Lately, my attention has been hijacked by the Editor Unleashed / Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Contest. It’s a great contest with a simple premise: write a short story under 1000 words and post it in the Editor Unleashed Forum. Forum members will vote, the editors will make their choices, and the top 40 stories will be published in an e-book by Smashwords. Simple, right?
Well, not really.
Let me explain: This week, I posted my entry, “Mirror, Mirror.” I felt good about it and figured I had a strong chance of making it into the top 40. I’d been reading other entries in preparation for voting. My “no” list was miles long, my “yeses” and “maybes” tallied in the scraggly handfuls. Many of the stories were laden with fundamental errors. Starting the story in the wrong place, errors in syntax, weak or nonexistent character arcs, stilted dialogue, you name it.
During this first phase of reading, I’d describe my experience as enlightening and affirming. I was learning a lot about life with the slush pile. I felt positive about my work.
Lately, my feelings have shifted. I’ve been fortunate to read several truly exceptional entries. With each, I’ve seen my chances dwindle. I’ve been forced to look at my work honestly and I can see there’s need for growth.
I don’t know why exactly that bothers me. I already know I have lots to learn. I already know I’m the sort who makes progress through hard work rather than by possessing literary genius. And I know there are MANY non-geniuses who make six and seven figures as writers. They find their niche and they know how to work it.
But it still brings to mind many questions. Should I push myself as hard as I do? Am I being distracted by platform and market positioning? Where can I best fit into the publishing hierarchy? Am I doing a good job of balancing writing with my life? But the biggest question I don’t have an answer for: am I still having fun?
Big questions, and no easy answers. Seems to me there’s a fine line between getting somewhere and enjoying the journey. One little contest sure has given me a lot to think about.
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