A WEEKLY INCENTIVE TO WRITE
I find one of the hardest things about being a writer is getting started. By that I mean putting pen to paper or words into a blank document. In my experience, once I type the first line I’m away and all is well. Opening that blank document and starting to type is the problem. That’s why the Write-Invite Competition, Write On Site was perfect for me for a couple of years .
On its website, Write Invite describes itself as ‘in a nutshell a literary open mic’. Their Write On Site Competition runs every Saturday from 5.30pm until 6.30pm. You are required to join as a member, then once the countdown reaches 17.30, you are given three themes and required to check the terms and conditions box, then pay the £4 entry fee via Paypal. It’s possible to buy credits in advance, which is advisable, as it speeds up the whole process. Once you’ve paid, a text box appears and you begin typing your story, which you have to submit by 18.00. Your words are automatically saved at intervals during the thirty minute period.
I remember my first attempt at the Write On Site Competition very clearly. I was very much on edge and worried I wouldn’t get a complete story written in the thirty minutes. When I had a mere five minutes left before having to submit, I was shaking and breaking out in a sweat. Talk about an adrenalin rush! The sense of relief when you hit the ‘Submit’ button and see your story as ‘Pending’ is enormous! However, rest assured that each time you enter, it gets easier and you are able to produce more and more words in the time limit (particularly if, like me, you are a 60wpm touch typist!).
So, are there any hints and tips to make the Write On Site experience less traumatic?
Firstly, I recommend having a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage to hand. This frees up the sub-conscious and helps you ignore your internal editor/critic.
Secondly, write from the heart and don’t worry about the market or genre. Simply immerse yourself in the words. Remember, it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!
Thirdly, it helps enormously to have your notebook next to you as you write. Like most writers, I regularly go out and about with my notebook, writing down images, experiences, snatches of conversation and ideas. If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it. Sit down on a park bench, in a café, somewhere overlooking a beauty spot or bit of coastline and write down your observations.
A few minutes before Write On Site begins, I flick through the pages of my notebook and pick out a few images or phrases. Often I use one as the first line of my story. I’m the kind of writer to whom setting is very important, so my first line is often a piece of imagery, which places the reader firmly at the scene. This gets round the problem of staring at the blank page wondering how on earth you’re going to begin.
It also helps to have an idea in mind before you’ve even seen the themes. For example, I might spend a bit of time in the hour leading up to Write On Site thinking about the sort of relationship I want to write about. For example, ‘today I think I’ll explore the relationship between a father and his gay son’. Or I may choose one of the ideas in my notebook and fit it to one of the three themes. That way you’re not going in totally ‘cold’.
Once you’ve written that first sentence, you need to forget it’s a timed competition and immerse yourself in the writing. Lose yourself in the story. However, do keep an eye on the time. When you have about ten minutes left, you need to start winding down the story and think of an ending. Try not to end the piece too abruptly. Maybe have a closing image in mind before you begin writing in those crucial preparation stages.
I don’t usually think up a title until the last five minutes or so. Try to think of something quirky to capture the judge’s imagination. I find this one of the most difficult aspects of Write On Site, because at this stage you’re up against it time-wise. I never prepare titles in advance, as I think it’s very dependent on the theme.
Try to allow yourself enough time to edit. There have been many weeks when I haven’t had time to edit my story, but these days I find I don’t need to, as there are very few, if any, mistakes. This sounds arrogant, but it comes with practice. One of my early ‘tics’ was to slip into the past tense when I’d started in the present (particularly if there was a flashback scene) or vice versa. Some people may sub-consciously switch viewpoint. We all have bad habits. Another one is putting in too many weakening words like ‘just’ or ‘quite’. These are minor points that the Write Invite judges will happily overlook provided you’ve written a memorable piece.
Remember that Write On Site is a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be tortuous! Everyone is in the same boat in that they are all under pressure to produce a story in the thirty minutes. The story and/or idea is the most important thing and spelling mistakes and typos, for example, can be forgiven.
For me, Write On Site is all about producing a new piece of writing to hone and polish at a later date. I have been fortunate in that many of my entries have been in the Top Three, including my first ever attempt, which came third that particular week back in August 2011. I’ve been lucky enough to win the £50 prize on several occasions. Most writers will receive a short write-up of their story when the top three shortlisted stories are announced on the following Wednesday evening. This provides much needed feedback and encouragement. Some stories are ‘Also read’ (ie. they don’t receive a write-up), but don’t be put off. I know writers whose ‘also read’ stories have gone on to be published or win other competitions after a bit of a polish.
If you enter Write On Site regularly, then it will increase your productivity no end. In 2011 I entered 15 times, 43 times in 2012 and 29 times in 2013. That’s 87 new stories or potential stories to work on. I’d never have written so many without this weekly incentive. I have won the £50 prize seven times so from a financial point of view I don’t necessarily come out on top, although one of the stories I wrote for Write On Site has made me £200 so far. What was more important to me was the competition gave me the incentive to write something new. I came to look forward to my appointment with the computer on Saturday evenings and to the Wednesday afternoon ‘results email’. It is also fun to read the top three stories each week and vote for your favourite.
I’ve now taken a break from Write On Site, as I wasn’t getting so excited about doing it anymore and wanted to focus on my novel. Some weeks I miss it, but I have the option of joining in again whenever I want to.
So, what’s stopping you taking the plunge? Write On Site, although nerve-wracking at first, is a most rewarding experience.
You can read some of my winning Write On Site stories here. Just click my name to read:
On Good Authority, Dancing Girls, Surfer Boy, Alopecia and A Stray Dog, Skin and Bone and Tilly’s Tale.
Jo Derrick has just published her first collection of short stories from 1997 to the present as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, entitled Twisted Sheets. Twisted Sheets is a bold exploration of love, loss and longing. Some of the stories started life on Write On Site!
Jo has been writing seriously since 1990 and has numerous short stories and articles published in a wide range of publications, including Mslexia, Writers’ Forum, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, Upstart!, Peninsular, Buzzwords, The Whittaker Prize Anthology and many more. Jo is the editor/publisher of The Yellow Room Magazine, a print journal for women writers and former publisher of QWF Magazine. She is working on a psychological crime novel.