What price would you pay?

You know the saying that you have to spend money in order to make money? I’ve been trying to convince myself that such a phrase is true, especially in the light of tax returns giving me a little bit of a buffer room with my otherwise tight and narrow finances (what a surprise; budding writer is not a lucrative enterprise; who’d’ve thought?). Many literary journals will hold contests or entry periods where there’s an entry fee, which just makes plain sense on their part. It covers their publications costs as well as the prizes that are usually offered with these journals. They’ll give you money, which is a bit more tangible than the thrill of them publishing you and a few free copies (although, really, I’ll gladly take those, too!). I have no problem paying an entry fee at all; my problem is that I don’t feel I have anything written that would be worth paying fifteen bucks for at this point. I have a few pieces that I feel are worth a free entry and, if they find the right editor, might be a good fit for certain journals. But putting them against other stories in a competition that would put me out of my own pocket? Not so much.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because American Short Fiction is running their American Short(er) Fiction Contest right now; the deadline is approaching. May 1st, and it’s a fifteen dollar entrance fee. I really want to throw something into the running, but the only story I have that fits the 1000 word limit is a somewhat wishy-washy little look at a dysfunctional relationship. I like the story, but do I think it’s clever enough to hold water with American Short Fiction? Not a chance. So I’ve been wracking my brain these last few days, trying to think of what the hell to write a 1000 word or less story about so I can have at least something I might be a little confident about by May 1st.

So, of course, I have writer’s block. Part of me wonders if I’m pushing it too hard, and I should just relax and let it come to me, but I know myself better than that. If I do that, it just won’t get done. I’m playing around with the beginnings of another short fiction about Communist China, since that’s given me success in the past, but what I’m working on just feels like too much of a Dai Sijie rip-off.

One week to think of 1000 words of brilliance. And as unlikely as it seems, it’s exciting to give myself a deadline again. I produced so much more work in college because of deadlines, and so I’m also incredibly excited that maybe I will manage to pull something together, after all. Even if it doesn’t win the contest, then I’ll at least have another piece on my hands that I feel was good enough to spend $15 on in my repertoire for other journals. And that is definitely worth it.


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