Writing Wednesday – Short Story Contest

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m talking about my first submission to a writing competition. 

The last four Mondays in October, I took a class on writing sci-fi and fantasy at my favorite local writers’ space, StoryStudio Chicago. Each week we developed a different aspect of our world, both setting and characters, and our final assignment for this past Monday was a 2,000 word short story that incorporated all of our elements.

I’ve never written a short story before. I’m not good with succinct phrasing. My plotting skills could use some work. I panicked about creating a believable arc in only 2,000 words. I must have drafted 15 different story ideas while pounding away on the treadmill last week. But which one to choose?

Eventually, I ran out of time. I had a deadline, and I was up against the wall. I sat down and just started typing. I worked with it for several hours, teasing out certain plot points and randomly steering this crazy ship to some kind of conclusion. When I ran out of words, I tied things up, then went back and edited it down to what I hoped would pass as a first draft.

In class, I got some excellent feedback, and our instructor, Robyn Okrant, pushed us to consider submitting our work to the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards Competition, which had an extended deadline through 10/31. Today.

Although the class was over, she offered to take another look at anyone’s work before the deadline. Never one to miss an opportunity, I emailed her a draft last night after a round of revisions, and she got back to me right away with comments. All of the feedback from Robyn and my classmates helped me make some important changes to the story that made it stronger. The emotional arc of my protagonist was coming through much clearer and because the competition has a longer word limit, I was able to go back and fill in some areas of the plot.

So after making my final revisions last night, I submitted it to the competition. Even the act of formatting it into something resembling a professional submission made me feel accomplished. After laboring so long with two different novels that keep stalling, this class and short story exercise pushed me to create a full beginning, middle, and end – and to do it quickly. Though my chances are slim, I’m proud that I took the step to even try entering. I feel like I’ve added a notch to my writing belt.

The joy of creating a new world without the pressure of filling hundreds of pages or needing all of the answers was incredibly freeing. In a short story, you don’t have to answer every question. There’s no time. I am struggling to find the words to describe how revived I feel with my writing. I still have a lot to learn, but I plan to write more short fiction and see where it takes me. I’d love to submit some pieces to sci-fi magazines and see if I can get published. If I sell three stories, I can join the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Plus, it’ll help me build an audience. Wicked awesome.

In the spirit of freeing my creative subconscious, I’ll also be embarking on NaNoWriMo tomorrow. I think to keep me going, I’ll post funny snippets on this blog so you can see what terribly bad things I come up with during the month. Look for that each Wednesday in November. 

As for the contest, I won’t know anything until after the end of the year, but I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed!




Discussion: MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

Book: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend
Author: Rachel Bertsche
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: December 20, 2011
Source: Borrowed from library
Summary from Goodreads: When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, she realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs – in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: Meeting people everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites, she’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

I have a confession to make. I love nonfiction books of the “try some wacky task for a year” variety. L-O-V-E love them. I think it’s fascinating to watch people attempt sometimes challenging, oftentimes ridiculous activities for an entire year. You get to see the ups and downs, as well as the overall growth, that come from learning how you adapt to a given goal that plays out for such a lengthy period of time. This is no flash in the pan – this is a commitment.

MWF Seeking BFF takes this concept and applies it to adult friend-making. Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago and is not satisfied with casual work acquaintances or people you only see for planned events. She wants a local friend that she can call spontaneously and invite to brunch. As a married woman in her late twenties, she finds that this is harder than one would expect.

The thing that I connected with the most is the fact that adults looking for friends is a pretty taboo topic in our society. In general, we are comfortable, if not encouraging, of people on the hunt for a significant other. But a friend? That’s something only losers need to do. One of the best things about this book is how Bertsche turns that idea on it’s head. 

I am not a lonely or pathetic loser…

Needing a friend isn’t anything we should be embarrassed about, and we certainly shouldn’t judge anyone who is looking. As Bertsche ultimately discovers, we all need many types of friends to fill different roles in our army of support. We shouldn’t require our spouses or significant others to fill our best friend role, any more than we should expect our best friend to be the sole person we rely on for all other emotional support. Plus we are more mobile than ever, and with all of that moving around is it any wonder that people need to form new connections?

