Story time: Extending one’s comfort zone in writing

Writing in the old times. Photo: fictivestina ©

2017 has been a year of writing and getting out of my comfort zone. Well, this blog business started last year already, but let me tell you, this year I found the bliss of writing competitions.

“The journey, Not the destination matters…”
~T.S. Eliot

Eliot strikes a fair point, this applies to many situations in life, usually of the more abstract kind. When it comes to actual journeys – let’s say on an airplane – you look forward to the destination and the journey is nothing but a tedious fact that has to be dealt with and is never over as fast as you’d hope to.

In terms of writing, I love the fact that one gets things done. It does not matter per se that it is extremely difficult to be short listed. Even ending up on a Long List would be a dream come true. I think the boundary between the journey and the destination is the deal you make with yourself. For me, finishing a project that I personally value means more than the result(s) of the project.

During the summer I had some extra time on my hands, so I finally finished a very important project for me – writing a short story. I sent it to a neat writing contest by an English publication in Germany. It was for the most part coincidental that I noticed their advertisement for the contest. But on some level, I also fell victim to the pretty logos and fonts used on the publication site. The whole concept screamed “participate!” at me, so I did, and boy am I glad that I actually did. The topic of the overall competition fitted perfectly to my situation.

But, alas, nothing is ever as simple as it may at first seem. What ended up as a short story began originally as a project for a novel. And even before the novel, there was a Master’s thesis. Even as a student I already knew that I’d never make it big in the world of academia – my thesis on the spectrum of global governance within world politics was a journalistic work and I have evidence for this. The thesis reviewer put it plain on paper. I also think the use of science fiction quotes serving a demonstrative effect in the thesis was a bit of a brave move that left the reviewers perplexed.

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Okay, so before there was a short story, the novel began to take its form in the Southern hemisphere along the Equator. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, in a previous phase of my life I was stationed in Kenya for two years (you can read about one of my adventures in the blog post Once Upon a Time in Africa). This is actually not too many years ago but it seems more. So many things have happened in the meantime.

The process of writing the novel began while I was living in Nairobi. Part of the reason for this is that it always got dark between 6 and 7 pm depending on the time of the year, so the options of evening activities were limited. It always required – and I’m sure this would be excellent fuel for another adventure story or two – a fair amount of work to call for a taxi – so during weekdays one naturally opted to stay at home. Okay, so I was staying at home and tapping on the keyboard. I probably should have done more tapping on my laptop, since the novel never wrote itself. I made very slow progress, basically a line here and there every now and then. I have to admit, at times I prioritized going on safaris and looking for a leopard. With the former activity I was fairly successful but I never spotted a leopard which I’ll always be frustrated about.

Eventually the stay in Kenya came to an end and I moved back to Finland. The home turf has always turned out to be filled with too many distractions in order for me to find time for writing, so the novel slept while I was active elsewhere – be it working, jogging or volunteering.

Some years went by and I found myself abroad once again. This time the BIG distraction was Asian work culture, so there was absolutely no time for writing. To be honest, there was NO TIME for anything else either.

However, in the back of my mind, I was looking for the contextual solution for the book. I was stuck with the ending, even after 48 sheets – the number of pages the book has thus far reached. And the novel is still stuck at those 48 sheets. Maybe some pretty day it will become more.

All in all, and I’m sincerely sorry for the pons asinorum turn this blog has taken, once I laid eyes on the writing contest presented by the English publication in the coolest European capital – Berlin – I was instantly smitten. To make a long story short, I squeezed the concept of the original 48 sheets of paper into a 3000 word entity. Also the greatest of all is that the story found its ending. I submitted the story, was not long listed but felt extremely happy. I did it! The feeling of having accomplished something is wonderful.

Once I got going with writing there were suddenly no limits. Realistic facts of life entered the scene, though. The facts are there: First of all, I don’t have enough of time to dedicate to writing. Secondly, I could never support myself financially with writing or have the talent for it. In order to be successful and get a five-second slot in the spotlight of fame one would have to do wonders and be gifted. I’m happy in my role as an amateur writer.

It could be that this very luggage once made it to Africa, but who knows? Photo: fictivestina©
It could be that this very luggage once made it to Africa, but who knows? Photo: fictivestina©

Now I’m getting to the fun part. As a great compromise and solution for people with limited time for writing or with limited concentration skills, I found another bliss – prompt and mini contests. You’d be surprised how many 115 character or word, first line contests, and other thematic limited-number-of-word contests there are. These contests are perfect ways to rehearse writing, and you can get so much accomplished in only 10 minutes. They keep you going but don’t swallow you.

The question is how to get noticed in these very said competitions. It’d be super great to be picked out from the crowd, even by the silliest of organizers. I wouldn’t mind.

Let me reveal a bit more. Below is a product I sent to one of these competitions in the sci-fi category. The end result was to fit into 115 characters including spaces. I think the result manages to display my entire potential which might not be much but in my view incorporates some wickedness and mystery 🙂 Just a disclaimer: The piece below is a work of fiction and is in no way connected to my actual life. So, with that said and hopefully no law and order fellas ending up on my doorstep, what do you think of the prompt below?

“Mandatory government lottery – I won a ticket to a space colony on Mars. What would my probation officer say?”

While the novel is in deep freeze, the short story is getting wild in the world. Once the 3000 word story didn’t make the cut in the Germany-based contest, I sent it to another competition. Once it arrives back empty handed – I’m realistic about this and don’t have my hopes up too high – I think I will publish it as an e-book or something. A great way to annoy your friends and amaze your enemies!

Also, stay tuned, I might shock you with some of my other masterpieces. The other ones I’ve sent out to the world are still under scrutiny, so I rather not make them public as of yet. So hold your horses!


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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