Indie Author Weekly

097: Unexpected motivation & lessons learned from a short story contest

February 02, 2021 Sagan Morrow Episode 98
Indie Author Weekly
097: Unexpected motivation & lessons learned from a short story contest
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Indie Author Weekly
097: Unexpected motivation & lessons learned from a short story contest
Feb 02, 2021 Episode 98
Sagan Morrow

Have you ever wondered how to stay motivated when you write a story, especially when you’re participation in a competition and need to stick to a deadline? Well, that’s exactly what we are going to discuss on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!   

This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. 

This episode of Indie Author Weekly shares Sagan's experience participating in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge... including how she stayed motivated throughout the contest, plus something unexpected that she learned about herself! (Perhaps you'll be able to relate...)

TUNE IN to this episode to get the inside scoop! 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:  

Let's chat about this episode:  

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever wondered how to stay motivated when you write a story, especially when you’re participation in a competition and need to stick to a deadline? Well, that’s exactly what we are going to discuss on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!   

This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. 

This episode of Indie Author Weekly shares Sagan's experience participating in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge... including how she stayed motivated throughout the contest, plus something unexpected that she learned about herself! (Perhaps you'll be able to relate...)

TUNE IN to this episode to get the inside scoop! 

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:  

Let's chat about this episode:  

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! I’m your host, romantic comedy novelist and productivity strategist Sagan Morrow, and this is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. 

Now, have you ever wondered how to stay motivated when you write a story, especially when you’re participation in a competition and need to stick to a deadline? Well, that’s exactly what we are going to discuss on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly.

For our new and returning listeners, you can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes plus book and writing updates delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes—link is in the show notes.

Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share about my experience participating in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

A friend of mine recommended it to me when he found out that I’ve committed to writing one short story every month for the year of 2021—you can learn more about why I’m doing that in Episode 87 of this Indie Author Weekly podcast. Anyway, my friend participates in the NYC Midnight short story challenges every time they host them and he loves them. So I figured, that sounds perfect! Let’s give it a try. 

It’s a cool concept: everyone who signs up for their Short Story Challenge gets one week to write and submit their short story, and you are given a specific set of writing prompts to work with: a genre, a subject, and a character. They organize it into groups, so I think there were about 220 groups of about 30 people per group—each group received a different combination of genres, subjects, and characters. The story needs to be less than 2,500 words, which is about 5 pages. 

The top 5 people in each group get to move onto the next round, which takes place in a couple months—the word count is shorter and the timeframe in which to write and submit the story is also shorter. That happens again for a third and fourth round. 

I love this entire idea! It’s a fantastic way to truly challenge our writing skills and storytelling skills. So… how did it go for me? 

Well, they gave me the genre of political satire, the subject of philanthropy, and the character of a freelancer. 

Oh my goodness. Writing political satire is REALLY hard! I have to admit, I was completely stumped for a few days. I finally tried writing a draft of an idea, and I kind of hated it. So I set it aside, and the next day I decided to really sit down and come up with a list of ideas I could theoretically write for the story. That simple act of thinking of different ideas, outside of my original concept for the story, was enough to help me clarify my vision for that original story. I played with it and fleshed it out over the next few days, and the end result is a story that I’m truly satisfied with. 

To be perfectly honest, I was tempted to throw in the towel completely at that earlier stage, when I really didn’t like what I’d written. I thought to myself, “You know what, you gave it a try, and this challenge wasn’t for you. Whatever, now you know!”

But then I mentioned the short story challenge on Instagram, and my dad reached out to say, “I hope I can read it!” I told him the story wasn’t very good, and he just said, “It sounds like a challenge, I’d like to read it if you want to share.”

That was my impetus. Knowing that he genuinely wanted to read it, and that there was no way I was going to show that initial story to anyone because it was so empty and bare, was the exact motivation I needed to go back to the drawing board and put real effort in. 

