Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

I know many people don’t want to take the time or spend the money on entering writing contests. I was in the same boat up until a year ago. Then I took the plunge and entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013 last fall, and then the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2014 this past spring. And whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I entered these contests, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…WRONG! In just two measly challenges, my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually kind of embarrassed by what I considered my “best”. I won’t even let my friends or colleagues look at my old work.

So, what has writing flash fiction/short stories taught me, exactly? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • Write a complete story. To make a story truly shine, all facets of it must be developed and balanced equally. Plot, characters, scenery, etc. If you miss or lax on one, it stands out to readers.
  • Characters count. Characters carry a large portion of a story’s weight. Making them as 3D and likable as possible is a must. Also, too many of them tend to be confusing/burdensome for a reader. So, make each one count, and make each one memorable.
  • Keep it simple! Chop, chop, chop. Do you really need that character? Do you really need to talk about that fact?  Short stories force you to take a step back and consider what’s vital to a plot. If it’s not pushing it forward or making it deeper, get rid of it.
  • Take the road less traveled. Go outside the box. Be creative! Ask yourself, “Is this different? Will it make me stand out?” Example: In round one of the Short Story Challenge 2014, I received these prompts: Suspense, wedding, chef. My first impulse? Write a story about a bride and groom who are trying to off each other, and in the end the bride poisons the groom with the help of the chef. I immediately tossed it out and forced myself to dig deeper and think beyond the obvious. And I’m glad I did. Most of my competitors wrote stories about poisoned food and vindictive brides and grooms. Mine, “Chasing Monsters,” as nothing of the sort. And–mostly–because of that, I landed myself a 2nd place finish.

Those are just a few things I’ve learned while participating in these challenges. To list all of them would take a decade. I will, however, point out some specific benefits of participating in an NYC Midnight Challenge.

The main one is their forum. NYC Midnight offers competitors a location to interact and share their stories with each other. And I love it! The forum helps you:

  • Overcome your fear of sharing your work with others.
  • Discover what you do well. Positive feedback is always nice to hear, right?
  • Learn to open yourself up to constructive criticism. If you’re planning to enter the Harsh Land of Publishing, you will need to know how to do this. Trust me.
  • Meet other writers! While doing these challenges, I have gained a lot of friends and colleagues. I’ve also found a few trustworthy beta readers to help me with my future work.

So, with all of that said, registration has officially opened for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014. I strongly–strongly–encourage you to consider entering it. Yes, it costs some money, and yes, the actual challenge is, well, a challenge. But I promise, if you go into it with the right attitude and participate on the forum, every penny and every stressful second will be worth it. Plus, the manuscript you’re working on now, or will be in the future, will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me (as are my beta readers–ha!).

20140618-CaptureIt-PictureOf course, the NYC Midnight writing challenges aren’t the only ones out there. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge, or aren’t in a position to spend the moola, then I still encourage you to look into a blog or website that hosts free weekly challenges. My favorite is Chuck Wendig’s, terribleminds.

 You have until July 17th to take advantage of the early entry fee. There’s also a Twitter discount, so be sure to use that to lower the cost even more.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

To learn more about the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, click here!


Friday Funny With Lots of Anxiety

Happy Friday, everyone! Well, as most of you know by now, it was a great week for me. On Wednesday morning I found out I advanced to the third and final round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Yippee!

Okay, so now that my initial excitement and shock has worn off, I’ve become a big bag of nerves. I’m just not sure how I’m going to handle this last round. I only have 24-hours to produce a 1,500 word story. 24 hours!!! That’s just downright insane. I mean, during the past two rounds, it’s taken me 24-hours just to think of an idea and write a rough draft. Like, rough…Ugh, this gonna be intense, guys.

To try and deal with this tight deadline, I’ve come up with a basic battle plan:

