I am nearing 30,000 words on my novel draft. Slowly getting there. But for the last week or so, I have been climbing a different hill. I have been reading a lot of material on how to improve my writing. One of the websites I found in my wanderings is called The Write Practice.

On that site, Joe Bunting recommends entering writing contests as effective practice. This is because writing shorter works takes a lot less time and lets you get feedback right away. Finishing a novel to the point where you can share it could take years, so finishing it only to find out that nobody likes it doesn’t help you learn as fast. Writing short stories tightens the feedback loop so that you know sooner what people like and don’t like about your writing.

Even extending the idea out to my novel writing metaphor makes sense. If I decided I was ready to climb Everest because I had been on a few hikes, I would undoubtedly fail, and possibly die. Climbing smaller mountains or even small hills is much better training than just seeing how high I could get on the big mountain.

So I decided to try it out. I entered a 150 word or less contest over at Writing Maps and joined the Write Practice Spring Writing Contest, which is more of a complete program than solely a contest. It includes workshopping where people can comment on your story before it gets submitted. That contest is 1500 words or less.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from the contest thing. It seemed like a really good idea to me, but I didn’t know how it would go. I have always struggled with finishing a novel-length project. I have several drafts sitting in various corners on my hard drive testifying to this fact. So being able to write something shorter and feel a sense of accomplishment in finishing it is really nice. I feel really good about the two things I wrote and am excited to share them.

I also learned a lot already. Particularly on the 1500 word story, I was smashing my head against the wall with it for a few days. I knew it was good, but my instinct said it was just flat. It finally hit me yesterday morning that it was missing a theme. Stories are inherently moral-based (or so I have read and am inclined to agree). My protagonist in the story didn’t change or learn anything, which caused a really interesting story (or I think so) to fall flat on its face. I added three lines to the story to draw out the theme I thought was already there and it changed everything.

So I have already gotten something out of it. I understand now how critical theme is and will be looking for that as a problem when I sense something isn’t working.

Now at this point, you might be wanting me to post the stories. Rest assured, I intend to. Sadly, the contests generally have rules that the stories be previously unpublished. I am pretty sure that means previously published with monetary gain, but it is ambiguous enough that I don’t really want to risk it. But as I am able, I will post the stories – or hopefully links to the contests if I win =).

And at some point, I will get back to climbing the big one.