I watched a friend trying to build a shed at his Turkish villa in two weeks. It reminded me of trying to write a story for a competition with an unrealistic deadline.
‘Two weeks is more than enough to finish the job,’ he told me with a shrug, ‘don’t fret.’
I have drafted and edited stories for competitions for three years now and I regularly shock myself by finding what they call in tennis ‘an unforced error’ – a mistake that even a child could pick up on.
I know that if I leave the story to ferment for a few weeks my perception of its merits will alter dramatically and ideas for improvement will stream into my head.
My friend spent so long agonising over the plan of his hut and taking measurements of this height, that width, this angle and that depth that the execution of the build became impossibly concertina’ed.
Sometimes I fiddle about with the plot and the characters that I lose sight of the whole. My story crumbles like a building with no cement to glue it together.
Back to the shed construction. By the time he had assembled the building materials and begun to mix the cement and cut the wood he had too few days to actually build the structure. And then it rained for three days so nothing could be progressed.
A day before he flew home he had to call in a builder to finish it in a hurry and pay a high premium. It was like applauding when the cavalry come riding over the hill in a cowboy Western.
‘Why didn’t I get him in earlier?’ he whined. ‘Why didn’t I start sooner?’
I have learned that it makes more sense to miss the deadline for a writing competition rather than submit a story that has been inadequately fermented and edited. Last week I gave a competition entry its last once-over before pressing the ‘submit’ button and I discovered that I had made an impossible compression of the timescale.
My protagonist, a young woman, had lost three stones in a week. The tale was about someone losing weight but even in fiction that’s far-fetched.
So I saved it for a different contest – in a new guise – and didn’t waste the entrance fee.