Save Me! I’m Advancing to Round 3 – NYC Midnight SSC 2015

Last night, I found out my ghost story, “The Darkness Whispers” placed 5th in its group. Which means I’m advancing to the third and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge this weekend.

Yeah, to be completely honest, I’m not sure how I feel about advancing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m honored and grateful to get the chance to compete in the final round. And I’m so proud of myself for making it to the top 40 (the competition started out with over 1,400 writers).

But, still…Ugh.

I went through round three last year, and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life! Seriously, last year when I found out I made it to the final round, I looked like this:

OMG

This year, I looked like this:

Okay, let me explain why I’m dreading this round so much, especially for those who might not know how the NYC Midnight SSC works.

There are three rounds in the competition, and each one is sudden death. So, if you don’t place in the top five of your group (there are approximately 30 writers/group), then you’re cut–eeks! As you progress through the competition, the guidelines for each round change:

Round 1: Competitors are given eight days and 2,500 words to write a story based off an assigned set of prompts (ex: horror, medical tourism, a 50-year old woman). That’s doable! Not easy, of course, but I definitely have enough time to think of a decent plot, develop it, and then revise and edit it until I’m–generally–satisfied with the final product.

Round 2: This time, competitors only have three days and 2,000 words. Although this is a lot tougher than round one, it’s still doable. I just have to rev up the creative engines faster, quicken my pace, and be willing to submit a story I needed a little more time to edit.

Round 3: In this final round, competitors only get one day and 1,500 words to write a story. That’s it! And, as you’ve figured out by now, it’s terrible. To do everything–develop, create, rewrite, revise, edit, submit–in 24-hours is painful. Literally. Last year, I slept less than two hours during the round, nearly fainted because I forgot to eat (doh!), and experienced heart palpitations off and on.

I mean it. Round three is intense. No, it’s insane!

But, this is why it’s called the Short Story Challenge, right? It’s not meant to be easy. It’s suppose to push me to my limits and see what I can do under a lot of pressure. So, despite my anxieties and fears, I’ll battle my way through this weekend’s mayhem and write the best story I can!

To help me get through the final round, I’ve created a basic “battle plan”. If I follow these steps, I should be able to make it to the finish line…(ahem, should):

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1. Brainstorm! The biggest benefit of round three is we get to choose our own genre. That means I can think of a few concepts before I receive my assignment, and then mold it to whatever my other two assigned prompts are (character and subject). I actually have one specific idea I’d like to pursue, so hopefully I can make it work!

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2. Sleep! As difficult as it is to sleep during the 24-hour deadline, I have to. My brain doesn’t function properly if I don’t get enough rest. So, I need to go to bed at some point during the process, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

garfield-birthday-cake3. EAT! As I mentioned earlier, I forgot to eat during last year’s round three. I was so focused and so drawn into my story, I didn’t even think about it. By the time I did, over 12-hours had passed and when I stood up, I nearly collapsed…Yeah, super smart! To prevent such a moronic mistake again, I’ll be setting an alarm on my phone to remind myself to get up and eat something every few hours.

reader-clipart-Person_Reading_Book_clip_art_hight4. Use beta readers! As difficult as it is, I need to try and send my story out to beta readers on Saturday to get their valuable input. This means I’ll need to quicken my pace even more so I’m able to send them a decent draft as early as possible. Otherwise, I won’t have time to fix whatever problems they find.

zcXedjMbi5. Breathe! I need to remember to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Even if it’s only five minutes at a time, I need to stand up, walk away from my computer, and breathe. Relax. Clear my head. Regain my center!…I know this will be the most difficult part of my battle plan to execute. I stink at taking breaks!

Hopefully if I follow this general plan of attack, I’ll be able survive round three!

And if I don’t and I completely fall apart, well…I’ll still be proud of myself. These challenges are not easy (even when there’s more time and words to use), and the competition is fierce. I can’t tell you how many amazing stories I read in the first two rounds that didn’t make the cut. So, no matter what happens this weekend, and no matter how rough things might get, I’ll be proud of myself for making it this far and giving the final round a shot!

Good luck to all those who are also competing in round three of the NYC Midnight SSC! And thank you to everyone who sent me a congratulatory message. More than anything else, your encouraging words and positive vibes will be what get me through this weekend.

Round 1: The Ark 

(Assignment: 2,500 words, 8 days, horror, medical tourism, 50-year old woman) 

Round 2: The Darkness Whispers 

(Assignment: 2,000 words, 3 days, ghost story, a statue, a waitress) Please note:  Since I’m planning to expand this story into a full novel, I have added a password to protect it. If you would like to access it, please send me a message and I will provide it to you.

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Photo credits: 

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Boo Hoo – 2nd Round – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’m happy to announce I made it through the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

Last week, I found out my story, The Ark, advanced me to round two. After doing a little “woo-hoo” dance, I began mentally preparing myself for the shorter deadline (three days, not eight) and smaller word count (2,000, not 2,500).

I actually felt much better going into this round than I did round one. During round one, my entire life had been a mess and I was exhausted from working on my manuscript. This time, my life was–relatively–calm, and I had plenty of energy to get me through the crazy three day deadline.

The whirlwind started on Friday morning. I woke up and looked at my second round assignment:

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BLAHHHHHH!

Yep, not gonna lie. I wasn’t happy with my assigned prompts. Even though they didn’t include comedy or romance, I was irritated I’d received “Ghost Story”. In my opinion, it’s one of those genres that’s hard to be original and surprising with–and I pride myself on being both of those things.

Plus, the “statue” and “waitress” prompts were uninspiring and dull to me. I just didn’t feel anything when I saw them.

