Feel the Burn

“Experience is everything!”

Just one of the million and one platitudes I deal with on a near daily basis. The saddest thing about them? They’re mostly true. That’s why, thanks to being on the recieving end of an e-mail blast from IFP, I decided to take the plunge and go for Bombay Sapphire’s annual Imagination Series competition.

It’s simple, at least in theory; Geoffrey Fletcher writes a bare bones script with a few handfuls of dialog, and you build a story around it. It can literally be about whatever you want, just so long as you’re using what he’s laid out for you. Should this short win, they’ll make it, take it to the next Tribeca Film Festival, and take you with it.

Since this was entirely on the fly, I wrote the first idea I came up with. It was a cute tale about a little boy trying to impress a girl on the playground, only for it all to go terribly awry. Just as I’d filled out the entry form on the website and was about to hit submit, Providence (or Writing Gods, or Jesus/Bhudda/Odin/Etc), caused me to accidentally scroll to the bottom. Here’s (a version of) what I found:

Bombay Sapphire isn’t going to associate anything involving violence, drugs, or little kids. We have no idea why you would think that we’d be interested in that, as we’re an alcohol company. Silly girl.

So, back to square one.

After a bit of grousing, and then a little more because I felt it was well deserved, I tried again. I took the same idea, because I’m frighteningly original that way, and aged it up. The setting was adjusted to a Comic Con-esque sort of deal, and I was off and running. The end result was a little piece I call ‘Geeking Out’, and it made me giggle. That, you’ll find, goes a long way with me.

But as we all know, that can’t be everything. As a budding screenwriter who did fiction beforehand, I have the terrible curse of excessive verbosity. That simply doesn’t fly on this side of the craft’s coin. I spent some time after that shaving it all down, adjusting and readjusting, and all those things writers do when we’re agonizing over something we’ve created. Excited over what I’d done, and that I’d been able to work this out so easily, I readily bounced over to my friends and roommates, making each and every one of them read it. After garnishing their approval, I shot off a few e-mails to others I knew would be online.

After all, even though there was still three weeks left before the deadline was up, I was excited. This made the whole thing time sensitive. Clearly.

The readers all approved, bless their hearts. One even commented on how it just ‘jumped off the page’. With all of their backing, I filled out the form again, and hit submit.

Now all that was left was to wait.

And wait.

And… Yeah.

Maybe it was the Universe trying to tell me something (or any other of the aforementioned people/things), but Deadline Day came… And it was extended two weeks. Bombay Sapphire was even kind enough to offer those who’d already entered the chance to adjust and resend their entires, if they so desired. Wink wink, nudge nudge, right?

But I was confident, so it was back to waiting. I compulsively told people about it, mentioned it at random to others, checked the Twitter page on a far too regular basis, and prayed so very much. October rolled around, and at long last, the day I’d longed for (last Thursday, to be exact), came. They announced the four winners, and the shortlist of people who the public would vote on to fill the final fifth winning slot.

I wasn’t on there.

So that’s that. And just in case you couldn’t tell by the notes of bitterness laid throughout this yarn, I’m a bit bummed out by it. I posted on Facebook to tell everyone in one fell swoop that I hadn’t won, after being stupid enough to not check that comments can’t be disabled for a single post. After all, I didn’t want pity; I had plenty of that for myself, why did I need a ready supply from others? But I got it regardless, even from people who I rarely talk to these days.

Then, out of the blue, it came. One of my good friends, a librarian I’ve known for over a decade that ran Teen Poets’s Society (a local writing group), and used to terrify us all with her fearsome Red Pen, forsook condolences for the sake of something a lot more important:

“Ah but what did you learn? 😉 “

What did I learn? I was chock full of self pity, with a smidge of self loathing for even trying in the first place, but where were the lessons in the whole thing? It took a lot less time than I thought to work out my sins, and I admitted to them:

“Never enter something after writing it in a day, no matter how good several people think it is, or how good to go you feel about it. Or how much time you spent editing it, for that matter. If it’s written on the fly, even if it came out well, it’s probably not a winner. Find more critical readers. Drop the parantheticals at all costs, for they are the devil. Figure out how to leave the verbosity to prose. Also, don’t pray for validation on the first go, because it just isn’t going to happen. Iiiiii’m sure there’s more, but that’s a start…”

The funny thing is, a lot of this? I already knew. But it never really sank in until I laid all that out. That’s what makes this loss okay; it beat those lessons, those platitudes, those things that sound vaguely condescending coming from the mouths of the learned who made it before you, into my head. I feel that burn, that mind bending depression, but it’s okay. I’m not done.

For those of you that might be interested, here’s the finished product that didn’t win in all it’s not glory. I jumped the gun, and it’s not perfect, but I still like my cute little piece. If I hadn’t let it fly out of my head, I’d’ve regretted it. After all, it literally cost me nothing.

I’ll just call it a dry run for next year.