If you are struggling with motivation or tempted to give up, then I encourage you to find your cheerleader or an accountability buddy or anyone in your life who wants to read your stories, and supports your author journey. It’s really helpful to ensure you actually put that effort in to feel pleased with your work. It also makes a difference to have someone in your life who you can show your work to, rather than just the anonymous body of a panel of judges: the difference is that when it’s someone you know and who supports you, then you know that a) they’re going to keep encouraging you no matter what, which can be incredibly motivating, and b) you’re going to put your best foot forward. 

Personally, I don’t want my friends or family to read my work if I don’t like it! I wouldn’t care so much about that if it’s a random judge, because they don’t know me, and besides, they don’t even see my name associated with the story during the judging process.  

So, that’s my motivation tip for you: Find someone in your life who supports and encourages you, and make sure that they know what you’re working on. That might be just the boost you need to get over any writer’s block. 

By the way, a quick sidebar—If you love the idea of this short story challenge, but you’re also thinking to yourself, “How on earth does someone find the time to come up with an idea and write and polish a story within a single week,” then I have the perfect thing for you! I’ve created a free cheatsheet, featuring 23 ways you can save 10 hours this week. If you want more time to write, then my free time-saving tips cheatsheet will 100% help you out. You can grab it at SaganMorrow.com/savetime… link is in the show notes. 

All right, end of sidebar!

The other thing I wanted to share with you in today’s episode is something I learned about myself, during the process of participating in this short story challenge. What I learned is that writing prompts aren’t a great fit for me. It’s not how my brain works… because I don’t like being told what to do. 

Seriously. It sounds completely ridiculous, but I actually really, really don’t like being told what to do. I’m like a toddler—when someone says, “You need to do this,” it gets my back up. I automatically want to do the opposite. 

I’ve known this about myself for a while, but I had no idea it was so deeply ingrained in me that it would even apply to being given writing prompts! If I had come up with the idea on my own to write a political satire featuring philanthropy and a freelancer, this whole process would have been so much more enjoyable and easier for me. But I think that part of what was frustrating me in the first few days of this challenge is that I didn’t like that I needed to conform to a particular genre, subject, and character. 

It’s embarrassing to realize that and admit it, but there it is. Now I know! And now I can make sure that in the future when I sign up for short story competitions, I can do it with organizations that let me choose the genre, subject, and character. So it’s a great lesson to learn!

I was discussing this with my friend who adores the NYC Midnight short story challenges, and he said something really interesting: He said, “I like prompts because I like the constraint. I guess ‘write something’ can feel like I'm overwhelmed with possibilities, but ‘write a 1000-word ghost story that takes place in a drive-through’ narrows down the possibilities and lets me focus my creative energy on the writing, as opposed to figuring out what to write about. Also, I guess it helps with the fear of failure... like, if I'm responding to some stupid prompt and my story comes out dumb, then oh well... it was a dumb prompt. If I'm just making up my own idea and it comes out dumb... what does that say about me!?”

I find it so fascinating that that’s how his brain works, especially since I had such a different—let’s be honest, negative—attitude about it. It’s really interesting to see how different writers approach and process the concept of writing prompts.

For me, I prefer starting with my own idea, because that’s what lights the fire for me and inspires me and spurs me on to finish a project. But his way of thinking totally makes sense, and I expect that’s true for a lot of writers. It creates more focused direction and, like he said, helps with the fear of failure. 

I’m curious about where YOU stand on this. Reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and let’s chat about it, okay? My handle is @Saganlives. Send me a message and let me know, do you prefer receiving writing prompts, or coming up with your own ideas? 

By the way—While I’m not very good at following other people’s writing prompts, I do enjoy creating writing prompts! I actually did a whole podcast episode with a list of writing prompts for starting your story. Tune into Episode 79 of the Indie Author Weekly podcast to get those writing prompts. 

So, there you have it: when you’re writing short stories and participating in short story challenges, be sure to keep in mind what will motivate you the best, and also how your brain works in terms of writing prompts, so that you can join challenges and participate in them in a way that feels good for your unique writing style.

And that, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly! Access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.

Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support. 

Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.