The Importance of Being Competitive

Do you like what I did with the title there?

Nah, I didn’t think it was that good either…

Today I want to talk about writing competitions and how important they are to a fledgling writer. It’s sometimes as easy as Googling “writing competitions”, but other times you’ll only hear about them by word of mouth.

I’ll start by giving you a list of current competitions that you can enter:

  • Fish Publishing – These guys run four competitions annually, including a Short Story and Flash Fiction competition. It’s judged by renowned poets and authors and the prize is pretty good.
  • Writers’ Forum – This site runs a monthly short story contest. It’s a reputable site and well worth a look.
  • Whidbey Writing Competition – A contest based in the USA, but open worldwide. You can write about anything and for any audience.
  • Cazart – You can enter short stories or flash fiction, you can swear and it’s £5 to enter. It’s open throughout 2012 each month, so get over and have a look!
  • Flash 500 – A humorous verse contest. The prizes are pretty decent, for the length of your piece (30 lines).
  • Cinnamon Press – These guys run a range of writing competitions, which change regularly. It’s a good idea to bookmark their competition page.
  • Fantasy Writing Contest – This is a yearly contest, run by Fantasy Faction, for fantasy writers. If your story wins, it gets entered into an anthology with a host of other well authors’ work. They start taking submissions from 1st January 2013.

You might be thinking, ‘Yeah, so what? I might win a small amount of money, but I might not win anything at all.’

Well that’s not the attitude to have. If you’re serious about your writing and you want it to lead somewhere one day, it’s a really good idea to enter some competitions. Here are the benefits that I see from taking part:

  1. You’re committed to finishing a piece of writing (especially if there’s an entry fee).
  2. You’re focused on an end goal and possibly a prize.
  3. You’re usually confined to a particular genre/theme.
  4. In some cases, you make connections with other writers and it’s great for networking.
  5. It maintains your “edge”.

That’s right – like the knives in your kitchen drawer, there’s always one that’s sharper than all the rest. If you want to be successful, you need to make sure that’s you. Writing contests are great for honing your skills, expanding your toolset and exercising your “writer’s brain”.

If there’s one thing you do today, why not commit to entering a competition and start planning out your story?

I’m also going to do a special series of posts during the approach to NaNoWriMo in November, to help you get prepared and learn all about this annual tournament.

If you’ve got any questions about entering competitions or need some advice on writing, drop us a comment below!

~ James

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The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

Today I want to share a story with you all. I hope you all get something from it.

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Fantasy In Motion Presents…

A Fantasy In Motion Production…

From the guy who writes this blog…

Critics are calling it “Get out of my office before I call security”…

The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

One day there was a novel. Well, there would have been one if it had been written. It existed, but only in spirit.

So, one day there was a novel’s spirit. This particular spirit wanted to be a fantasy novel. It was full of fantastic things like dragons, epic journeys and little furry, squeaky things that nobody really knows the name of. Since it had first been dreamed up, it had always wanted to be a novel and nothing else. Not a racing driver. Not an astronaut. Not a movie star. It was a novel’s spirit and being a novel was all it had going for it.

But there was a problem.

There was an evil writer called Zanniberous Zanzini VI (let’s just call him Zan). All his life he had been mocked because of his name and so he vowed that one day he would name a character after himself and nobody would ever laugh at him again. So, he started writing a novel. He’d planned it well, created a believable world and invented brilliant characters. It was going to be a success. He was going to be a success!

One fateful day, however, he stopped writing. He played video games, he read books and he watched TV… but he didn’t write his novel. Every day, he went online and read about other authors. He read their blogs, their interviews and devoured every bit of advice they threw out there. Zan was ravenous. He was going to have all that one day. He just knew it. But every time he sat down to write, he thought of something else he could be doing instead. Maybe I can just complete that level on Halo first? There’s a ton of TV I need to catch up on… maybe I could do that for an hour first? Every time he thought about playing games or anything else, he lost interest in writing.

And so this cycle continued.

With every day that passed, the novel’s spirit grew weaker. No new ideas were flowing into it. It was dying. Every time Zan’s computer started up, the novel’s spirit looked to him for help. It tried to stand out, to make its desktop folder look inviting. But Zan always ignored it and loaded up a game instead.

Curse these games with their characters made out of pixels, their empty promises of engaging stories and their drug-like addictiveness! the spirit thought. What makes them so much more interesting than me?

From then on, the spirit would watch Zan from beneath a deep stack of folders. It would watch as the writer created new stories and dreamed up new ideas, only to consign them to an ever-growing folder called ABANDONED. The novel’s spirit would talk to the other hollow spirits and learn about their time spent with Zan.

‘I was going to be about a secret agent and a thrilling race against time!’ one said. ‘But then he just left me half-way through the first chapter and he never touched me again.’

‘He promised me the world!’ another cried. ‘He named me “The Ultimate Story”. He came up with all sorts of maps, histories and designs for me, but he… he didn’t even start writing.’

