Write Your Best Short Story Competition Entry

Only 10 weeks left to enter the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition, so if you haven’t already, it's time to start thinking about your entry.

To help, I am going to provide you with some tips to get started. 

The 21-day Writing Challenge

First, I suggest you embark on a 21-day writing challenge. 

Here is what I want you to do: three times a day, write quickly without thinking, in long, run-on sentences. 

When you catch yourself thinking, stop, and set your writing aside. Choose not to struggle with or be led by thoughts. Write freely and without resistance. 

The way to do this is to avoid thinking. 

When you think, judgment and the expectations of others cause blocks. 

Instead, try to reclaim the spontaneous storytelling of childhood. 

Expression should be free-flowing. 

Let go of tension, take a deep breath and let a sentence come out. 

Practice writing run-on sentences without punctuation using connectors such as and, then, but, however. When you find yourself thinking, stop writing. 

You can do this – just try. 

Generate Story Ideas

In terms of the story you’d like to write for our contest, you can get storyline inspiration from newspaper clippings, people you’ve met or known, places you’ve visited, a photo, a cue word, a conversation you overheard, and of course, your imagination. 

Two newspaper clippings provided me with storylines for award-winning short stories, published in the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop Magazine: 

  1. Border Crossing was inspired by a newspaper clipping about a girl who got her leg trapped in a train wheel when trying to cross the Mexican-American border, and, 
  2. Deadman’s Sandwiches was inspired by an article about a lady who cycled to funerals for the food even though she didn’t know the deceased. 

I visited an island just off County Sligo in Ireland that intrigued me enough to set my short story Coney Island there. 

Many of my other stories evolved from looking at photographs.

Pre-Writing Brainstorming

Before I sit down to actually write a story, I tell the story orally over and over for several weeks. It is in everyone’s nature to tell oral stories which uses both sides of the brain: the right brain creates and the left brain organises. Then I type the whole thing fast without editing.

I have also used word-maps to create spontaneous sentences. To do this, start with a base word, and then surround it with words that spring to mind. 

A base word could be Mother, for example, and words that spring to mind about Mother might be nurturing, caring, worrier, homemaker, mentor, professional, etc. 

You can also try using the words in a spontaneous, run-on sentence. (You should be good at those by the time you get to this point if you completed the 21-day Challenge!) 

Play With Words and Phrases That Sound Good

Another valuable technique I use, is to write down ideas or key phrases I want to include in my story so they are not forgotten. 

Only when I feel I have a sizeable and semi-complete list, do I begin the actual writing. 

I recommend having a pen and paper by your bedside, in case you think of an idea or phrase you want to include in your story in the night. Falling asleep can be when you’re at your most creative.  

Write Your Story

Once you begin actually writing your story, make writing a habit and work on your piece every day. Remember that there is no need to edit the first draft. The editing part comes later. 

I have found two books particularly helpful in learning the craft of storytelling: 

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; and, 

On Writing by Stephen King.

So, don’t let another day pass without taking up the 21-Day writing challenge. 

This will hopefully lead you toward the creation of the story you’ll enter in our contest. 

Ready, set, go for it!


Jane Crossman, originally from Canada, joined Exeter Writers in 2018 bringing her wonderful Canadian charm and bright ideas to the group. She has published many short stories, had a 10-minute stage-play performed, and a poem engraved on a granite bench at the Thunder Bay marina where she lived and worked for 40 years.