every week at a desk so writing at my home desk doesn’t inspire me much. But no matter where I write, there has to be some level of noise to help me concentrate. Music is better, but people talking or some other type of activity around me works as well.

A sample of how I plan my life.

A sample of how I plan my life.

This is a trial and error aspect of this writing journey. I set goals (which I rarely meet) then schedule writing accordingly. I’ll first print out a monthly calendar, and then I use a red ink pen to note my deadlines. From there, I assign all my tasks (everything from household chores to writing projects) to a specific day with the approximate time to accomplish them. Each week, I print out a weekly calendar and get even more specific with a schedule for each day, complete with times. Yes, I know this seems extreme, but I’m returning to my college days when I would sketch out a schedule for the day. It started as a way to stay awake in my 7:30am classes, but it turned out to work for me. Before you think more highly of me than you should, I don’t always stick to the plan exactly how it’s written. Life is unpredictable so it’s a necessity to be flexible.

Writing discoveries are different for every writer; these are mine, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be the only things I discover on this journey. It’s only a start. In fact, life should be a learning experience until the day we die. When we stop learning, the fun gets sucked out of our lives. And no one wants to live life without fun. Whether you are a reader, a writer, or neither one, there are things you’ve learned about yourself during your lifetime. I’d love to hear some of them in the comments. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll inspire a new story for me to write.


So Many Projects, So Little Time

TypewriterEver since I embarked on this writing journey, I have questioned my sanity more times than I can count with my fingers and toes. I come up with all these great ideas and plans, but they fizzle out when reality hits with the time involved. See, I inherited this wonderful trait from my dad: start projects and never complete them. Or take an eternity getting to the finish line. It’s such a problem for me that one year I set out to complete several unfinished projects. I declared it a Year of Completion and blogged about it here on my personal blog. That’s why I try not to have too many going at one time. It seems I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I believe myself to be. So here I am, once again. This time with three big writing projects all at once. Repeat after me, “Pam, what are you thinking?”

With the pressure of updating readers on the progress of these projects, my goal is that they will be completed sooner rather than later. Did I also mention that I’m slow? Ok, I’m getting off topic, which is a blog discussion for another day. So here is a synopsis of each project that you, the reader, can look forward to hearing more about.

A Mystery
This is my oldest work in progress. It started about eight to ten years ago without getting very far on it. I picked it up again two years ago, and made serious advancement the past two Novembers during the fiasco known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s also the longest project, a full length book about a detective and his partner who are cutting their homicide skills on the mayor’s murder. Benji Gera, the main character, has to accept his past in order to face the future in taking risks. It is currently without a name, so as I near completion of the first draft I might just need your help in picking a title.

A Love Story
A short story in the editing stage, this is another story that needs a title. It’s a romance very loosely based on my grandparents. And I mean very loosely based, because I never knew my grandparents who passed away when I was very young. In fact, my grandmother was gone a few years before I was even a thought in my parents’ minds. It makes it pretty easy to embellish what little facts I know. Set around the turn of the 20th century, Beth, a young girl in rural Iowa is in search of the truth about her father. What she doesn’t expect to find is love in the midst of her search.

An Anthology
The newest project, “A Woman’s Journey to a Thousand Cats,” is a short story for a group project with some pretty cool writer friends I met online. I believe the title says it all for this one. The title and idea came from a friend of mine when I was telling her the theme of this project was “journeys.” There very well could be another story created for this anthology, but we’ll see once I get the rough draft of this one completed.

Like most people, I don’t seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do, or even need to do. Balancing a work, personal, and writing life is a big challenge that I’m working on to discover what groove works for me. It may turn in to some late nights beyond my bedtime, like this post. But knowing you are following my projects will help me stay accountable and on track. Now that you know what I’m up to with my writing life, please check back at least once a month to check in on what’s happening.

Which one of those stories do you anticipate reading?