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Helge Mahrt Posts

Elyse and Writers of the Future

Elyse is a short story I wrote in September 2014. The idea stemmed from a friendly competition we had at work: The goal was to write a short story which contained a certain theme or item. For Elyse it was a hand fan. Initially we set a very ambitious deadline of two weeks, but we quickly realized that this was just impossible. It took me about four weeks to complete the first draft.

After running it through our online writing group at the Reading Excuses forum, and a lot of editing, I finally ended up with a story of about 11500 words. I was a bit concerned about the slow beginning, but I was very happy with how the story developed and with the reveals. I didn’t really know how to further improve the story, so I submitted it to Writers of the Future back at the end of June 2015.

It took them 51 days to respond. According to The Grinder, that’s way below the average acceptance response time, so I suspect that David Farland – the head judge who first reviews all stories before sending them to the other judges – discarded it pretty quickly. David has some very fine writing advice out there and he repeatedly preaches how you have to start a short story in the middle, jumping right into the action. I guess the slow beginning was the end of it.

I have to say that my experience with Writers of the Future and David has been very positive. Apparently the team behind the contest changed the way they notify writers of the results: Rather than waiting for all stories to be judged, results are now sent out as they become available. I asked Joni Labaqui – the friendly Contest Director who sends out the emails – whether there was any way to receive feedback regarding my rejection. I thought her very busy and didn’t really expect an answer, but she did reply. As I thought, they don’t have to time to provide critique for everything that is entered, but instead she provided two documents about how to “boost your prose” and how to improve openings of stories. Nice!

I had been following David on Twitter for a while already, and I’ve known him to be friendly and approachable, so I tried getting feedback from him directly as well. And sure enough, he replied after a couple of days. Unfortunately, he told me that he’d have to go through the stories again, to tell me the reason for the rejection, and was just too busy at that time. He seemed really sorry for not being able to help and pointed out that the competition was really strong this quarter. I really appreciated that he took the time to send me that message.

I’m not the type to give up easily, so I sat down and did what I should have done before: I cut about 2500 words from the story.

During the process I looked at what I had written and thought, “which scene would be a good opening”? There was one in particular which I had wanted to put at the start of the story last year already, but back then I could not do it, because it would have broken the continuity of events. So I just deleted everything that came before it, including the slow beginning.

The hardest part was deleting a scene that I liked a lot, and that I thought was important to the story. But now that it’s gone, I realize that it wasn’t really necessary. Guess I still have a lot to learn when it comes to “killing your darlings”. 🙂

I submitted the new version of Elyse just the other day. I’m confident that it’s a better story now. Fingers crossed!

Do you have any experience with Writers of the Future? What’s your experience been like? I’d love to hear from you by email or in the comments.

How did I learn how to write books?

I studied computer science. I’m not native English. Not the best setup when diving into writing. So where the heck did I learn how to write books?

I’m planning to dedicate more detailed posts to the following sources, but I thought you would appreciate an overview. So here I go:

Not on this list is NaNoWriMo, because it didn’t teach me anything about writing itself, but about myself. It showed me how productive I can be and what a rush writing can be. I recommend you give it a try. It’s a huge boost to motivation and helps you push through a very unique experience.

Are you missing anything on the list? Do you have a secret source of writing advice? I’d love to hear from you. Just post in the comments or drop me an email.

The history so far

I guess it’s a good idea for my first post to introduce myself. This is taken from my bio page.

My name is Helge (pronounced hell-ge, ge like in get) and judging by my name you probably have already guessed that I’m not a native English speaker. Actually I’m German, but I am married to a Spanish woman and have been living in Madrid for seven years already.

My interest in writing sparked very early, when I was still in primary school. We would get little comic strips of four vignettes and had to write stories that matched the images. I was amazed by the possibilities and enjoyed the task immensely.

In my teens I had some ideas floating around in my head and I did a lot of world building for a story that I’ve never gotten around to bring to paper. I still remember fondly how I’d type on an old IBM notebook (which was more like a brick) after dark, when I was supposed to be sleeping already.

After finishing my A levels, writing didn’t play a big role in my life until recently. I was busy studying computer science, and then moving to Spain, and all that entails, but I’ve always had this notion of “one day I’ll write a book”.

Eventually I realized that “one day” will never come unless you sit down and put some work into it. So in 2013 I learned about NaNoWriMo and decided to participate. I actually managed to crank out about 6000 words on the first weekend but then failed miserably. I just didn’t have the discipline yet.

I tried again in 2014 and managed to write every single day. It was very exhausting, for I also had to work my day job, but it was also a revelation. Not only was I able to achieve the insane goal of 50000 words but also something incredible happened: When reading a book I usually reach a state where I’m not aware of the actual act of reading anymore, but just of the images created in my mind. Something similar happened while writing, only a lot more intensive. I was so immersed in my story, and in discovering what was happening next, that I forgot that I was typing. It felt like reading a book, but the experience was a lot more powerful.

So here I am now. I have a full time job at a big IT company, which is quite demanding, and I’m trying to find time to write whenever I can, to finally finish my book – the first step to becoming a professional writer.

I’d be very happy to take you along the ride.