Luckily, I remembered a concept I’d thought of months ago after listening to Ella Henderson’s song, “Ghost”, and my “blah” transformed into an “ah-ha!” I quickly called my mom and sister to see what they thought of it, and they liked it too. 

Phew! 

During my 40-minute commute–yes, I had to go to work that day, and yes, I was annoyed about it–I brainstormed a general plot so that when I sat down at my desk, I could jump right into things…Unfortunately, work ended up being a lot busier than I’d expected, and I spent most of the day crying on the inside while watching my precious time tick away.

By the time I left work, I’d only managed to write a few paragraphs, and I wasn’t happy with any of them–gah! To make matters worse, on my way home, my sister called to see if I could run a last minute errand with her, and it was an errand I couldn’t say no to. So I ended up losing even more time.

I was on the verge of a meltdown. I’d basically lost one of my three precious days–ahhh!

Once I finally got home, I went straight into hermit mode. I locked my doors, put on my PJs, and huddled up on my couch to write.

I barely made it a third of the way through my first draft when I threw in the towel. You know it’s time to shut things down for the day when you work on the same two paragraphs for three hours. Plus, my house started making creepy sounds right when I reached the ghost scenes. I yelled at it to stop freaking me out and went to bed (and hid under the covers, haha).

On Saturday, I woke up around 5 AM and got to work. I felt much calmer, steadier, and more focused than I had on Friday. It helped to know I had nowhere to go and no obligations to uphold. The day was mine.

By mid-morning I had a first draft. Around the time I finished it, my mom showed up to offer support and provide feedback. I wasn’t expecting this, but I was grateful. My mom is so amazing during these contests. Not only will she help me edit my stories to death, but she’ll give me 100% honest feedback, especially during my early drafts.

If a plot is boring or cliche, she’ll tell me. If a character is annoying or unlikeable, she’ll point it out. If there’s a way to twist things around and surprise the reader, she’ll suggest it. Seriously, without my mom, my stories wouldn’t be what they are. She’s the best ever!

(You are cool, Mom. Thank you!)

Anyway, as I made myself breakfast, my mom read my first draft.

“Well?” I nervously asked once she’d finished.

She was silent.

Oh no…

Finally, she turned and looked at me. “Honestly? I think you could submit this and be fine.”

I. Was. Shocked!

My mom has never said that about a first draft of mine. Usually, she says, “It’s a good start…” Or, “It would be better if you…” Or, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it–at all.”

Her positive feedback dissolved the anxious knot in my stomach and gave me the boost I needed. We spent the next two hours reading through my story to figure out its weak points, and then my mom left so I could focus on a second draft. I was able to finish it by dinner and send it back to her for more feedback. She called me soon after:

“Hey, I read it.” She sounded out of breath.

“Uh, are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She laughed. “I just ran out of breath reading your story. Your ending…sheesh!”

Suffice it to say, she liked it.

We decided to read through the story again over the phone to track down its weak spots–and there were still many. More backstory here, better descriptions there…Thankfully (and miraculously) I was still 500 words under the word count limit, so I had plenty of room to expand and improve things.

By early Sunday morning, I finished a third draft and sent it off to a handful of beta readers. As their feedback trickled in, I noticed the biggest concern was the “ghost story” aspect. Some of my readers didn’t think it would technically qualify.

So, grumbling and mumbling, I went to work rewriting parts to ensure it would qualify…Thank God for Peanut M&M’s. Those little sanity savers are what get me through those beepity-beep! moments.

10359514_10102091520073993_3929706847775812655_n(Seriously, I went through that entire bag over the weekend…Don’t judge me!)

As I worked on infusing more of a ghost flare to my story, my mom showed up to help me in the final stretch of the process. We read the story out loud about a billion times to search for flaws, rework sentences, and chop out words to get it below the word count (because of course I ended up going over the 2,000 limit).

Around 3 p.m., I hit my “I’m over this!” wall and submitted it.

So, another challenge completed and another story in the bucket. Overall, I’m satisfied with its outcome. I’m not sure what others will think of it–I never do–but considering I only had three days and 2,000 words at my disposal (and had to write a blasted ghost story), I’m proud of it.

As always, I’ll be posting my story here once I get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight. For now, here is my title and synopsis:

The Darkness Whispers

Brief Synopsis: Jude, a tormented artist, is haunted by the memory of his murdered muse. Self-loathing, insanity, and terror drive him to the edge of darkness.

Did you participate in the second round of the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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Writing update with a side of Friday funny

Happy Friday! Hope you had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend. I know I am. My plans are pretty simple: Go see Catching Fire and then write, write, write! I plan on hitting the 50,000 NaNo word count later today or early tomorrow (YAY!), but I still have half a book to go, so my journey isn’t over yet.

Plus, as the month of December approaches, I have a couple of other projects I need to temporarily shift my focus to. One is a short story for an open call submission for an anthology about ghosts. This will be a challenge since I’ve never written a ghost story, but what the hey, right? A bigger challenge will be my second project: Writing/creating two children’s books for my nephews. Each Christmas, I write them a story based on their life and then manipulate real photos of them in Photoshop to use as illustrations (here is the one I created for my nephew Dane last year). Writing children’s stories doesn’t come naturally for me, and with all the Photoshopping and book designing involved, they take me FOREVER. But, they’re worth it when I see the reaction from my family on Christmas morning. And, more importantly, the reaction I hope to see from my nephews someday when they’re older and can look back at the colorful series about their lives.

So, as you can see, even though NaNo is over for me, my weekends will continue to be mini writing marathons. But, I can’t complain. How can I? I LOVE writing!

Anyways, to send you off for your weekend, I thought I’d share one of my favorite How I Met Your Mother moments. It made me laugh this morning, so I thought it might make you laugh too.

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Have a great weekend!