As someone who moved to a brand new city after college, I really connected with her struggles. When I first got to Chicago I did everything I could to meet new people. I hung out with coworkers, I went to MeetUps, I scoured Craigslist for all of the “Seeking SATC pals! Be my Miranda!” posts. I joined social sports clubs and went to bars. But do I have anything to show for it all these years later? No. My lasting area friendships all came from work.

Making friends is hard, and it’s harder because of the stigma that comes with seeking friendship. I’m certainly guilty of it, and it has definitely kept me from putting myself out there in the ways that Bertsche does. Even reading this book in public made me slightly uncomfortable. What if the people on the El see the title and assume I’m a weirdo with no friends? 

It really made me stop and think about why that concept is so bad. I think it’s safe to assume that if a woman wanted to hang out with me, she’s just looking to meet new people. And I would be happy she asked. This, too, is what Bertsche finds as she moves from coordinated events to simply asking potential friends to have drinks or attend a yoga class together. They’re excited to reciprocate! Imagine that!

Don’t be so timid…

The book really inspired me to be more proactive about coordinating schedules with people I’d like to elevate in the friend department. I don’t know that my introverted nature will ever allow me to master the art of the female friend pick-up, but I can definitely be better about scheduling get-togethers and following through on plans. Recently, a friend (that I had basically written off because I’d been so terrible about making our friend dates) texted me after over a year of radio silence. We made brunch plans and met up last week. And it was great. Why did I let my insecurities keep me from reaching out through all this time? She clearly was still thinking about me, and I was thinking about her, but I psyched and guilted myself out of contacting her and almost lost her entirely. 

That’s not okay. I will be better. Thank you, Rachel Bertsche, for inspiring me to be confident in approaching acquaintances and for taking some of the heat off of women who just want some new friends. I mean, we’re not all weirdos.

Have you had a hard time making friends as an adult? Do you think it’s strange to admit that you want more friends? Let’s talk!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system


You know that thing where you keep meaning to call/email someone, and then you forget, and then so much time passes that you know it’s going to take more than just a quick call/email to catch up, so you put off that phone call/email? And then more time passes and the next thing you know a month or two have gone by and now you’re embarrassed and wonder if it’s weird to call/email now? And then after a few more months you start to think that maybe you should just never contact them again because it’s going to be super awkward to pop back up into their lives?

This = that.

So much has been going on that I don’t even know where to start.

  • I’ve been reading, but mostly adult and non-fiction books. A friend of mine just started a new YA book club, though, and the break from YA fiction has me energized to get back into it.
  • I’ve been writing, but the process is slow. I just finished up an online course on Scrivener and another on YA Steampunk, and I started a 4 week workshop on Writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I re-enrolled in the monthly Advanced YA Fiction Workshop that I had to miss during the summer session. I’m still hedging on whether to try NaNoWriMo again this year. 
  • I’ve been running my fool head off, and completed not just the planned one (Chicago) but TWO triathlons and two 5K races in the span of a month. I’m still training for the 15K in November, registered for a 10-mile race in May, and plan to run at least two half marathons in the spring.
  • I joined the Masters swim team and a team fitness challenge at my gym. I am officially a workout junkie, and can happily report that I’ve lost 23 pounds since Memorial Day.
  • I’m working on five different computer science/programming courses simultaneously on Coursera.org and edX.org. I plan to roll my sleeves up and dig into HTML5 and CSS3 when these are done.

In light of all the crazy listed above, the format of this blog is going to change a little. I love books, but they are only one small section of my life. I’d like to share more than just my reviews with you. If that’s all I have to offer, then I might as well close up shop and move to Goodreads, amirite? I realize some of you may not care about the cool bit of computer nerdery I cooked up, or whether I PR’ed in my last road race. But I’m a sharer. It’s what I do.

I hope to work out some semblance of a schedule in the coming weeks so you know when to expect what randomness will come out of this blog. There will still be reviews, probably of both YA and adult books, as well as the return of Writing Wednesdays. The other stuff will fill in the blank spaces. 

It’s good to be back.