My sister commented last Saturday, “My brother has many milestones [that he wants to achieve]”. OK. I don’t have that many. But participating in a writing competition is certainly one that is high on my list.
I wish I have studied literature, instead of engineering. Having said that, I am not sure if I would be any good. Or if I would hate the subject so much so that I would not want anything to do with it. If I could write novels for a living, that would be ideal. But I also know that such business has no place for an average writer. Hence for now, I stick to what makes a living – writing business documents.
Every working evening, I drive from my workplace in the east to pick up Cynthia in town. In my car, I often listen to the radio. One evening, while listening to the radio, I chanced upon a writing competition organized by National Arts Council sponsored by Singapore Press Holding. I checked the deadline and I have two weeks left. There are two genre categories: Short Story and Poetry. In the category of Short Story, there is a word limit of 5,000 while for Poetry, there is none. Immediately, I thought of Iliad and Odyssey. I don’t think I am good at writing poetry. If I was to submit one today, it would look something like this.
I saw a plane today
Flying by my office window
I thought about my buddy
Who used to call me Willie
I cannot recall when
My buddy left his job
I sort of miss the days (and I sort of hated too)
When he called me Willie
We used to take a walk
After we’ve filled our stomachs
He would tell me stories
And I would tell him mine
Now that he’s not around
Well, no one calls me Willie
I saw a plane today
In it I thought I saw my buddy
Not very convincing, is it? So I stick to the Short Story category. 5,000 words is quite doable. Each blog entry of mine has an average word count of 1,000. All I need to do is to write 5 entries at one go. Hence, if you notice, I have not been productive in blogging for the last two weeks.
Since I only have two weeks to submit my story, I wanted to choose a topic I am comfortable with. I thought about writing something similar to that “Sea Turtle” post, which is one of my favorites. I have this idea for a long time. Instead of sea turtle, it is snail’s turn. But I got stuck in the research bits. I reckon it would take ages in order to study how snails behave, how fast or rather slow they move, what they eat, and etc.
The next thing came to my mind was the Dooku series. Avid readers may recognize this character that is by and large inspired by the things I observe at work. I renamed the character at the last minute because Cynthia told me that Dooku is a character in Star War. Writing the story only took a day or two. Editing it took ages. Need I say, I feel so relief after I have submitted my manuscript for the Golden Point Award 2011. At the submission counter, the lady who received my entry was helpful. She checked through my documents making sure that everything was in order. When she looked at my application form, she gasped. Is everything OK, I asked. Yes, yes, she replied. She then told me that the title of my work warmed her heart. How I wish she is one of the judges.
After I have stopped working on my story, I took a look at the quality of work from the winners of past years. God oh God, the quality is super high! I am so glad that I wrote without knowing what I was up against. Since the chance of winning this Golden Point is super slim, I would like to take this opportunity (rather than wait till the result is announced) to thank the few who agreed to provide feedback on the initial draft in such a tight timeline. It is a humbling experience and I have learned a lot out of this. So you know who you are, thank you, thank you, and thank you. Even if I don’t win this competition, I have a polished story that I am proud of reading again and again.
Japanese writer Murakami once wrote the following words.
“To put it in the simplest possible terms, I find writing novels a challenge, writing short stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden. The two processes complement each other, creating a complete landscape that I treasure.” – Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
I find writing short stories a challenge, writing blog entries a joy. To extend his analogy, writing blog entries is like taking care of a pot of plant. It may be tiny, but it has its charm in its rawest form. Writing blog entries is a joy to me because most of the time, it is write-and-forget. In writing a short story, I have to think about how the pieces flow to each other, the consistency of the overall plot. I have to clinically vet through the words to see if improvements can be made, mistakes can be corrected. It is spontaneity of writing a blog entry versus the meticulous crafting of a short story. I lose quite a bit of spontaneity when I edit the story too much. But refining the story does make the final product looks more professional.
One commented that my short story reads differently from my usual blog entries. My short story does not have the same level of readability and lightheartedness. It is a valid observation. Immediately I thought of Madeleine Wickham. The books written under the name Wickham are not as engaging and entertaining, despite the fact that they appear to have a higher artistic value. However, the chick lit written under Sophie Kinsella – by the same author, I literally worship them. Or perhaps I have read Wickham writing as Sophie Kinsella before she writes as Madeleine Wickham. So I would say, the stuffs written here in this website tend to be lighter and have the elements of entertainment in mind. When I write a short story, I am often more ambition in tackling some of the tougher topics in life and mask them under the characters of my story. At least that is my intent. I suspect there is a fine balance somewhere. The next story I write, I may be nearer to the bull eye. Who knows? If I keep on doing it, I may hit the sweet spot some day.
I am happy to have participated in a writing competition. And I take suggestions on what I should do next.