  1. Brainstorm story ideas NOW. Hopefully one of them can be molded to whatever prompts I receive…Of course, I’ve tried doing this in the past, and it never works. For example, last fall during the Flash Fiction Challenge, I thought of a cool idea for a horror story that revolved around darkness and claustrophobia…Well, to my delight, I DID receive horror as my genre, but the story had to take place on a CROWDED BEACH. Doh! Bye bye cool idea…haha. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try and be prepared, right? And I’ve come up with an idea I think could be great. I just need my prompts to fit it. *fingers crossed* 
  2. Start working tonight! Normally, I don’t look at my assignment until I wake up. Otherwise, I’ll be too wired to sleep. This time, I can’t wait. Every second will count. So, I’m going to stay up and see what I get. Thankfully, I’m in Denver, and the assignment is sent at 11:59 PM EDT. So, that means I’ll get it at 10 PM MST. Not too bad. 
  3. Solidify a concept tonight. Then try and start a first draft.
  4. SLEEP! I know some people may think this is stupid, but my brain can’t function on less than 3 hours of sleep. So to bed I must go!
  5. Wake up early and finish a rough draft. Send to my harshest critic, my mom, by mid-morning.
  6. Panic, groan, and cry a little.
  7. Revise, revise, revise!!!
  8. Finish a solid draft by mid-afternoon and send to my other beta readers.
  9. Hold my breath while waiting for their feedback. Maybe cry some more. Oh, eat something. Don’t forget to eat!
  10. Revise, revise, revise!!! AKA, chop, chop, chop! Word count is 1,500, and I have a nasty tendency to go at least 1,000 words over. So, I’m gonna have to whip out my hiyah’ing skills and chop away.
  11. Send final draft to readers by early evening.
  12. Whimper and try not to laugh hysterically.
  13. Tweak, polish, and shine the story up as much as possible.
  14. Read again…and again…and again. Search for any and all errors and plot holes.
  15. Sob or smile. It’ll depend on how I’m feeling about the final product.
  16. Close my eyes, say a prayer, and submit my story by 9:30 PM. The deadline is 10 PM, but I’m not risking it. I want some cushion time, just in case I hit a technical glitch.
  17. COLLAPSE!…And, maybe cry one more time 😉

So, there you go! That’s my plan for tackling the 3rd round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge…And I’m telling you right now 90% of it won’t happen–ha! My plans never work out the way I think they will. Oh well.

Anyways, in honor of my anxiety for this weekend’s intense writing competition, here is today’s Friday Funny:

funny-celebrity-pictures-writing-is-hardThank you to everyone who has sent me a nice note this week. You guys are so awesome and supportive.

How was your week? Have any fun plans for the weekend, ones that don’t involve pulling out your hair and having a mental breakdown? 😉

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Music Monday – Jessie J – Laserlight ft. David Guetta

Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

AHHHHH – I Made It to the Final Round

Friday Funny with a pinch of crazy

It’s Friday! Yippy!

As you can see, I’m very happy it’s Friday, mostly because that means tomorrow is Saturday and I’ll be able to write all day long without interruption. Well, hopefully. Interruption seems to be the theme of my life lately, and it’s really bogging down my progress with my manuscript. Between work, family obligations, life chores, blogging, writing contests, reading/reviews, I just never seem to have time to sit down and write (*cue long, frustrated sigh*). I even took Wednesday off work to try and catch up on it (and some much needed sleep), but I still didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped. I need to take a leaf out of my own book and use a variety of tips/strategies for finishing a manuscript in a timely fashion (NaNoWriMo tips – dealing with deadlines).

On the bright side, my short story, Chasing Monsters, has continued to receive (overall) positive reviews on the NYC Midnight forum. A couple of people have even suggested I submit it for publication. I think, however, I want to do something bigger with it. I have a new idea to combine Chasing Monsters with the flash fiction piece I did in the fall (Why?) for a full-length novel. It would definitely be a tough manuscript to produce (emotionally), but I think there’s potential for something really good.

Of course I also want to work on a ghost story I have in mind, as well as about three other ideas. AHHH! Too many stories to write, and not enough time! I might go crazy, guys. Seriously. I just need to win the lottery so I can stay home and write all day. Having a full-time job really slows things down, you know? Stupid bills. Stupid food and shelter and whatnot, haha.

Anyways, in honor of my overwhelmed self and the too many ideas/projects crowding my mind, here is today’s Friday Funny. Enjoy!

7f37ec33bcc88ec3b81b1fcf35ebd60aSo, how was your week? Are you making better progress with your manuscript than me? Read any good books I should know about?

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

A proud sister today – Colorado Marketing Education Teacher of the Year

Book Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

How to choose a point of view for your novel

Friday Funny with a touch of frustration

Do you ever have one of those weeks where you set out with the best intentions to get a lot of stuff done (exercise, write, clean the house, write, blog, write, read a book (or two), blog some more, write some more, clean some more, write some more. Write, write, write…sensing a pattern yet?). But then life gets in the way and, before you know it, it’s Friday and you’ve hardly made a dent in your to-do list? Yeah, that was my week. I just couldn’t catch my breath and do what I needed/wanted to do (work on my manuscript). As an added stressful bonus, Denver is FREEZING. Like, dangerously freezing. We’re talking negative temperatures. On Wednesday night, I hopped in my car, and in a matter of two minutes, the temp on my dashboard plummeted from 15 degrees to this:

unnamedI’m telling you, it hurts to even walk outside right now. And everyone is dealing with frozen/breaking pipes, icy commutes, and drained car batteries (yesterday morning, I was 45 minutes late to work because a neighbor asked me to help her jump-start her car).

