Monday, August 30, 2010

A Glimmering At Last

Several months ago I made the decision to enter a national short story competition. There is a small cash prize for the winning entry, which would certainly be nice, but even more attractive is the publication of the story in a major magazine. In addition, the magazine would pay the author its going rate for a short story. I have approximately 6 months to submit something.

Between you and me, I realize I have very little chance of actually capturing the prize. I've read past submissions and the entrants are obviously professional writers. Nevertheless, I've been wanting to embark on a new challenge, to jump head-first into something a little over my head (which, incidentally, is also how I learned to swim).

That was May. It is now the end of August. Obviously, I realize that if one is to write a story - any kind of story, even a disaster - it helps if one has a topic. A Theme. In my spare time, I've spent the last few months "writing" as follows: I sit, pen poised, waiting for genius to strike. It does not. I stare, blankly, at the wall, at the paper, out the window. I get up and stretch, arms overhead, arms back, bend this way, then bend that way. Sit back down, pick up the pen, and stare blankly.

I believe I can speak a good story. Funny things have happened to me quite a lot all my life. Even if something wasn't particularly funny (or even pleasant) at the time, I've found that with a few embellishments and the right dramatic flourishes I could turn a ho-hum event into a fairly good yarn. But a written story isn't helped by slapstick and pratfalls, so it was useless to pull them from my ditty bag. And let's face it, it's difficult to write about dead air...white space.

My first hurdle, then, was pretty basic stuff...come up with an idea for a story. It sounded easy enough, complete novice that I am. I'm sure there are writers who have heads like treasure chests - filled with an abundance of sparkling gems...ideas of all shapes and sizes that snap, crackle and sizzle with brilliance. Sadly, I am not one of them. My ideas, when they came at all, were more reminiscent of wet cotton wool than of richly brocaded tapestry.

After months of listening to those ideas falling with a solid thud, I sat down and wrote a letter to a friend of mine. As I finished it, my son Charlie stopped by to borrow my lawnmower and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was just finishing a letter, and I also told him about the competition. "I can't think of anything to write about," I said (in full gloom). He stopped a second, patted me on the back, and said brightly, "You will." And he was off with my mower and gas can. I stared down at the letter. I realized I didn't have my friend's address. I wrote 6 pages of a letter that I could not mail.

I sat at the table, drumming my fingers with one hand and holding my chin with the other. I stared out the window. I hoped Charlie wouldn't kill my lawnmower by running it in the rain. I looked at the state of my own lawn. It was finally green, but it was sadly in need of a haircut. I should have used the lawnmower myself first, and then leant it out. Why didn't I think of that? I looked down at the letter - at what seemed like a complete waste of time. Obviously, the place to start would have been securing the address. Doing it the other way around made no sense at all. Blink...blink...blink...I had it! Just like that! Only three months, four days and a few hours. Just like that!

Strange how the mind works. One thought leads to something else completely unrelated, and that unrelated thought leads on to another unrelated thought, and before you know it, you've arrived at the place you were seeking - no map, no compass, no night sky to guide you.

And so, it's one foot in front of the other.


  1. yay! I'm glad you got a story idea. I am a firm believer in all the things the brain does behind the scenes. Ideas must ripen in their own time. I can't wait to see the fruit. You will share it, won't you?

  2. Yay is right - YAY! Oh, Grad, I am exactly the same on the depressing-lack-of-ideas front - it was one of the most daunting things about the recent workshop, watching someone else spill the contents of their overflowing treasure chest while I scratched around in the dirt for two sticks. Horrible!! But yes, occasionally an idea breaks through - I am so happy that's happened for you - happy and proud of you for persevering - and now you must keep on persevering. That seems to be a huge chunk of the job. Just doggedly sitting there, sticking with it. Good for you!!! And you've reminded me that I need to email you my address - I'd hate for you to write to ME and deem it a waste of time!!!

  3. I'm so excited for you! Good luck - I'm sending you lots of good writing vibes!! :)

  4. Hooray from me, too! I admit I hate the blank page. For future reference, I find that taking a nap or making a list helps........ don't know why! Keep it up, Grad. We're rooting for you.

  5. As someone who is an expert at being rejected, I'd encourage you to divorce yourself from the outcome right at the get-go. The point is the story, not the acceptance.

    I'm delighted for you!

  6. Creativity is a funny thing like that - it needs spaciousness, is allergic to pressure, and likes to catch you out when you least expect it. Since finishing my last book I've been very uninspired, but that's okay. I think it's like doing maths equations - suddenly you'll just 'see' how something should work and be off. I have every faith in you, Grad, so not surprised at all that your epiphany trotted along at the right moment. But I would love to see the story when it's written!