NYC Short Story Challenge: Lessons Learned & Experience Gained

Last week the winner’s were announced in the NYC Midnight 9th Annual Short Story Competition. My journey took me through the second round, but sadly my Rom-Com “Bumps In The Road” left me in the dust of my fellow heat-mates. For those unfamiliar with this particular competition, it is an escalating challenge, in that you begin with an assignment of a genre, subject and character, 8 days to write and a 2500 word limit. In the first round, there were 48 heats with 30 writers per heat, totaling more than 1400 competitors. The stories were then judged, with the top 5 from each heat moving on to the second round. In the second round there were 8 new heats with another 30 competitors each and new assignments of genre, subject and character, but with only 3 days to write and a 2000 word limit. The writers of the top 5 stories from each heat moved on to the third and final round, with a new assignment of subject and character, open genre, 24 hours to write and 1500 word limit.

As anyone who participated can attest, it’s an intense experience! I’ve reflected on what I learned and gained from the challenge and would encourage anyone who aspires to see their name in print to participate in this, or another similar, competition. In keeping with the top 5 theme, here are my top 5 take-away points from this experience:

1. Beta-reading: Do it! And then return the favor. As I learned from fellow competitors, the only real restriction about a test reader from within the competition is that they must not be from your heat. These “betas” (or test readers) can help you hone in on any weaknesses in your story or your writing and provide invaluable feedback so you can strengthen your story before you submit. Some betas are better and more thorough than others and at the end of the day, you may not use some of their suggestions. In general, I found it was a great way to develop some camaraderie in the competition and find some potential betas for non-competition work.

2. The FORUM. This was invaluable source for both networking and feedback. In this competition, once the competitors received confirmation that their stories were received, they were allowed to start posting their stories to the forum for feedback. There are an abundance of other topics on the forum as well, but I focused my energy on the short-story reviews, where I definitely got the most bang for my entry-fee-buck. Much like with the betas, some participants are more constructive and helpful than others. (I could write a whole separate post on how to provide constructive feedback, even if you don’t like a piece!) At the end of they day, the goal for most participants is to network and get constructive feedback. Pretty much everyone I met on the forum will return the favor if you read their story and post a review for them. Read and review stories in your heat and in others, and be considerate when posting feedback!

3. RTFR! (A competition-based take on “Read The F* Manual.”) Although I’m sure it’s not what did me in with my second round piece, I completely overlooked the font setting in my Word document until too late. They are very specific in outlining the rules as to formatting (document type, word count, font type and size). Non-adherence to the rules can and will result in either point deductions or disqualifications. I know one competitor who made it to round 2 despite not adhering to font requirements, but as competition toughens, those deductions may make a bigger difference.

4. Network! It’s essential in this business. Most of us who write do so to fulfill a creative need or as an outlet, but for those who strive to see their name in print, networking is a critical piece to success. In this particular setting, there are many avenues available to network, including the forums and beta-reading, as I already mentioned. There is also a Twitter feed for the competition, which I found particularly fun and helpful at boosting spirits during Round 2. Networking is a great way to expand your reach. You just never know who might find your blog, or follow your tweets, and be a key factor in achieving your writing goals.

5. Have fun! It’s a competition, so there will always be those who take themselves (or the challenge) too seriously. Don’t be that person! Learn from your fellow writers, ignore those who are “Negative Nellies” and remember to enjoy it. Even when you are trying to upload your story at 23:58 and you’re so nervous you could scream!

How about you? What did you take away from your last writing competition or challenge?

Thanks for reading and happy trails!

🙂 Sara

P.S. The 2015 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition is open for registration! See you there?

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