This was going to be a blog post about short story writing competitions, and to a certain extent it still is, though not in the way that I'd imagined. Last Wednesday, while waiting for a delivery that hadn't shown up, I was browsing through Twitter and came across a 50-word short story competition being run by the Scottish Book Trust in association with The Literary Gift Company. So I had a quick look at it. (Incidentally, the competition - at the time of writing - is still open. Why not give it a go?)
The task was a seemingly simple one: in 50 words, write a fairy story. OK, I thought, I'll give it a go. Starting with "Once upon a time...", off I went. Now, I didn't get a 50 word story. Instead, what I ended up with was a 350-word piece of flash fiction, still staying with the competition's brief, that came more-or-less fully-formed and was out of my head and down on paper in half an hour. A bit of tidying-up and it was done.
I was in the middle of something else. I was a bit distracted - the delivery never arrived, by the way - and so was grateful for the task. But, and here's the little lesson I reinforced to myself: you never know where the stories might be lurking.
So, keep yourself open to opportunities and springboards. Look at competitions and magazine calls for submissions in particular, because they often come with a rubric, an idea, a theme, or a start point. These can be really useful for triggering ideas. They can work better than author website or creative writing guide how-to prompts, as they're "real world".
It doesn't matter if what you produce doesn't really fit with the competition. It doesn't matter if you've no intention in entering the competition, or sending the story off to that publication. What does matter is reminding yourself that, when the stars align, you can do this and produce something out of nothing.
Big thanks, therefore, to the competition organisers, for providing the writing prompt. And as for the story itself, which I've called The Girl and the Sadness Inside? Well, you can read it here.