Back in December 2015 Radhika Meganathan, a writer friend from Chennai (India), was visiting London and we had a lunchtime catch-up in the hubbub that is Westfields just before Christmas. She told me about her 12×12 Short Story Writing Challenge that she would be hosting again in 2016. I loved the idea.
Most writers work better with deadlines, but what was also compelling for me was the idea that I would get some much-longed for feedback on my writing. All I had to do each month, along with everyone else on the challenge, was to write a new and complete short story of between 1,000 and 6,000 words and then critique the stories submitted by the rest of the group. A great opportunity to work on my craft and skills, and pull together a collection of stories. I was in.
Now, with only two weeks left of 2016, those of us still in the challenge – about less than half who started back in January – are looking toward celebrating our achievement. No small thing when every participant has so many other priorities and commitments to focus on. In fact, throughout my involvement I have both loved and hated being part of the challenge because of those very things.
What I have loved is …
… the challenge of working through to a completed story each month. The process has involved: wondering what tale to tell, how to weave it into a cohesive, punchy, satisfying whole; starting to jot ideas down and have one, or a combination of ideas, begin to flow and meld into something akin to a story someone, anyone, would want to read; hanging out with some new characters; delving into different landscapes and locations; reaching an end point. For too long I have kept several electronic folders full of started, incomplete and sketched-out stories lurking in the near periphery of my consciousness like persistent mosquitoes buzzing just out of sight. Last year (2015) I think I only completed three stories, so now, with the end of the year in sight, I have 12 complete stories. That achievement is a major confidence boost.
… the challenge of critiquing a significant number of good stories each month. Surrendering myself to new worlds. Exposing my heart and mind to quirky plots, intricacies of erudition, the curious and the fantastical. Seeking ways to clarify the hunch that something does/not work. Figuring out how best to explain a particular problem.
… that my fellow writing challenge participants were willing to give their honest and learned opinions about my work, always managing to highlight something useful, from a bloody obvious typo to some crucial element of the story that’s missing, like a plot hole or a lack of clearly-evoked emotion or a poorly-described scene.
… feeling flattered that these same folk have looked forward to my comments on their stories.
What I have hated is …
… how some months, after taking time out to work on other projects, I suddenly found there are only about a few days in which to produce a decent, rather than very rough, draft.
… how I never gave myself enough time to get the depth and richness out of a story because I didn’t use the full month between submissions to work on what was presenting itself and make the story even better.
… that doing my monthly critiques took me an inordinate amount of time ( I call it being thorough…).
… that each month I wondered if I could keep the momentum going when I had a shit load of other things I was and am trying to move forward. In the end, continuing with the benefits of staying in the challenge outweighed the considerations to quit and the consequent anxieties. I dearly wanted to get on with those other things, but I stuck with the challenge because I was benefiting in a whole host of ways.
Overall I loved…
… completing a fresh batch of stories
… getting concrete feedback about my work
… my writing craft being richly informed and developed by the review process (both giving and receiving critiques)
On a final note about the challenge
A side benefit of being in India during my participation in the challenge was that I got to meet some of the other writers, all of whom were previously unknown to me. Rads, our challenge founder and moderator, has been in the writing world for a long while. She’s run and hosted several writing workshops and online courses, and given talks and encouragement to many other groups. In April 2016 Rads hosted a challenge get-together and I was lucky enough to be able to join them and meet some of the Chennai wing for an afternoon of chat. The meet-up was such fun. Meeting people who for the previous few months had simply been stories, reviews and a few email comments appeared as their real, non-virtual selves in the comfort of a cosy diner in north-central Chennai. As I often find with writers, they were all great people – interesting, quirky, vivacious, thoughtful, wise, funny, opinionated, curious, responsive, intelligent.
If Rads decides to run the challenge again next year, I probably won’t take part – not only does a novel beckon, but I’ve got 12 stories need some thorough editing – but if she runs it again in 2018, well then I could be on board with that one.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to crafting my collection of completed (woohoo) stories into something I’ll be proud to see out in the world.