Friday, November 21, 2014

Putting it out there

Today is kind of a big day for me. Not just because I'm going to see a friend's brother's Rolling Stones cover band at the Pageant (although that's pretty cool) and not just because we have a board of advisors meeting at work that promises to be interesting…but personally, today is kind of a big day for me.

This being NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I set some goals for myself. Most NaNo's adhere to a daily word count goal that results in something like 50,000 words (the average length of a novel) by the end of the month. I'm not ready to work on a novel yet. Hell, I might not ever be ready to work on a novel. I'm definitely more of an essayist. However, I wanted to somehow participate in this write-fest, and I read an article that encouraged writers to set lofty goals not tied to word count.

I decided that my goal would be to submit. I didn't plan what to submit, nor did I plan where. I've grown used to the idea that the universe knows what's going on, and that I'm where I am supposed to be, and that things will happen that are meant to happen. I mean, I do play an active part in determining my fate, but I can't control everything. I'm sure there is a fancy philosophical label for that, but I'm too lazy to go figure out what it is.

Earlier this month, at a St. Louis Writers Guild meeting, I picked up a flyer for the annual short story contest. 3000 words, original work of fiction, Tennessee Williams is a past winner, etc. I don't write fiction, but I had started on a little story that needed some polishing. My first fiction. It's strange to create something, someone, from scratch. I thought about sending it to a few people to read, but couldn't pull the trigger. I knew I'd never post it here. It just didn't feel right to post it here, as this isn't a fiction blog (although when I tell M stories he claims I embellish and that much of it is fictional – I assure you they are not…there's no way I could make up the shit he says and does that delights me so much…it's why I married him). I didn't do anything with the piece, letting it kind of languish in my Dropbox. When I picked up the flyer, though, I thought, "Aha! I could send that in!"

Here's the thing about submitting. It's scary as hell and exhilarating at the same time. Scary because I'm putting something out there about which I am wholly unsure. Having never drafted a fiction piece, who knows if it's any good? At the same time, who cares? The judge reviews works anonymously. The instructions say to paperclip a cover page with the author's name and contact info to the stapled manuscript. I assume that an administrative person goes through and codes the manuscript with the same number as the cover page, so they can match them up after the judge selects the winners. So it's not like the judge is sitting there reading my manuscript, saying, "Damn. Amy sucks as a writer. I need to let her know that she should stick with her day job." I presume that when my work is found lacking, it gets tossed in a shred pile with the rest of the crap other writers submit and no one is the wiser that I still cannot write fiction. So that's reassuring. I take comfort in that. My suckitude shall remain anonymous.

I read the directions 472 times and made sure I followed each one. There are a surprising amount of instructions that go with submitting a piece for a contest. Two copies of the manuscript, stapled. Cover page clipped to each. Page numbers in lower right corner. Use a standard font, like Times New Roman, and black ink. Double space. On the first page, type your title first, about halfway down the page. Start your story two lines under that. Type the title of your story on every page in the upper left corner. The list goes on. It reminded me of journalism school when I had a prof who insisted that the staple in the upper left corner be exactly one inch down and one inch over. She'd take a ruler to it and dock you points if you were off. That was the most stressful part of the class for me. I'm not good with estimating length and so all semester I'd cart around a small ruler and mark my first page one inch down and one inch over before lining the pages up in the stapler.

I worked a couple days polishing up my story. I still have no earthly idea if it's any good, but I finally reached the point where I was happy with it and ready to let it go. I printed it, and then it rode around in my bag for a couple days. Last night, I found a big envelope, addressed it, and stuffed my manuscript in. The hardest part was sealing it. As if I couldn't rip it open again and use another envelope, or simply not mail it to begin with. I want to follow through with this, though. I set my NaNoWriMo goal, dammit, and I will follow through.

I do not expect to win, or even to place. For me, I've already won. I have written something that I am submitting. The first of many, hopefully. I am putting my work out there, for better or for worse. This morning, after I gas up the car and have it washed, and then drive back down Manchester to the PO, then drop it into the slot at the post office, I will have won. Victory is mine, victory is mine, bring me the finest bagels in the land. (That's a quote from West Wing, The Greatest Show Ever Written.)

I found another contest that I plan to enter, too. This one is flash non-fiction, which is more up my alley. Limit is 300 words, which is harder than it sounds. I have to convey an awful lot in a mere 300 words. I started my piece and am somewhat pleased with it, although it definitely needs work. That'll give me something to take my mind off the drivel that I'll mail out this morning.

So my first NaNoWriMo experience is turning out to be pretty damn good. Writing most days, and two submissions. What more could a girl ask for?

(Just for kicks, at the end of the month, I might go back and tally up my word count for the blog posts and the two submissions. I know I'm fall short of the 50,000 NaNo goal, but I bet I wrote a lot more than I think.) (Yes, I realize this makes me a geek. Only writers get their kicks on word counts. I'm okay with that.)


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