Old Story, Surprising Results

By Darlene Cah
2016 was my love/hate relationship with writing year. It was a year of questioning whether or not I even want to continue. It was a year of just plain being tired of everything.

My job was particularly demanding, and because I write for a living, often the last thing I wanted to do was start up the computer when I got home for anything other than checking in with friends and family on Facebook. I have two unfinished short stories that I think have promise, but devoting time to them was always an inconvenience. Work, going out to dinner, the latest sappy Hallmark movie, cleaning the litter boxes, daydreaming about what I would do with the Powerball jackpot, all became perfectly reasonable excuses not to sit down and work on them. But when I did carve out an hour or two, I was transported to that magical place in the moment where my characters came alive and the words flowed, maybe not perfect words, but words. Even if I spent 15 minutes and managed to write only a paragraph, I felt as if I accomplished something. But months would go by between working on just one story. Forget writing two!

I would read the market listings, and think: Oh, my coming-of-age story would be a great fit for this journal. Too bad it’s not finished. My bull story that’s inching its way toward novella could work in this magazine—if only I would finish it!

When I re-read last year’s post outlining my goals for 2016, I realized I was in a similar place, a pivotal point in my writing and my life. I ended by saying I was going to chill out, take the pressure off writing and publishing, submitting if I had something ready to go, but not on any kind of deadline. In that respect, I accomplished what I set out to do. Unfortunately, being so laid back didn’t produce finished work.

But I needed to accomplish something. One day, while scouring the markets, I came across the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. I’d seen this contest before and had wanted to enter, but didn’t think I had anything that would be a good fit. I checked the categories and saw Flash Fiction was one of them. I wouldn’t have time to write something new, as the deadline was near, so I dug through my files to see if I had anything I could polish up and send out. I found one of the first flash stories I’d ever written, a lyrical piece under 200 words, called “The Rest of her Life.” I dusted it off, gave it a once-over, and submitted.

I had no expectations, but in past contests, I’d been a finalist, an honorable mention and a second-place winner. Always the bridesmaid… I had a little bit of hope, but I understood the reality of submitting anywhere. One judge or editor might love a story; another might gag. A couple of months later, I got the email from the Keats competition, and I had to read it over and over, because it said I’d won. Not Honorable Mention. Not second place. First place in the Flash Fiction category. Won. It felt unreal. I had to read the email yet again. I felt encouraged, still tired, but more confident. The little story I’d almost forgotten, shoved in an old file folder reminded me I could…and should…write.

Happy holidays, fellow writers. May your 2017 sparkle with fresh words.

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