Normally I’m comforted by the fact that I can play catch up over the weekend, but the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge starts tonight and runs through the 15th. So now my manuscript will likely go untouched for at least the next two or three days (maybe more if I can’t get a solid draft for the contest knocked out tomorrow/Sunday). *frustrated sigh*…Now, don’t get me wrong, I am excited about this short story contest. I’ve been waiting months for it. I just wish I was in a better place with my manuscript. Oh well, oh well. (By the way, I’d appreciate your prayers, positive vibes and crossed fingers for this contest. I really, really, really don’t want to get assigned romantic comedy as my genre. I had to deal with that in the first round of the Flash Fiction Challenge last fall, and ick!).

Anyways, in honor of this week’s frustrations, and my inability to get my story out of my head and onto paper, here is today’s funny:

80647d0c17d4534f1a2a636459a1621cHow was your week? I hope it was less frustrating (and a lot warmer) than mine.

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

In case you missed my other posts this week, here they are!

Book of the Month – February

Happy Book Release Day – Cress by Marissa Meyer

The Devil’s in the Details–taking your fiction to the next level

Jen’s Pen Den Is on Facebook

Jen’s Pen Den is on Facebook! So take a moment to stop by and hit “Like”, and then invite your reading and writing friends to join too. On this page, I’ll be posting even more information about books, storytelling, publishing and the rest of the land of make believe.

Check it out here!


2014 – The Year of Writing

Well, we’re officially into the new year! After a rocky 2013, I have high hopes for 2014…although it hasn’t started out great. I’m currently dealing with remnants of an intense cold I had during the holidays, as well as frigid temperatures that have drained the battery of my car. But, I’m going to stay positive! I am!

Positive-friendsAnd, to be fair, positive things have happened. Although it’s only January 7th, I’ve already read two books (Fractured by Teri Terry and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell), and I’ve submitted a short ghost story for publication. I’m really excited about this story. It took me forever to think up a concept for it, and even longer to write it…Seriously, guys. Forever! I knew about this open call submission back in early November, but I didn’t actually get around to writing it until mid-December. And then I got sick and put it down until the last days of the year. I ended up writing and revising the whole thing in three days. However, the final product turned out much better than I’d hoped for. In fact, I’ve already decided regardless of what happens with my submission (accepted or rejected), I’m going to use this story as a jumping board into a much bigger story.

This inspiration has urged me to sit back and think about what I want to accomplish in 2014. So, I’ve made a few writing goals. I’m not going to lie, I’m being ambitious here. But I’m determined to be productive this year. I’m not going to drag my feet like I have in the past. This is going to be The Year of Writing for me!

writer1) Write 2 full manuscripts. This will begin with finishing, editing and querying my NaNoWriMo project, Fallers. After that, I plan to explore three other concepts I’ve come up with and then run with whichever one speaks to me most!

2) Enter at least 2 short story/flash fiction contests. Last fall, I decided to enter NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. I was terrified about this at the time (I’d never written a short story before, let alone a flash fiction), but I was more determined to expand my horizons and improve my writing skills. And I did! So, I’ve already entered NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge in February, and plan to enter their Flash Fiction Challenge in the fall again. If I have the energy, time and inspiration, I’ll also enter smaller contests throughout the year. I’m always a sucker for Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges.

3) Keep blogging! I never thought I’d be a blogger. I didn’t even know what blogging really was until I decided to start my own last summer. Now, I can’t imagine not blogging. Not only have I been able to share my love of reading and writing with others, but I’ve discovered an amazing community. So many of you have helped me learn more about myself, introduced me to new worlds and characters, and encouraged me to keep going when I’m ready to give up. You’re amazing! And being a part of this blogging community is amazing. I don’t know how I’ve managed to go this long without it. So, even though I might be slowing down to keep up with my other writing goals, I’m not quitting. My blog has become just as valuable to me as the books I read and the books I write! 

Well, that’s all for now. I’m afraid if I keep adding to the list, I won’t get any of it done! I plan to kick things off with returning to my NaNo projectFallers. I haven’t touched it since the end of November, after I hit the 50,000 word goal (my short ghost story was starting to scream for my attention by then, haha). Unfortunately, I have no choice but to start over with Fallers. It’s been too long not to. I’ve lost the flow of the plot and characters. Plus, I’ve thought of a few things I already want to change in the first 50,000 words I wrote.

