This story is by Karen McCandless and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
One week to go
Oooh – a dog dancing to Gangnam Style. Let’s just click on that.
I was aimlessly surfing Facebook (and watching multiple cute cat videos) while stuck at work, and waiting for inspiration to strike. I was not going to miss another deadline for a writing competition. I had paid for this one, and I was damn well going to do it.
“I will find something here to write about. I will find something to write about.”
Oops didn’t mean to say that out loud. My colleagues were giving me odd looks. Luckily, I write for a living (just boring old tech, and business software at that, not even the sexy new consumer gadgets like the iPhone 6), so my mutterings didn’t seem too weird. No reason to call the men in white coats just yet.
Now for the theme: countdown. Should I pen a story about the British TV show Countdown? Maybe something to do with that song by the group Europe? You know the one — “It’s the final countdown. Doo doo doo doo dooooo.”
Or something like that.
I checked the writing contest page on Facebook and realised I wasn’t even signed up.
“Where is the link to sign up for if you’re already a member of the writing group?” I cried to my fellow group members (virtual crying, of course). “Help!!!!”
Luckily some nice moderator replied with the link and I was all set to do my usual routine of starting a week before the deadline, then not doing anything about it other than mentally panicking right until minutes before the deadline where I would finally submit “a story”. I would be green with envy when I read the other beautifully-penned submissions and consider quitting writing again.
What would JK Rowling do in these situations, I often asked myself. I don’t think the answer would be procrastinate by watching Netflix (but I’d love it if that were true — can someone get in touch and ask her?)
Six days to go — 10:45am
“Remind me how this group works.”
As we weaved our way through the cheerful looking crowds waving a mix of Spanish and Catalan flags on our way to Passeig de Gracia metro, my writing buddy Catrina pumped me for details on the creative writing group we were about to attend.
“We write for two hours on whatever we want in our own language and then we come together and talk about what we’ve been doing, any problems, ask questions, that kind of thing.”
Catrina started picking at her thumb. A bit of blood oozed out.
“And are they all professional writers then?”
“Nope, a couple are, but they are all extremely friendly. I’ve mostly been doing work and looking at pictures of food on Instagram for the last few weeks. Nobody judges.”
Six days to go — 11:30am
The noises of the cafe (and of the loud typing of certain members of the writing group around me) were driving me mad. I stabbed the keys on my keyboard. Catrina looked up at me and mouthed: “What’s up hun?”
I ignored her. Otherwise I would probably have punched her. She’s been merrily typing away ever since we arrived. I hate her. This is her first time attending this writing group and already she’s better at it than me. She’ll probably have written a Pulitzer Prize winner by the end of the two hours.
Oooh who is the guy on the table opposite me? Must not stare. He looked over. I looked away. Very mature. Hopefully he’s not with our group and is just some random guy with a laptop out for a Sunday morning coffee. Or I could pretend I have some kind of stare-y eye condition (I’m sure that’s the medical term for it).
Badly Drawn Boy comes on my Spotify playlist and I feel a slight release, a minor subsidence of the anger that has been pulsing through my veins ever since I lost it when I couldn’t sign up to the free trial of Netflix this morning. In the swearing fit that followed, I threatened (to the empty silence in my flat) to single handedly bring down the whole company for doing this to me.
Five days to go
Early Monday morning in the office saw me drinking pints of coffee and logging onto Google Drive to open up my half finished story. When I finally started writing and editing after significant procrastination on Twitter and the Guardian website, I found that it required a lot more work than I thought. Oh bum.
Maybe I could pay someone to write this for me. Is that against the rules? I wonder what Stephen King is up to at the moment? He’s a prolific writer — he publishes 100 books a year or something. Or that guy who wrote the Jack Reacher books. No idea what his name is but that there are literally a million of them out there. Tom Cruise starred in one. I found them quite dull, to be honest.
“Do you fancy a cuppa, hun?”
I jumped a mile as my colleague Rosie came over to do a tea round (I believe this is a British thing, where we make tea or coffee for our colleagues in the immediate vicinity. They are then meant to reciprocate, but there is always one who shirks their responsibility.)
“Yes please. Remember I don’t take sugar.”
Rosie makes coffee on the very strong side. Hopefully an abundance of caffeine will jumpstart my writing (and probably also give me the shakes, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay).
Four days to go
Tuesday morning at the office (do I really have to work EVERY day?), and it’s writing block central. Shouldn’t have checked my email this morning as there is a reminder from the lovely Joe Bunting about submitting my story. I’m not ready! Don’t make me do this!
Sitting at my desk at work (not doing work, obviously, but luckily nobody can see my screen) the writing starts to flow again. It’s like I’m writing for my life. Oooh that’s a good idea for a book — someone who is forced to write to keep people alive. It fits with my dystopian focus (oh no, I haven’t got anything Dystopian-esque in this story. What a failure!).
One day before story is due
Saturday! At last! Oh how I’ve missed you, weekend. I lie in bed in a state of bliss before remembering that I have a story to finish today. Best get up and at it (after a litre of coffee first).
“You’re useless. You’re a failure.”
Despite the quote marks, that’s actually me saying that to myself while I chug a pistachio macchiato (the pretentious hipster that I am), not a friend or family member. The only abusive relationship I’m in is with myself. Oooh that’s quite a profound statement. I make a note to “work on being more profound.”
Time for another word count. 1204! Nearly there.
“Come on. You can do this. You’re the best writer in the world. You kick ass. Go girl. The world is waiting with baited breathe for your magnum opus. It’s like a shorter version of War and Peace. Or Ulysses. I’ve never read either of those as they seem quite boring, but they are often described as classics so it’s something to aim for.”
Don’t worry, those words were just in my head again. Or maybe there is cause to worry if I’m comparing my story to War and Peace and a book which I couldn’t even spell. Thank God for spell checker.
Now 1402 words! Same numbers as 1204. Maybe I should be a mathematician. I clearly have a way with numbers. I could discover the next nudge theory. “Nudge Theory 2.0”
“Professor Karen McCandless, we hereby award you the Nobel Prize for Mathematics and a lot of money.”
I’ve never been to a Nobel ceremony, but I imagine that’s how they go.
12 hours to go
Back with bloody Catrina at this bloody cafe with this bloody writing group where she is working on her submission for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Let’s look on the bright side. Hmmm… Oooh I forgot this competition closed at Pacific Time Zone; I’ve got more time than I thought I had. Thank you, Spain!
Ok, word count of 1498 — almost perfect! Should I add in two extra words somewhere? Will I get a prize/recognition for writing exactly 1500 words? Actually, I’d better check again that I’ve got the word limit right. Imagine if it was 15,000 and I submitted 1500.
And that’s a wrap! I’m done. Finished. Finito. He terminado (yep, I’m showing off with a bit of Spanish here). Time to pat myself on the back for doing this rather than berate myself for not being good enough (haha — that’s my little joke. There is zero chance of that happening.)
Good luck everyone!