Pushing Boundaries

In the last two weeks, I have submitted three pieces to three writing contests. Ohmygod the stress. The first is a 125 word work of poetry to Gulf Coast literary journal for the Barthelme Prize. The second is a 833 word work of fiction to The Missouri Review literary journal for the Editors’ Prize. The third is a 1,013 word work of nonfiction to Real Simple magazine for the Life Lessons Essay Contest.

The Gulf Coast contest doesn’t have a date posted for winner announcements. Both The Missouri Review and Real Simple will announce winners in January. I don’t expect to be a winner. I don’t even hope for it (ok, maybe a little, because, hello, monetary prizes and publication). Submitting to these contests is about pushing boundaries. I’ve been comfortably publishing writing attempts here on WordPress, with the ease of anonymity. Not only do these contest submissions require a last name, but they are to an audience I haven’t spent time with. My words will have to stand on their own, without the backdrop of an established relationship.

I spent a couple of days polishing my fiction and my nonfiction submission (the poetry piece is already off and in the hands of the judge, yikes!). The fiction piece proved more difficult than the nonfiction. I reached the “this is shit, total absolute shit” stage of editing it. I stepped away, went for a walk, and realized this point is the point at which I’m close to a breakthrough. So I tweeted that shit:

Twitter13And I was close to a breakthrough.  While out walking and thinking, I realized there was a pretty important inconsistency.

My fiction work is in its second rendition. It began as a woman on the street being drawn by an unknown force down an alley, and I changed it to fit a writing challenge so that it was a woman coming home and dreaming/hallucinating. If it sounds familiar, it’s because you read it here. This change led to the error.

What made it shit was the woman comes home through a hallway doorway at the very beginning, yet later she looks through her doorway at the street. Uhm, no. Not possible. I fixed that, and a few other details, and then I liked the piece again. Had I not challenged myself, I never would have realized this inconsistency existed, or that her father, who is supposed to be dead, was physically touching her, and I didn’t think the touching was necessary to the story and even distracted from it.

My nonfiction submission needed words, more words. Though the requirements are that it be no more than 1,500 words, the answer to the FAQ “what can I do to increase my chances” suggested that it be at least 1,000. What I had was only 859 words. Cue total freak-out – ohmygod 141 words is going to be the difference between acceptance and rejection. I was panicked. I read the piece. It was “shit, total absolute shit”.

I went for a walk, going over each paragraph in my mind. I had referenced the “full circle of my journey” and it hit me – I’ve talked about this journey before. When I returned home, I pulled up my Hero’s Journey post and found my 141 words. Three of the last four paragraphs of that post were what I needed to really complete my nonfiction submission. After some editing to fit the tone of the piece, I knew I had it and it said what I wanted it to say. Then I read it all again, end to beginning, and caught that I had typed “sever” instead of “severe”.

My poetry submission I worked on and submitted at the end of August. I had the words. They were my favorite words from a post I did for A Clown On Fire. The contest required no more than 500 words. That post was more than 500 words, and taking out too many cost the integrity of the piece, but there were 125 words that made for a good poem. I just had to figure out where to put the line breaks to turn seven sentences into poetry, a three-stanza, 21-line poem to be exact. I chose to break it at the commas and eliminate the punctuation.

These three pieces are the only three I plan to submit to writing contests, at least until January. I’m not sitting on a mountain of work I feel is so totally amazing that I must absolutely find a contest. Except maybe one, but I haven’t found a place it fits yet, and I’d rather send it to somewhere it will be appreciated than just send it off for the sake of sending it off.

And through all of this, I’ve written blog posts, edited posts and offered feedback for other bloggers, and worked on three résumé projects. Because, writing. One of these days I am going to lose the use of my wrists, and it will kill me.

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9 thoughts on “Pushing Boundaries

  1. Yes! Sometimes all it takes is to walk away from it for a while. I’m the same way. You get all into it and go crazy and quit. One dog walk afterwards and you’re fresh again. It’s like magic! And I’m glad you found it 🙂

    Good luck with your contests!

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    • It is magic! I believe in walking away. It becomes too much a part of me, and after too long I can’t even see it anymore.
      And thank you. I’m happy I took the step. Even a rejection will be ok because it means I put myself out there and someone read it.

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      • Yes exactly! I see it. Logical points that you think you’ve made and you start to see the gap while away and you come back and fill it in so it’s all good and complete. You too? 🙂

        I figure we’re always one step closer if we begin the journey. May not be the end, but we’re getting there.

        Sorry to talk so much, I get chatty at night.

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        • Me too. When I’m working on it, I see the words. When I’m away I see the picture. At least that’s what happened with the doorway.
          I walked myself through the piece, and when I turned around inside the apartment to see the street, I realized it couldn’t be there because I had just walked in through a hall. I had read “That line, the distinct dingy hallway carpet onto polished hardwood floor line” and “I looked to the doorway. It was miles away, still open, and filled with unsuspecting people walking and driving” a hundred times and never saw it because I was worried about whether the words created the right image, not if the image created the right image. I learned a lesson in this one.
          Now it’s my turn to say sorry for talking so much.

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          • This says it perfectly: “When I’m working on it, I see the words. When I’m away I see the picture.”

            No need to say sorry, this is important stuff 🙂

            Lately I’ve been doing readings for someone and some writers miss things like that and it makes me pull out my trusty pen … 🙂 So, it’s really nice to hear when someone takes the time to makes the flow correct and logical!!

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            • I didn’t make the flow correct and logical until I looked at it again for this writing contest.
              Being able to see these things in my own writing is important, as is having other readers. I learn as much from practicing my own writing as I do from pulling out my trusty pen for other writers.

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