So, fresh year, fresh start! Okay, let’s do this!

How about you? Do you have any writing goals for 2014? If so, what are they?

NaNo Update…And Stuff

As you may have noticed this week, my blog posts have slowed way down. Why, you ask? Because I have so much to do, and so little time! Honestly, November’s going to be a month where I just can’t find a moment to catch my breath. But, oh well. At least the things consuming my time and energy are the things I love to do most (reading/writing).

First: Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. I posted my horror story, “Why?” here, as well as on the NYC Midnight forum to receive feedback from the other competitors. To me, this is the best part of the competition (well, second best to actually writing the story). This is when I get vital feedback about my storytelling and writing skills. So far, the feedback for “Why?” has been positive. Yay! People seem to agree that I’m much better at writing horror than rom-com. Fine by me! Horror isn’t my normal genre, but it’s definitely closer than romantic comedy. Blerg!

In addition to all the positive feedback, there has also been constructive criticisms–AKA, golden nuggets. Like in Round 1 of this contest, I’ve learned so much about my bad writing habits, and the specific things I could improve upon. It’s so awesome. Stings for second, obviously, but then resonates and blooms into something useful and amazing.

As I’ve said time and again, I highly encourage other writers to enter these contests. They may not be the big, shiny manuscript you want published someday, but they’ll make that manuscript shine even brighter in the end.

Second: NaNoWriMo. Well, with the Flash Fiction Challenge swirling around me, things have gotten off to a slower start than I had planned with Fallers. I’ve been getting up every morning this week at 4 a.m. to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before heading off to work. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t been enough. I’m currently behind by about 2,500 words. I’m not panicking…yet. For me, 2,5000 words isn’t that bad. I can knock that out in a couple of hours–usually. I plan on writing all weekend to catch up and then get ahead with Fallers. Then I won’t have to be waking up at such a godawful hour (yes, I’m yawning as I type this).

How about you? Doing okay this week? How’s NaNo? Don’t give up on it! This is when you really need to start digging deep and pushing through the pain. I’m sure most of your initial exhilaration and determination is wearing off, but don’t stop. Remember, keep swimming! You can do it!

…If there are typos in this post, forgive me. I don’t have time to proof it a hundred times like I usually do, lol!


Writing, Writing, Writing – Flash Fiction Challenge Round 2 and NaNo

Whew! I survived the weekend. Guess what I did? I wrote. A LOT!

First off was Round 2 of the Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. Now, things got off to a bit of a rocky start Friday afternoon when I received my results from Round 1. (Yeah, not happy about that. It gave me no time to absorb the results, and worse, no explanation as to why I received those results.) Only the top 15 stories in each group got points. If you didn’t score high enough, you received zero. I received zero. Why? I don’t know! Haha! Over 400 people read Muck and Mire,  and I’d say 95% of those people loved it. A few even told me it was their favorite…I’m guessing my risky format got me disqualified. Or the person who judged it happened to be in that 5% who didn’t care for it. *Shrug*. I’ll find out later this week the exact reasons for my low score and get back to you.

I’m not going to lie, I was upset for about an hour after I saw my zero point scoring. Then I laughed. Because, come on, what else can you do? Rejection hurts, and unfortunately, we writers work in the Industry of Rejection. It happens and it happens often (well, for most of us). The only way to survive is to laugh, brush off the sting, and move on. Which I did. I woke up on Saturday with a positive outlook for Round 2. I eagerly opened the email with my next assignment:

Picture 1

First thought? Phew! After being assigned romantic comedy for Round 1, I figured I’d be assigned something darker and more serious for Round 2 (mystery, horror, drama, ghost story). Of all those, I’d been hoping for horror. I’ve never written a full one and wanted to try. Plus, with Halloween just behind us, I was still in a horror-mindset. So, I was very happy to see that as my genre. The only thing that threw me off was the crowded beach location. I had some cool ideas for horror, but none of them worked with a CROWDED beach. So that was going to be the true challenge in this round.

I ended up taking a much different approach for Round 2 than Round 1. In Round 1, I was stressed and crazy and frantic. This time, I decided to kick back, relax and just have fun with it. So, instead of plopping myself down in front of my computer first thing Saturday morning, I went to the gym. While I worked out, I brainstormed concepts for my story. Then on my way home I called my favorite critic, my mom, to bounce ideas off of her (I wasn‘t going to repeat my time wasting mistake from Round 1 and work all day on a story that was “blah”). With my mom’s valuable input, I was able to nail down my concept by the time I got home from the gym.

