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The Loneliness of the Short Story Writer: Why Mash Stories Believes in Feedback 

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Anyone who has ever entered a writing competition will know the feeling.

The strange mix of elation and trepidation that overwhelms you as you hit enter and send your story out into the world.

For many writers, stories are precious things. They exist only because their imagination has set them free, yet they are never independent things. A piece of the writer always remains within them.

As such, they are intimate objects, personal objects, things worthy of protection.

Hitting that send button takes guts.

Because you’re sending a piece of yourself out into the world to be scrutinised and judged, you are making yourself vulnerable, and it takes a strong constitution not to be unnerved by that.

While there are many positive aspects to entering writing competitions, there is, undoubtedly, one very big downside.

Invariably you will enter and you will not win.

Worse still, you will probably never know how far your precious story came during the judging process. Was it eliminated in the first round? Did some readers like it? Did I just miss out on the shortlist?

Who knows?

It can seem, at times, as if your story has been sucked into a black hole.

Jennifer Harvey, Judge at Mash Stories

Jennifer Harvey, Judge at Mash Stories

All you can do is dust yourself down and try to figure out what it is that needs fine tuning.

Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you have a trusted group of readers who can help you, who can point out the things that aren’t working and suggest solutions.

Sometimes though, you can go back to a rejected story and find nothing wrong. You read it and discuss it and discover that you would not change a thing. It is exactly the way you want it to be.

You have two choices then. You can pop your story in a drawer and forget about it, or you can start the whole process all over again, with no guarantee the results will be any different this time round.

All of this takes a lot of determination, a lot of self-belief and, as I said earlier, it takes guts.

Here at Mash Stories, we understand these frustrations only too well.

As writers we have all been through the submission process. The rejections slips are piled high on our desks too.

But we also understand that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Feedback, even if it is only a few words of encouragement, can be incorporated into the judging process.

Why not?

In the 6 months that Mash Stories has been up and running we have received hundreds of stories, some well-crafted, some less so.

It has been fascinating to see the ingenious ways writers have responded to the three random words – as our shortlist shows.

If we can say anything about the writers who submit to us then it is this: you  have powerful imaginations, and this is something we believe should be acknowledged.

Since we started offering free feedback  last quarter, very few writers have declined our offer.

On the face of it this may seem daunting. How can you respond to hundreds of stories? Impossible, surely?

It certainly requires a degree of dedication and organisation, this is true, but, as we are learning, it is not impossible.

We have found it helps to consider a few specific things when reading a submission.  Call it a checklist, if you will.
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  • Plot
  • Character
  • Language
  • General Theme
  • Author’s Potential

With these simple, objective criteria you can pretty much get enough sense of a story to evaluate its merits or its faults.

Beyond that, of course, comes the subjective part.

Every reader has their own personal taste when it comes to stories. Some prefer character led tales, others a well-paced plot.

Some prefer rich, poetic, textured language. Others like their prose to be short and snappy and taut.

The more stories you read and evaluate however, the more one thing becomes clear.

A good writer will create a well-structured story that hits you with the very first sentence and keeps you hooked all the way to the end.

Our aim here at Mash Stories is to demystify the selection process and make it as transparent as possible. We want our writers to know why their story was selected or why it failed to make the grade.

We also want to get our readers involved in choosing a winner by voting for their favourites on our shortlist.

After all, our opinions are just that – the opinions of our judges  – and objective checklists can only take you so far.

Hopefully our reading process and voting structure will provide our writers with two things: useful feedback and an insight into the impact of their story upon readers.

Writing, after all, is a solitary business and we here at Mash Stories understand that a little encouragement now and then can make all the difference.

 

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Jennifer is one of our judges at MASH. Her fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine and Stories For Homes anthology. Her radio drama won the 2001 European Regional Prize in the BBC World Service International Playwriting competition and a commendation in 2009. Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian as part of their poetry workshops series. Contact Jen via Twitter.

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