The Original Writers Group went online before London went into lockdown in March. Gal and I started early rather than wait for the government to make a decision on how to manage the pandemic as we have several members who, like myself, are in the older category and more vulnerable than our younger members...
What we hadn’t expected was how things would change when we went online. We used to meet just twice a month at the Battersea Arts Centre. Now we were all stuck at home. So we decided to meet once a week, every Tuesday evening from seven to nine.
We had things to do. In September 2019 we set a writing challenge to write and submit a short story for the Royal Literature Society V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize. It wasn’t about winning. We won just by entering. Whatever the judges decided, everyone who entered still had a finished story.
So after we entered the V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize, we looked around for other short story competitions. There were many, and we picked just two: The Costa Short Story Award and the Daily Telegraph Short Story competition.
Forcing myself to enter these competitions had unexpected consequences. First, I had to finish. Now that sounds simple. Why wouldn’t I finish a story? You would think I had a hundred under my belt, having run the Writers Group for fifteen years. But the opposite in true. I have hardly any. All too often I read a story at the workshop, got feedback and did nothing. So, the need to submit focused my attention. I had forgotten how productive it was to have a deadline.
The deadline had other benefits. It stopped me over-thinking the stories. Our lead-up time from September to July for the V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize was way too long. Let’s be honest here: I didn’t start writing till ten days before submission. I had committed to write a short story in front of a roomful of writers. Even if they didn’t remember, I did. This meant I was duty-bound to enter, even if I had given myself no time.
So when I finally got down to work, I allowed the story to dictate itself. And that is how I continue to write. I like Benny Andersson’s quote of writing songs for Abba. To paraphrase, he said something like, ‘Once I had written one pop song, I knew I could write another.’ That’s the way I now feel about writing short stories. Once I complete one short story, I just move on to the next.
I will end by mentioning how lucky we are to have so many writers in the Original Writers Group willing to read our stories and offer feedback on spelling and grammar mistakes, omissions and lapses in story logic. This is a team effort. Who said that writing was lonely?