It was summer now. ABANDONED had grown over the past year and it had become a dangerous and confusing place. The spirits all peered out from their hiding places and watched as Zan loaded up a new file and gave it a name. The writer looked tired now, drained even. He started to type something and then stopped. He deleted the letters, stabbing at the backspace key with venom. He moved the mouse and hovered over the ABANDONED folder. His eyes were full of memories, hopes and desires. He looked at the folder and sadness showed on his face. Suddenly, he threw the mouse at the wall, kicked away his chair and stormed from the room.

Weeks, months and then years passed by with no sign of Zan. Eventually, some men in blue uniforms came and started removing things from the room. One of them leaned over and looked at the screen. The novel spirits looked back at him hopefully.

‘Hey look at this, Stevens!’ the man said, waving over his friend.

‘Jesus,’ Stevens muttered, staring at the computer screen. ‘This guy was the big time, wasn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ the other said. ‘He was big time alright. A big time nut job.’

The men both laughed and walked away, carrying armfuls of Zan’s belongings between them. The spirits of ABANDONED all looked out at Zan’s desktop and gasped when they saw the wallpaper. It read: “Zanniberous Zanzini VI is a bestselling author from Manhattan, NY. He lives with his–” the words stopped there. Across the writing, the words “THE END” had been drawn hundreds of times in blood-red.

Zan was never published. He never even finished a story. The police found him dead in his bathtub, clutching a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to his chest.

He never learned the most important lesson of all: novels don’t write themselves. So, if you sit there ignoring your novel’s spirit day after day, playing games to help you block out the nagging voice in your head, remember Zan’s fate and change your life today with one simple step. Write. Even if it’s terrible, embarrassing or full of spelling mistakes, just write. After all, nobody’s going to write your story for you, are they?

* * *

And you thought it was going to be lighthearted the whole way through, didn’t you? Well, sometimes life is funny and then sometimes its not. That story was based on nobody real (thankfully!) but it was very loosely inspired by my own experiences over the last few years. I’ve only recently managed to get it together and actually devote myself to one story and know that I will finish it at some point. I’ve never gotten particularly frustrated or down over my lack of progress (I’m a pretty level-headed person) but I always wished that I would just finish at least one full-length novel.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Leave me your thoughts!

From The (Fantasy) Web Today

Here are a few articles that grabbed my attention today. I was especially interested to see a few here on planning and outlining a fantasy story, which is something I’m working hard on at the moment. Hope you enjoy!


New Blog Feature – “Our Picks”

If you have sharp eyes, you will have noticed a new feature that I’ve worked on bringing to the blog today. It’s called “Our Picks” and you can find it on the sidebar just underneath the spiel about me. Basically, it’s a series of “post collections”, designed to cover topics such as How to Write Great Characters or Learning From Other Authors. I really hope you’ll all check them out and find them to be of use and interest.

A smaller modification I’ve made today is in the navbar (above). I’ve made it a little easier to navigate by making all of the pages you can visit visible on the drop-down list. A few people told me they weren’t aware that the button itself lead to a page and were only looking at the drop-down options.

If you have any comments/concerns about the blog’s layout or content, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.



What To Do When You Lose Interest

It’s happened to all of us. You get a story all planned out, you create the world, the characters, the set-pieces and you storm through the first few chapters. ‘Excellent,’ you say, ‘this is really going somewhere.’ But then it happens. You lose interest.

Then what do you do? You start writing something else. Whoa, hold on! That’s the last thing you want to be doing. I should know, I’ve done it more times than I can count on an octopus’ fingers (if they had fingers).

I want you all to be honest. If you’ve ever done this before, leave a comment on this post with a simple “Yes”. The first step to breaking this nasty cycle is admitting that you do it.

The second thing you need to do once you’ve acknowledged your habit is to go back to that story that you now supposedly “hate” and find out where it went wrong. You may think you don’t need to do this, but you really do. What you need to do is run through this checklist and make sure that your story has all of these things:

  1. A clear theme (e.g. betrayal, the human spirit, love)
  2. A plan for a beginning, middle and end
  3. At least one central character who is interesting to read about
  4. A conflict that makes people care about the outcome
  5. A change/progression in your main characters

If you feel that your story was missing any of the above elements, go back and fix it.

If none of those things were missing, then there might be an even simpler solution: swap something around. This can often make all the difference. Here’s an example:

Hero A is honest, charming and kind. Villain B is selfish, impulsive and brooding.

Now, if we change things around a little, things become a touch more interesting:

Hero A is brooding and impulsive but also kind. Villain B is honest and charming but also selfish.

Immediately, we’ve blurred the lines between what’s “good” and what’s not and made the characters much deeper.

So, next time your story starts to flounder and you feel yourself switching off, try the techniques above and play around with what you have. Remember, just have fun with it!