Writing fiction to deadlines

I’m so thrilled that I managed to make this morning’s deadline for the Writer’s Weekly 24-hour Winter Short Story contest. As a journalist, I’m used to deadlines. I know that you can’t wait for the muse to strike and there’s no such thing as writer’s block. You can’t tell your editor and publisher ‘er.. sorry there’s a big white space on the front page page of the newspaper because you’d lost your mojo the night before. So I know when I”m writing a story to just sit down and write and know that the story will come and the deadline will be met.

Fiction, though, that’s a little tougher. I always thought fiction was about truly waiting to be hit by a bolt of lightning. You’d think I’d never heard of stream-of-consciousness, right? That was until I discovered while still living in Israel, Roberta Allen’s Fast Fiction

Back then, I used to subscribe to a British writing magazine, because there was nothing in Israel! I saw her book advertised and sent off for it. God bless Amazon! It’s a simple conceit. Pick one of the myriad of topics in the book, switch on a timer and write about the designated topic for five minutes. No more, no less. Stop when the timer goes off. No time to think, ponder, muse or pontificate. No time to dot i’s or cross t’s. Just pure, abandoned writing. And I was on a writing high. Freed from the burden of self-censorship, I wrote dozens of five minute pieces of fiction and tapped into a creative energy I didn’t know existed. Some of those pieces were pure unadulterated crap, but some I went back to and turned into neatly polished and crafted stories. One even saw me shortlisted in a short story competition I entered.

This weekend, I entered my second 24-hour Short Story competition courtesy of Writer’s Weekly and the brilliant Angela Hoy. Another simple conceit. Pay your $5 up front and you receive a story topic and a few  prompt lines which you can use in total, merely allude to or use parts of to craft your story. You are also provided with the word limit, and then you have 24 hours to write your story and send it in. Then sit back, wait a month and see if you won, or placed. I undertook my first 24 hour Writers Weekly contest last Halloween. I didn’t even place, but I had a lot of fun trying to create a story out of the topic given and had a real sense of pride in completing the task and making the deadline.

Maybe because of all that work with Roberta’s book, my creative muscle still worked under pressure. But this time around, I was really stumped to come up with an original – and let’s face it you need an original idea when everyone is writing on the same topic – story in the face of the following prompt:

The small wood stove kept the tiny chapel warm and their
snowy footprints had already melted by the door. The dim
light from the candle nubs played on the faces of the
minister and his wife, and made the bride and groom’s
shadows dance on the empty pews.

The minister’’s monotone continued, “If any of you can show
just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now;
or else for ever hold your peace.”

All four turned abruptly when they heard a cough by the
door…

I literally did have to sleep on this one, and by  6 a.m. after much sifting and percolating in my brain throughout the night, I came up with my (hopefully) original take on this prompt. I have no idea how I’ll do, but I do enjoy the thrill that comes with creativity under pressure. Call me crazy, but it’s what I do best. It  faces the procrastinator in me head on and eggs me on. Doing these crazy competitions and five minute stories not only expands my horizons, it also allows me to create more unencumbered fiction and spread my literary wings. And that’s the type of enjoyment money just can’t buy.

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