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Words of wisdom for first-timers?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Drib Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jan 2018 at 4:26pm
Hmm... I don't know if what I do is any good for other people, but this is what works for me.

First, I get the prompts as soon as they are issued (which forces me online at 5am).  Then I spend a few hours marinating, just thinking about them.

Then I force myself to write down at least 10 different story ideas.  The one I end up writing is rarely the first, or the last of these, but when I write, I know it is the best (for me) of at least 10 ideas.

I rough out the story in bullet points, trying to keep in mind a few principles: 

First, how can I make the protagonist likeable / interesting / identifiable as early as possible?  

Second, how can my story have a non-obvious twist? And can I twist it again?  

And third, (because I'm a man and I need explicitly to pay attention to these things) how do I make sure that all my characters, especially the female ones, have agency - act for themselves, have characters of their own, rather than simply acting as sounding boards to advance the plot for the protagonist? (I don't always succeed, but I hope i'm getting better).

Then I write the story, and don't worry about the word count. 

I usually end up over the limit by about 60%. 

Then I cut, hack, trim and kill my darlings, bearing in mind Elmore Leonard's dictum to eliminate anything that sounds like writing.

When I get it close to the target world count, I seek beta readers. Preferably folks with good taste who don't know me that well and are therefore happy to be brutal.

Then I adjust, reframe, edit and rewrite - not blindly writing what my beta readers tell me, but writing according to what I think, as prompted by their feedback. 

Then I trim it back down again to the word count.  Then I seek more beta opinions and repeat again. 

Then I put it away until the last couple of hours before the deadline.  Fresh(er) eyes and the pressure of a deadline helps me be more brutal and less sentimental about my story. I always find things that I can trim and / or sharpen more at this stage.

Then I read it one more time for (a) spellings (b) awkward phrasings and, especially, (c) missing words that I may have missed unconsciously.

Then I press submit.

And as soon as I do, I find something I can improve.  If I can change it and resubmit, I do. Otherwise, I spend the next few hours bashing my head on the floor...

Whoops. Didn't mean to write so much, but I hope you find it interesting.

Welcome on board, and good luck.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote lisafox10800 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jan 2018 at 5:32pm
The best advice I can give is just to have fun with it. And play to your individual strengths and work style.

If you are the type of person who needs to noodle a story to death before you're comfortable with it, write your draft early and spend the majority of your time revising. If you are a mulling type who can bang out something amazing in a matter of a few hours, use the majority of your time thinking. If you need to write two stories to feel comfortable and have your betas vote on the best approach, do that.

Some people say "don't write the first idea that comes to you." My approach has always been the opposite. When the idea comes, I go with it and I wrestle it to death until it works. But I'm a person who doesn't deal well with indecision. I need to be drafting by the morning after the prompts come in or I'm freaking out. And not having fun.

I highly, highly suggest beta readers. The more you do these comps, the more amazing people you meet who "get" you and how you think, how you write, and the type of feedback that's most helpful to you as an individual. They'll always see things that you won't, and can often help you elevate your work with valuable "what ifs..." 

But I go back to my initial advice - just have fun with it. With 3,000 people in the contest, your chances of winning are, well, 1 in 3,000. Smile Do it for you and for your love of writing.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote cbartley11 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jan 2018 at 1:29pm
Definitely Beta. Always Beta. Then Beta more.

That's the biggest takeaway I've gotten from this competition specifically. I have an off again on again girlfriend who had beta'd each round. If it weren't for her eye and advice, I wouldn't have gotten to the finals. Completely reshaped my stories and helped make them tight. 

In the finals round I reached out to beta's on this site. I was always a little nervous about strangers reading my stuff and their insight. But to be honest, everyone that beta'd for me hit on great notes that needed worked while also being encouraging. We're all writers here. Even though this is a competition, everyone wants better for each other. It's incredible.

If I place in the finals it'll be because of the kindness and wisdom of people I had never met before who were willing to over and over again offer their time to my words. 

On the practical side, while some people are certainly the hammer a piece into shape like a blacksmith type. Sometimes you get caught on an idea or an angle and you try to force it into a story. Sometimes you just have to know that it's not coming together. Don't be able to scrap a piece that isn't fitting with you. It's horrifying but it's what happened to me in the third round and at the 7 pm mark, I completely abandoned what I'd been working on all weekend and was able to create an entirely new story that was a thousand times better than the first.

48 hours is a constraint, but the idea of it can be what really limits you. 

But no matter what. Keep writing. That's why these contests are so great. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MattrickBT Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2018 at 1:48am
With 8 days, I'd be surprised if I wrote my first word in the first three days. I'm a writer who wholly relies on inspiration, and it's much harder to get inspired when I've got elemental guidelines to fulfill.  It's the location that really cramps me up, so I'm glad there isn't actually a location for SSC, but some of the subjects seem as if they be a specific location.
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