The Wax and Wane of Writing

The Wax and Wane of Writing

Not to brag, but I’m the first ever win­ner of the Mash Sto­ries com­pe­ti­tion. Okay, I meant to brag a lit­tle. I write this to fore­warn you, the reader and likely writer. It’s not often that one finds one­self in the pres­ence of such a contest-winner, unless you hap­pen to be that contest-winner, as I am.  Or was, at least. We’ll get to that.

Every­thing was roses at the end of that first con­test. My for­merly frag­ile writer’s ego puffed and beamed. Mash Sto­ries was one of my first writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions, and I inflated with the unrea­son­able thought that maybe — just maybe — they would all go like this.

As time passed, there was no ques­tion that I would enter again. It seemed unlikely that I would win, how­ever. How could I? There would be out­rage. Mobs of angry Mash­ers, tal­ented writ­ers in their own right, would rise up against the appar­ent favoritism. “No!” I would shout back. “Read the story!” And they would, and would love it, and would send in beau­ti­fully crafted apol­ogy notes and lit­tle can­dies. Still, I’m watch­ing my fig­ure, so best to avoid all that.

Reach­ing for my lap­top, I penned a follow-up. It was a return to the­matic writ­ing, like my first story, yet with a smaller cast and larger set­ting. The loosely auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal theme was how even respon­si­ble par­ents can inad­ver­tently put their chil­dren in dan­ger. It was set in space, a loca­tion I’ve long been enam­ored with. I felt I had pretty good story. Then I read the word count: 1,031, more than twice the con­test limit.

Lit­tle by lit­tle, I honed it down. At first the edits were exhil­a­rat­ing, and a bet­ter story began to emerge. I fin­ished another draft, and my heart sank. I was still well above 500 words and felt I’d have to take dras­tic measures.

You come to a point in every Mash story where you feel you have it, you have the story you like, but it’s too heavy. I could have started afresh, but time had grown too short. I need to make this one fit. What to do? Do you pick out every extra­ne­ous word, like clear­ing a clut­tered room? Or do you remove entire sec­tions, like excis­ing an inflamed appen­dix? My story appeared to require both.

Neutered but still respectable, I sub­mit­ted. And waited. And wilted. The email came that I had not been short­listed. I knew, even as dis­ap­point­ment gripped me, that the judges were cor­rect. And so I had fallen. I had gone from win­ner to spec­ta­tor in three months, washed out to sea in the tide of Mash.

I won’t pre­tend that I wasn’t deflated. Every writer faces rejec­tion, but it’s never easy. It comes with a choice: does one con­tinue on in this jour­ney or does one resign more fully to other pursuits?

Nod­ding, I archived the rejec­tion email and set my resolve. We are writ­ers. We write. We can more eas­ily change night into day than change that fact about our­selves. I remem­bered a rhyme I had writ­ten for myself:

Write not for for­tune
write not for fame
write out for fic­tions
who whis­per your name.

Every quar­ter, the lat­est Mash Sto­ries con­test brings another oppor­tu­nity to write your best story. A lot of tal­ented peo­ple are notic­ing Mash, and it’s becom­ing more than sim­ply a com­pe­ti­tion. It’s grow­ing into a com­mu­nity, and a com­mu­nity affords a writer many more oppor­tu­ni­ties. Like this: the oppor­tu­nity to write an inspi­ra­tional blog post for Mash­ers, to boast one more time, and to hide a secret mes­sage in the para­graphs above. Just for instance.

This post first appeared on the Mash Sto­ries blog.

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