Microfiction - making every word count! Writing challenges, having fun, learning and maybe just getting some reward for doing what you enjoy

As far back as I can remember, I have always had a passion for literature, writing and debate. I entered Literary contests in my teens, joined the debating team and wrote short stories and poetry, mostly musings on life and philosophical by nature. I've started writing a few "books" in my life (we all have at least one in us, right?) but have never quite managed to complete them. I've either hit writer's block, or life has thrown me a curveball. You know that thing where you desperately want to do one thing but circumstances appear to be conspiring against you? Time itself conspires against us, or so we think! But we can and should make time for the things in life that give us pleasure and help us to grow.

So, there I was in Covid lockdown, working from home, trying to do some home schooling with the kids, planting out a veggie garden and generally finding myself with a bit more of that precious commodity...time. I was desperate to write again and had some good ideas for a new book. This time, though, I thought I would do things a little different and instead of just diving in, do a little research and learn a bit more about the construction of a novel and what makes a good novel work. I came out with a few pearls: (1) Every word, every scene has to contribute to the development of the story. If it doesn't, remove it. (2) Show rather than tell. Construct your scenes so that the reader feels as if they were there in the story witnessing and feeling it for themselves. Allow the reader to engage all of their senses to truly become immersed in the story. Let them work some things out for themselves. Retain just enough mystery. (3) Every genre has it's own innate structure that need to be kept in mind at all times when writing (4) Dive right in! There will be many iterations of your novel before the final version and each iteration has it's own purpose, the first being to get it all down. Get your thoughts and words onto paper (or screen) and not worry too much about spellings, grammar, verbosity, structure, continuity, character development; there is plenty of time for refinement.

Right, now what? I ordered a few books on writing and did a lot more research, and I came across writing competitions, and one that particularly drew my interest: a Microfiction challenge. So what is this magic I speak of? Microfiction is essentially where you tell a complete story using very few words. So every word has to matter. Every word has to count. Literally! The one I was drawn to was the NYC Midnight Microfiction challenge (I will put the link below which is not a referral link just a link to their website). The 100 word Microfiction challenge was about to consume my life for 24 hours. The basic premise is that you register for the challenge, which requires a payment of about £15/$21 (after using a promo code). You are then entered into the competition which runs over 3 rounds and each round the judging panel select the best stories to promote their authors to the next round. Last year there were around 7.5k entrants. After round 1 the top 15 in each genre progress to the next round. After round 2, the top 8 in each genre progress to the final round and then the top 10 in the final round win a combination of cash and in-kind prizes. The judges provide constructive feedback on every story submitted. The rounds take place over a series of weekends over 3-4 months. Each round you get given a random genre (which could be completely unfamiliar to you), random action and random word. You have to write a 100 word story in that genre, using the action they have provided and using the specific word or a derivative thereof in your story. I have never spent so much time writing and refining a piece of work before in my life!

I realised pretty quickly that the challenge of microfiction would help me to hone my writing skills in preparation for writing my "novel". I looked at the pearls of wisdom I had gained in my research: (1) Every word counts. Well ain't that the truth when it comes to microfiction. You literally have a strict 100 words within which to tell your entire story. Weeding out the superfluous words would be a challenge but could only improve my writing. Verbosity and ramblings would not be within my budget (2) Show rather than tell. With microfiction, you cannot afford to be boring or obvious. You have to grab attention, immerse the reader and convey something meaningful in 100 words. (3) Structure. This has to be tight. (4) Dive right in! Well I did this and my first attempt (ignoring the 100 word limit as I knew I would have many iteration attempts to refine it) came out at around 250-300 words. How the heck was I going to reduce that? I reread what I had written over and over. I refined it a little. Reread. I was happy. Wordcount c. 175. Face palm!!! I reread it a few more times. Nope, I just can't make this shorter. Changing it will ruin it. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this! I'll just not submit it. At least I like it. No...that wasn't the deal. I came here to learn didn't I? I came here to improve my writing. If I can't stick to the remit and achieve what must be achievable, then what's the point? So... I did what any good writer should do. I took a step back from my writing and went and did something else for an hour or two and allowed it to be. (Now if you were writing a novel, you may take a break of a week or a month in between rewrites but hey, we are talking about microfiction here and a 24 hour challenge) When I revisited my work later that same day with a fresh perspective, I started to find ways to tighten the narrative. Replaced longer words with shorter synonyms. Used a bit of artistic licence. Removed repetition. Shortened my sentences. Numerous iterations later and I had my final draft. I was happy with it, and on comparing it to my first c. 300 word attempt, there was no comparison! Who would have thought that economical writing using words that matter, really can be that much better. Now, I know that I can do better. I didn't make it to the 2nd round although I received some very complimentary feedback. I did receive some decent advice too for my future attempts and plan to improve my writing with each new project. It was a truly rewarding experience to be part of the NYC 100 word Microfiction challenge and my writing definitely improved as a result of those 24 hours. Having received a reminder email this past week about this year's challenge, I am now entered once again :-)

So what did I do after the 2020 Microfiction challenge? I dived right in to my novel. It is a work in progress, but a journey that I am enjoying, and that is the most important thing.

I would encourage anyone else with an interest in or passion for writing to look out for writing challenges on the web, perhaps check out NYC's website and take part like I did, if you fancy. They have a number of challenges throughout the year from Microfiction, to flash fiction, short stories and screenplays. I don't have any vested financial interest in whether or not you choose to explore the above, all I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and my novel writing is better for it. Now blogging....this is a new writing genre for me; one I have not tried before, and one where I don't have to be so tight on the narrative lol. Let me know how I am doing in the comments below. All  constructive advice welcome. I am here to learn along with the rest of you :-)

Here is the link to sign up to NYC's website. Entering challenges does have a cost. This years microfiction challenge starts today 14th May at 11.59pm EDT. Final registration ends at 8pm EDT. If you miss the boat, don't worry, they always have other writing challenges coming up during the year and there are other websites out there with writing competitions for you to enter to challenge yourself and improve your writing.

http://www.nycmidnight.com/

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Comments
Happy Maurya - May 15, 2021, 6:38 AM - Add Reply

Hello ma'am, I read this blog of yours and I really loved it, it seems as if you have shared your early journey towards your writing interest and I loved that part of your blog where you mentioned taking a break of 2hours and victoriously expressed the story in 100 words.
I also have thought of writing a book in the future and I believe it would be honorable for me to be mentored by you.
Keep writing such enlightening and interesting blogs.
It seems as if you've already secured a customer for your book hahaha,
THANK YOU

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Olaleye - May 15, 2021, 7:47 AM - Add Reply

Thanks

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