On Sunday, killing time and surfing various writing websites, I decided to check for free contests to see if there was anything fitting for me to submit something from my memoir to. I have no illusions that I’ll win – I’m too new at this, or at least, I’ve been on hiatus so long, I might as well be new at it. I think it’s good practice, though. Anyway, I saw that there was a memoir contest – 10,000 word maximum – at Memoir (and). I was inspired – then I saw the deadline was today at Noon Pacific time and thought I might be crazy to even try. I had no time free Sunday to start, and had a job interview at 10am on Monday that lasted 3 hours. I’d have less than 24 hours to pull it off. Plus, the current draft of my memoir is more than 80,000 words – probably at least 20,000 words too long, but that’s where it stands at the moment, while I wait for feedback from my editor friend.
I decided to go for it, despite the little time I had to pull something together. I wanted to use some of the material I’d already written, so I flipped through the pages and attempted to pull out what I thought would be a cohesive, but much shorter, story. The stuff I chose was initially 20k words and some change. I spent 6 or so hours trimming it down to 15k – because my brain failed me and for some reason, morphed the max word requirements into 15k instead of 10k. When that much was done, I went back to the contest submission guidelines with a feeling of triumph. That changed to a strong desire to stick a pen in my eye when I realized I really needed to get it down to 10k. I didn’t give up, though. I kept pushing and cutting and trimming and editing, and I came up with something I was comfortable submitting – another 6 hours later. I let it sit overnight, made a few last minute tweaks this morning, and submitted it. I’m exhausted, but my instinct was right – it was really great practice. The word limit made me re-examine every word in every sentence and make tough decisions about which memories and anecdotes really carried the main thread of my story. I recommend going through exercises like this when you get the chance. It’s tough work, but it told me a lot about just how loose some of my writing was, and how much room there was to tighten it up. Mission accomplished.