The Wax and Wane of Writing

Sep 15, 2014

Not to brag, but I’m the first ever winner of the Mash Stories competition. Okay, I meant to brag a little. I write this to forewarn you, the reader and likely writer. It’s not often that one finds oneself in the presence of such a contest-winner, unless you happen to be that contest-winner, as I am.  Or was, at least. We’ll get to that.

Everything was roses at the end of that first contest. My formerly fragile writer’s ego puffed and beamed. Mash Stories was one of my first writing competitions, and I inflated with the unreasonable thought that maybe — just maybe — they would all go like this.

As time passed, there was no question that I would enter again. It seemed unlikely that I would win, however. How could I? There would be outrage. Mobs of angry Mashers, talented writers in their own right, would rise up against the apparent favoritism. “No!” I would shout back. “Read the story!” And they would, and would love it, and would send in beautifully crafted apology notes and little candies. Still, I’m watching my figure, so best to avoid all that.

Reaching for my laptop, I penned a follow-up. It was a return to thematic writing, like my first story, yet with a smaller cast and larger setting. The loosely autobiographical theme was how even responsible parents can inadvertently put their children in danger. It was set in space, a location I’ve long been enamored with. I felt I had pretty good story. Then I read the word count: 1,031, more than twice the contest limit.

Little by little, I honed it down. At first the edits were exhilarating, and a better story began to emerge. I finished another draft, and my heart sank. I was still well above 500 words and felt I’d have to take drastic measures.

You come to a point in every Mash story where you feel you have it, you have the story you like, but it’s too heavy. I could have started afresh, but time had grown too short. I need to make this one fit. What to do? Do you pick out every extraneous word, like clearing a cluttered room? Or do you remove entire sections, like excising an inflamed appendix? My story appeared to require both.

Neutered but still respectable, I submitted. And waited. And wilted. The email came that I had not been shortlisted. I knew, even as disappointment gripped me, that the judges were correct. And so I had fallen. I had gone from winner to spectator in three months, washed out to sea in the tide of Mash.

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t deflated. Every writer faces rejection, but it’s never easy. It comes with a choice: does one continue on in this journey or does one resign more fully to other pursuits?

Nodding, I archived the rejection email and set my resolve. We are writers. We write. We can more easily change night into day than change that fact about ourselves. I remembered a rhyme I had written for myself:

Write not for fortune
write not for fame
write out for fictions
who whisper your name.

Every quarter, the latest Mash Stories contest brings another opportunity to write your best story. A lot of talented people are noticing Mash, and it’s becoming more than simply a competition. It’s growing into a community, and a community affords a writer many more opportunities. Like this: the opportunity to write an inspirational blog post for Mashers, to boast one more time, and to hide a secret message in the paragraphs above. Just for instance.

This post first appeared on the Mash Stories blog.

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