Thoughts on the Iron Pen Experience and What I Learned From It

[PHOTO NOTE: This is what came up when I did a free photo search for “Iron Pen.”]

On a quick note, I’d like to apologize for my “A Week in the Writing Life” post for coming out today on WordPress rather than yesterday as I anticipated. That was a glitch in scheduling on my end.

I briefly talked about my having entered the Midwest Writing Center (MWC)’s annual Iron Pen competition for the first time. Just to recap, they give you a writing prompt at about 5 p.m. on a Friday (in this case, the Friday of two weeks past), and then you have 24 hours to put together a work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry and submit it for consideration. Fiction and nonfiction submissions have to be less than 2,000 words, but poetry submissions have no word limit. This year’s prompt was the following:

Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.

I was really happy to participate this year, and it was a great experience no matter whether I win anything or not. Here’s a few observations I had about it.

At This Point, Creativity is not an Issue for Me

I was not really worried at any point that I wasn’t going to be able to have something to say using the prompt. I had the basic idea for my response in my head and ready to go within about five minutes. It took me about three more hours of pondering exactly how I would execute it on the page, and the plot line for the story, but the basic premise I had locked down in five minutes.

Most of the things that I’ve been trying to educate myself on having to do with writing involve what I call “publishing” issues – how to get my projects into people’s hands to read, for example – and marketing tips. Coming up with ideas is the least of my problems.

Writing Short Stories is a Challenge for Me

In my recent experiences with fan fiction, I can write as many words as I need to tell a story and not have to worry about how many words I have to use.

That is not the case when you only have 2,000 words to tell a story and some of the chapters I have put in my recent fan fiction might easily be five times that length. It should be a writing rule of thumb that the fewer words you have to work with to tell a story, the more weight and the more work those individual words have to carry. That’s one of the reasons why poets are very particular about the types of words they use and their various meanings and implications.

I have to say that I was surprised that I was able to tell the story that I was eventually able to tell with close to 200 words to spare. If I were to redo it again, I’d like to take a look at some of the descriptive words that I used and see if I could not have come up with something more vivid. I think I did just enough to tell the story and show the basic parts of the world that I made, but I could have done perhaps a bit more to build my characters, especially the main one. That could have also helped to make the description of the world a bit more vivid. Then again, I only had 24 hours to write this story and I ended up using only one-fourth of that time because I was going to be on the road much of that time.

Fantasy is Where my Head is Going to be at for the Foreseeable Future

It was not too much of a surprise that the minute that I started to look at the Iron Pen prompt that the story I was going to write was going to head to a fantasy story.

Fantasy has been the focus of the fan fiction that I’ve been writing off and on for the past few years. Although my first published book (and soon enough, my second book) are set in contemporary settings, I’ve been much more interested, from a reader’s perspective and a writer’s perspective, in the fantasy genre.

The exact reasons for why my attention has been turned to fantasy is probably worth its own post, but it certainly is the case. Although there was no sign of magic in this story, or knights and dragons, it did take place in a fictional land that could have been anywhere from the ancient to the Middle Ages era. More importantly, the story that it led to spoke more to me than maybe a regular story from the modern area would.

So, the fact that my imagination immediately leapt to a fantasy style when I had to be creative gives me the feeling that I’ve got something I want to express there. And, I am wanting to get started on it soon – how soon, I’m not sure.

I’m going to find out Wednesday who won the contest. There will be a ceremony for the winners this coming Saturday. Since they’re allowing all the participants to read their work, I might actually go down there. It’s been a while since I’ve had a public reading of any of my stuff.

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