Short and Sweet

There is a problem I have run into recently.

I am a writer, working to be acknowledged as such outside of my own living room, but I do not have any qualifications.

There are of course many different feelings on writing qualifications.  Some seem to believe you have to a degree in your chosen field.  Teachers should have degrees in education, doctors in medicine, politicians in law or government, and writers should have degrees in English, literature, or writing.  The other side of course is that good writing speaks for itself.  It doesn’t matter what you have studied in the past, as long as you can tell a story.  I believe both points have validity, and unfortunately literary agents seems to agree. 

One the one hand, you can’t teach talent.  There are mechanics and editing tricks that can be learned, but there is a spirit within a well told story that cannot be faked.  It’s hard to say what makes the story good.  Well written stories can be horrible, and books that should have spent a little longer in editing can change your life.  There is simply something, an ineffable quality, that makes the story speak to your soul.  The ability to write like that cannot be taught.

However, truly good writing will find a way into the world.  Writer’s qualifications are not necessarily related to their education; they could just as easily be a byline somewhere or an award of some sort.  These qualifications tell agents and publishers that you are serious about your career.  Naturally, being able to say you are an award winning author would be appealing, just so long as the award was not granted by your mother when she pinned your story to the refrigerator.  A list of publishing credits can work just as well, again, assuming you are published anywhere other than your own blog.  Agents and publishers want to know someone else has found merit in your writing.  This is the work experience that helps to get you the job.  No one wants to take a large risk on a newbie who could turn out to be a one hit wonder.  When they sign you on, they want to know you will churn out a regular influx of good stories and therefore money.

Let’s just be honest.  Writing is art, but publishing is a business.

Having recently switched my career, and struggling to gain my footing, I can’t help but feel I would be better served to have a few qualifications on my query letter.  Eventually my stories will have to speak for themselves, but it wouldn’t hurt to find other ways to encourage people to listen.  To that end, I’ve begun looking into the possibilities behind short story writing.  The possibilities are broad, from short story competitions to publishing in magazines.  And of course, writing a new short story takes much less time than writing a full length novel.  It seems like a brilliant idea.  I just seem to be facing two big problems.

First, I talk too much.  Seriously, I don’t know how to keep things short.  Go ahead and scroll through my past posts.  Tell me how many are under 500 words.  I’m sure there are a few, but not many.  To write a short story I need to be able to convey an full tale in only a few pages.  It’s not impossible, but most of my ideas seem to be a little to long for that.  I don’t think of short stories very often.

The second problem becomes one of etiquette.  Writing short stories is difficult for me, so I have fewer to choose from.  Can I enter one story in multiple competitions?  Sometimes the rules say unpublished works, but the first competition isn’t over yet.  I have no idea if I could possibly have won, and so technically my story is unpublished.  Let’s be honest, I might not win.  Most stories entered into a competition do not win, so is it really hurting anything if I enter the second competition with the same story?  At what point can I send the story off to try to get it published somewhere else and still enter it into competitions?  Should I always write one story per competition?  What am I allowed to do with my story at the end of the competition?  Does publishing the story on my blog violate the rules?  I’ve been searching for answers to these questions, and the water seems murky.  There just doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer.

Part of my questioning comes from my current dilemma.  I am participating in the Sixfold Fiction competition.  We’re in round two, and I have no idea if my story is still in or not.  I have to say, I am loving it either way.  I like being able to judge the other stories.  I imagine giving details would violate the terms of entry.  I doubt if any of you are also participating that you have run across my story, or I ran across yours as it is a large competition.  However, I would not want to be thrown out on a technicality; if they allow no names on stories, I will not reveal which one was mine here.  Without any specifics, there are some great stories in there.  A few were horrible, but a couple were amazing.  I’m hoping mine is counted among the amazing ones, but it is hard to tell.  Good writing is subjective.  There were a few stories that I couldn’t say exactly why I didn’t like them.  It wasn’t the writing, or the concept; I just didn’t connect with the story.  If my story finds judges who feel that way, it might be cast out of the competition.  I’d like to think I could win, but at this point it is just as much luck as anything else.

I wrote the best story I could, and now it is all dependent on the audience.

So here is my question, the reason I wrote this long rambling post.  If my story would be a good fit for another competition, and it does not specifically say it cannot be a part of another contest, can I enter it?  If I win the first, my story will be published, but it isn’t published yet, and won’t be at the time of entry.  Am I ethically alright, or is the water too murky to tell?


3 thoughts on “Short and Sweet

  1. I agree with you so much about it being a creative talent that cannot be taught but, they do say everone has at least one book in them.
    Best of luck with sixfold. I’m in too and like you enjoying the reading and judging bit. Because it makes me step out of my writing room and delve into others minds, see what works and what doesn’t and hopefully I will learn from the experience. There are some amazing stories on it.

    • The idea of natural talent is both my biggest comfort and my biggest fear. On a good day, I’m not worried about everything else, because I just know I can do this. On a down day though, I am terrified that no matter what I do I don’t have that special something that makes a writer incredible. It’s hard to tell with your own work. I imagine some of the worst things I have ever read were written by people who truly believed in their own talent. The idea that I am one of those people who are deluding themselves terrifies me!
      Good luck in the competition! I hope if I got your story it was one I liked!

      • don’t worry about me and the competition for me to have got my head into gear and written something for it was an achievement in itself. Everyone has good days and bad days, self doubt is the bane of my life. I too wish you well, keep writing.

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