But did I head straight for my computer to start writing? Nope. I decided to shower and eat a nice breakfast instead. Relax, relax, relax. That was my motto.

meditation1Finally, after a second cup of coffee, I sat down and began writing my horror story. Within two hours, I had a solid rough draft. I sent it to my mom to read and approve. She loved it (phew!). So, I took another two hours to embellish and edit it. Thankfully, I only had to worry about chopping 50 words to make the 1,000 word count limit (not 500 words like I had to cut from Muck and Mire). I wisely stuck to a much more traditional format this time, just in case that was why I bombed Round 1. And I stayed away from anything funny (since comedy was part of the last round), hence I didn’t go with my zombie seals idea ;-).

Now, will the judges like the story I came up with? Who knows. I hope so, but after Round 1, I can’t expect them to. It’s sooo subjective. I do know that I had a lot of fun writing the story (titled, Why?) and I really like how it turned out. Horror is such a chillingly wonderful genre to dive into. I can’t wait to post it for you guys in a few days. Stay tuned!

Now, all of that happened on Saturday. I still had to work on Fallers for NaNoWriMo. And because of the flash fiction contest, I was behind by almost 4,000 words. Great start, right? Haha, ugh…So, I buckled down and wrote all day Sunday until I reached my quota and then some.

My current NaNo word count is 5,600 words.

So, I survived my crazy writing weekend. And as exhausted as I am, I feel great. I’m excited about my horror story for Round 2 of NYC’s Flash Fiction Contest 2013, and I like the new direction I’ve taken Fallers during NaNo. Hopefully the good times keep rolling! I just need to stay relaxed and have fun with my writing. I think that’s key.

How about you? Feeling good about your writing? How’s NaNo for those participating?

Writing epiphany

I had so many things I needed to do this weekend–do the laundry, finish my “Fall” cleaning, read all The Bane Chronicles, investigate my appliances to determine which one is broken and jacking up my energy bill…ugh. But you know what I did instead? I wrote. A lot! Over 10,000 words, actually. I was a writing maniac, typing, typing, typing. Not even my bad habits could stop me. I was IN IT.

80647d0c17d4534f1a2a636459a1621cI know this magical writing weekend was inspired by the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, as well as the other short story contests I’ve been entering recently. Through them, I’ve quickly learned the importance of “showing” a story, rather than “telling” one. When you only have 1,000 words (or less) at your disposal, you can’t mosey down the road of plot and character building. You need to get to it and give the reader a world that they want to be involved in–that they can feel something about.

This vital storytelling lesson made me realize I made a terrible blunder with a manuscript I’ve been working on for years. (Side note: This manuscript went on a crazy, rocky, and, in the end, disappointing journey. In a nutshell, it was optioned by a producer in Hollywood in 2010, critiqued extensively by an agent at Writers House, considered by multiple publishers, and showered with lots and lots of hype for being the next “big thing”. And then the project wilted and slowly…slowly perished, until my option contract ran out this past February and I painfully put my precious baby to rest.)

rip-tombstoneHowever, after this epiphany of “showing” rather than “telling” came to me last week, I decided to open my dead manuscript and start poking and prodding at its limp carcass. Halfway through the first chapter, I shook my head in disgust and decided this story didn’t need to be resurrected. It needed to be reborn! And I’m not talking about revising it (I’ve done that about 100 times). I’m talking about shredding it, trashing it and lighting a match to it and watching it burn. The only things that need to be saved from the towering inferno are the concept and the two main characters. The rest can turn to ash and blow away on the first big wind.

So, on Saturday morning I opened a blank document and I started writing and creating this new version. And I didn’t stop until late last night. I wrote and wrote all weekend like a mad scientist, feverish and giddy by the fresh, wonderful discovery opening up beneath my typing fingertips. The narrative, the plot, the action, the humor, the drama…It all came together like a lyrical masterpiece, fitting together like a perfect puzzle…Of course, I’m not a complete idiot. I know this is a first draft and I know it’s mostly all crap.

823ff0b2707b0d3b10b3a81403f821bcStill, I’m happier and more enthusiastic than I’ve been in a long time about writing a story. And I have short stories to thank. In less than two months (ever since I entered my first contest) they’ve taught me how to be a better storyteller–to hook the reader, thread an intriguing plot, and create likable characters. Boom, boom, boom!

I strongly believe all writers should take advantage of the many flash fiction and short story challenges out there. And I highly recommend you enter them not with the goal to win (though that would be nice), but to learn and improve your own writing.