The NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge is an annual challenge for writers to create a story of 1,000 words or less in 48 hours. At the beginning of the clock you are assigned a genre, a location, and a random object that has to appear in the story. There are four challenge phases. Each entrant submits stories for phases 1 & 2 where points are given. Then the top point earners move on to phase three, and the top there move to phase four. Every story is judged and writers receive feedback for each story submitted (one per challenge phase).
I learned about this challenge the day before registration closed, which was two days before the competition started. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to enter. The entry fee was $50 at that point, and though there is potential to win cash and prizes, I wasn’t sure how much I would benefit from the experience. (I don’t anticipate winning) I let my loved ones talk me into getting involved because no matter what, it sounded fun. Now the crazy weekend is over and here is what I learned from participating in just round one.
1. Making time and clearing commitments was essential.
Though flash fiction is short, it takes time to be concise. I’m grateful my husband doesn’t mind last-minute changes. We had other plans for the weekend but nothing that couldn’t be moved around or cancelled. It wasn’t so much that I was writing every hour that I was awake, but that, when I wasn’t writing, I could wander both mentally or physically as needed. This freedom gave me the space to develop four different stories for the challenge. I narrowed it down to two by the end, and that’s where the second takeaway comes in.
2. Understanding genre is important. I’ve never written a ghost story. I’ve written scary scenes and worked on thriller projects, but I’ve never done a true ghost story. NYC Midnight explains their definition of each genres on their website and they include examples from both literature and film. With just 48 hours to create and polish a story, I didn’t think I should spend too many hours researching. When it came down to choosing between the two stories I was happy with, I looked to see which story best fit the assignment given. After close examination, my favorite of the two seemed to fit the horror genre better. So I chose to submit the favorite of my beta readers.
3. Having alpha/beta readers was a big help. There’s no time to put this project “in the drawer” to get some space from it, which is a typical writers trick for perspective. Thus I relied heavily on my family and a few trusted friends for honest feedback. I’ve experimented a lot with flash fiction this year and my readers have been instrumental in my growth as a writer. (Thank you everyone!)
4. Find things that put you in the head space of the work. This goes back to genre a bit, but I found this invaluable. I changed the background in Scrivener (my writing program of choice) to an eerie graveyard scene and listened to creepy music while writing. When I was done writing on Saturday I started watching Stranger Things on Netflix. So even though I was done with my writing for the day, I kept my head in the genre through the evening. This helped a lot. The next morning I woke up with a whole new story idea which ended up being the horror story I wrote. Even though I didn’t use the story for the contest, I like it and will publish it elsewhere. I’m finding that keeping your head in the work, even when you aren’t writing, helps me write better, whether it’s flash fiction, a novel, or even non-fiction.
5. Reminder, sure writing is hard work but it can be lots of fun. Writing for a living means my favorite thing to do is also the thing I dread Monday morning. Ok, not really but you get my point. Writing is my job, but it’s also what I love to do, it’s how I process things, and as such I sometimes forget how much fun it can be. This contest really brought that home for me. Flash fiction is a great medium to challenge yourself as a writer to do something new. It can take you away from the everyday grind and perhaps be an introduction to a new concept or story idea you hadn’t thought of before. I’m looking forward to the Next Flash Fiction Challenge happening in September.
Bonus: In the past I’ve been known to say something along the lines of: “I hate Twitter, it’s stupid.” You know what’s really stupid? Hating something you haven’t taken the time to understand. Over the past six months I’ve gotten involved in the writing community on Twitter and have really come to love it. What an awesome group of people! Checking in with other writers via the #flashfictionchallenge hashtag over the weekend was a great way to connect and cheer others on. It also helped remind me that, though I often feel like it, I am not alone in this writing journey.
Wishing everyone a week full of your favorite kind of success.
Much love and thanks for reading,