Thursday, 21 February 2008

An experiment in deadlines

Two weeks ago I mentioned that a story I'd written at the last minute for Slingink's Eurofiction competition scored the highest of the stories I'd written (it was in the top 5 out of 56 entrants). I decided, partly based on that and partly because I'm a huge procrastinator, to enter another last minute entry and let you know how it scored.

Well I got the score yesterday. It was only one point lower than the last entry and, again, scored higher than the other stories I'd spent more time on! It appears, so far, that if I write a story with less than 24 hours before a deadline it is more well received than a story I toil over for ages.

Why is that?

I have a theory.

Most of the stories I've had success with (in comps and publications) are stories I've written in one sitting, normally less than four hours. But I can't just sit and write. I need to get the 'voice' first. As soon as I've got that, the first line and a vague idea about what the story's about, I'm off. And because I've got a deadline I have to write all the way through to the end of the story, often not knowing what the ending is until I get there.

Because of this I think the story evolves in a natural, more organic way than a story I've spent hours plotting and planning. I'm not forcing my characters to bend to my will (which results in an author-led story). Instead I'm telling their story.

But getting the voice and the first line is hard. And sometimes it just won't come so instead I force a story out without them, stopping and starting it over a number or days or weeks until it's finished. I rarely feel happy with those stories and, actually, I have at least half a dozen of them I haven't been able to find homes for.

What writing stories for Eurofiction at the last minute has done for me is to FORCE me to find a voice and complete a story in one sitting. And I started to panic with this story because, by Wednesday, I still hadn't found the voice or the first line.

And then I got the train home from work. I'd finished my paper and was just staring out of the window and there it was - the voice and the first line. I scribbled them down on a piece of paper and promptly ran out of steam. But I had enough to get started today and wrote a 2,600 word story in less than 3 hours and sent it in.

Now I just have to wait 3 weeks to see how well the story scores.

What's the betting I get a crap score this time which will totally discount my theory?! ;o)

Being part of Eurofiction has been great. There's no way I'm going to win (I'm in the top 10 overall but with no chance of getting to the prize-winning number one spot) but it's fantastic that, by the end of this 20 week run, I'll have written 10 complete stories. Stories I can edit, polish and send out.

But when it's over I won't have a deadline to write to anymore.

Then what?


Sarah Dunnakey said...

Really interesting post Cally and one I can definitely relate to. Like you I have stories that I have plotted and planned over a period of time- but they are so totally different to the ones that arrived with just a voice and a first line or a snatch of dialogue. I've only had a few of the latter ones but they are the ones that have done well when I have sent them out. They are the ones that give me the buzz that makes me feel like a writer.

Kate.Kingsley said...

I can relate to this ~ on my creative writing course (and for essays submitted during my two degrees) I often did best on submissions I had rushed to finish at the last minute ~ less opportunity for the inner critic to start picking holes in it, I suppose!

CTaylor said...

Sarah - I know what you mean about the buzz. When I finished my story yesterday I was grinning like a loon. I LOVE that feeling. It's interesting that you've also had success with the spur of the moment stories you've written. I think there's definitely something to my theory (if I do say so myself! ;o))


Me too - both stories I've had accepted in the past I pretty much wrote and sent out without any fiddling or too much pre-planning. I also work better with a deadline, but am not very good at setting them for myself - they've got to be genuine!

CTaylor said...

Kate - that's a very good point. When you write at speed there isn't TIME for the internal critic to catch up with you but when you write a story over time you doubt can so easily creep in and make what you write stilted and self-conscious.

Karen - I know what you mean! My self-imposed 'deadlines' rarely work. It's so easy to go 'ah, it's not a REAL deadline. I can put it off for a day and it won't hurt' and then, if you're not careful, a day becomes two days, a week, a month etc.

womagwriter said...

Hmm, I'm probably in the minority then. I've had most success with stories where I've worked out the complete plot in advance. I might only scribble a few notes - most of it will be in my head - but I pretty much know where it's going to go before I start writing.

However I agree about needing to find the right voice and first line to get going. Sometimes I have a plot before a voice, sometimes the other way round. But I need both before I can start.