“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
~Douglas Adams

writerAs you may be aware, it is November Novel Month. A good portion of my writing friends are stabbing away at their stories, I’m left on the sidelines guarding the internet mostly, offering encouragement and insight where I can.

I have decided against participating this year. Mostly it’s because of Aftermarket Soul and my Short Story collection I want to get all edited and shiny and ready for public consumption. My plan has been to use the motivation and energy of the thirty-day novelists to propel me through my edits.

But I did learn of a short story contest and signed up for that. The rules and guidelines were announced Friday night at midnight, and the finished story was due Saturday at midnight.

So, I signed up friday and hung around the internet waiting for midnight. Many of you know by now I am just coming back to writing after a pretty lengthy dry spell. It is only in the last six weeks or so that I have been writing everyday.

And it has felt better than I could really imagine. I sat around for three years and didn’t write much of anything mostly because I didn’t think I had any ideas. But since getting back to it, it has been like a glob of grease on my brain, and the mechanics are once again moving. I am finding ideas to write about almost everywhere and anywhere. I have written more fiction in the last month than I had in the past six or seven years.

So I thought the contest wouldn’t really be a big deal, no pressure really. A few of the Writing Groups I am in will have lessons, writings prompts daily about different topics, styles, challenges; and I haven’t had much trouble writing on any angle thrown at me.

Midnight came, the requirements were posted. I read them and ran off to devise a plan.

I didn’t freak out when no idea immediately came to me. I trusted that one would. And I still really don’t know where ideas come from. I don’t know if there is a way to learn to harvest them quicker or consistently develop them, or if we are forever at the mercy of our muses. I know my creativity had kicked back into high gear mostly from the daily ritual of writing, it seemed to wake something inside me, but still I can’t force an idea to come. There is nothing I know how to do to make them come any quicker.

I went to sleep late Friday night still without a word written for my story or even an inkling of an idea. Still I wasn’t really worried. I awoke Saturday and puttered about the house, hoping to come across a story hiding somewhere. Saturday morning turned into afternoon and still I had nothing.

Finally at around four I wrote a little message to the group hosting the contest, letting them know that if there was no submission by midnight, it only meant I hadn’t been able to think of anything, and thank you for the opportunity.

Hours slipped by and still no thought would settle and build anything of substance within my brain. Honestly it was beginning to weigh on me, and I couldn’t help but dwell. Sure I was happy enough to be able to write what I can when I can, but the thought of still having no control over it, no real say in when it turns itself on and off, that came as discouraging.

I gave up and went on with my day.

I was online later in the evening. Playing around on Facebook and chatting with a friend. It was after eight in the evening, I had completely abandoned any inkling of submitting to the contest. And I wish I could be more specific here but I can’t give away any hints at the story yet. But the conversation I was having with a friend had a few distinct points that starting to work together in my head. The scattered little thought fragments, sprouting roots into the soil, propping themselves up and strutting exaggeration. The lightbulb always hovering just above my head snapped on, came brightly to life.

I excused myself and set to work, pounding words as fast as frantic as humanly possible. And I’ve said it before, but that feeling when my fingers are able to run free, galloping on the keyboard, it is one of the best feelings of freedom I have ever felt. I am sure I heard a few hollow cracks,the tiny sonic booms created in the wake of my fingers flying at a speed greater than sound.

I got the story down quick, I went through to clean it best I knew how; hopped over to the writing group and asked for a little help with my commas.

I turned in the story with little time remaining. I can’t wait to show it. It is one of the odder ideas I’ve had. And looking back over the text, I do see where it’s a little sloppy and not quite as developed as it could be. That’s okay, it’s not completely unexpected. Some debate was made about where a comma should lie in relation to quotation marks and depending on which side of the Atlantic you were typing from.

automaticI’m not getting hopes up about winning. I could see it being possible, and I would thoroughly enjoy it and soak it up, but really I was just happy to be able to participate.

It seemed the more I tried to think of something, the less I was able to let anything come together. I think this is a lesson we have to relearn, sometimes quite often, because we do, or at least I know I do, forget this important factor. Ideas will come and usually do, but trying to force them out only aggravates me. Once I was able to put the contest out of my head, was I ultimately able to let some thoughts fall together and land right side up on the factory floor of my imagination.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

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