The Writeoff Association 927 members · 663 stories
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TheNumber25
Group Contributor

With only a day left before the winning prompt is announced and writing begins, I thought that it would be helpful if I shared a little bit of my own experience with writing in the /fic/ writeoffs. We have quite a few old regulars familiar with the format for the competition, but most of the members are new to the concept of writeoffs (I assume), so hopefully they will be able to have an easier time writing their entries in the coming days.

Conceptually, a write-off story is no different from an ordinary story once it has been written. But there are some critical differences in the process of writing this story: you are writing on a pre-determined prompt, and your writing time is limited. While similar to the other prompt writing groups on FimFic, the competitive nature and increased length of story submissions makes the writeoff a different sort of activity. Here's how to make the best of this fact.

Analyze the Prompts. Even before the writing begins, you have access to an important piece of information: the prompts list. In order to increase your chances and simplify your writing, you can use this list as a brainstorming tool. The rules regarding the prompt are liberal in that you must simply incorporate the announced prompt in any way, literally or thematically, into your story. What this means is that you can find the premise for your medal-winning story even before the prompt is announced.

While you cannot see which of the prompts are leading in the race, it's usually not hard to isolate a few prompts that have the biggest chances of succeeding. Pick several prompts that are interesting and open to interpretation in that way, and brainstorm possible stories around. Write down possible scenes, story titles, character conflicts, or use whatever method you usually rely on to find story ideas. Process your ideas, but not too much, just enough until you feel like you have an idea (or several) that you feel interested and confident in writing. Then put it away—there's no use in planning much more until you know the prompt for certain. When the voting ends and the winners are announced, you'll ideally already have a premise based on the selected prompt that you have slept on.

Remember however, that prompt voting is fickle, and none of the prompts you have selected may end up as the winner. In that case, you have to be prepared to brainstorm your premise further in search for a new connection, but you're likely to only have to change your previous idea instead of finding an entirely new one. Still, while the prompt is open to interpretation, there must be some connection in your story that you have to be ready to defend if asked, since not having a visible relation to the prompt is a legitimate reason for the other contestants to subtract one or two points from your story's rating, and that is a huge difference.

Have a Plan. Whether you like to outline your story extensively or prefer to write first and ask questions later, you still have to approach writing your story with a plan of action. There are seven days writing time available to you, with an uninterrupted weekend in the middle, but you still have (I assume) some more prosaic responsibilities in life besides writing My Little Pony fanfiction. If you want to have a good and successful time writing your contest entry, you have to find that time.

Try to predict realistically how many days you'll need to write your story, and if you plan to outline it, give yourself at least a few days to do that before you start. The /fic/ writeoffs were only three days long, and I always spent the first two days planning out my story and then frantically writing for twenty hours on Sunday. Trust me, you do not want to have that experience, which is one of the reasons we increased the writing time to a week. So make sure that you write the draft of your story before the final stretch. Ideally, you'll also want at least a day to re-read your story and fix the more obvious mistakes you may find. Of course, if you possess a lot of free time, don't go the other way and write a novel—remember that you cannot submit a story longer than 25,000 words. So take your writing process and life into account, and plan accordingly.

Actually Write. Of course, all plans will be useless if you don't do any writing at all. Experience shows that there was at least twice the amount of writeoff stories that weren't written than there were submissions. Whether it was a lack of time or a lack of ideas, those contestants never saw their stories materialize, and you should take steps to prevent the same from happening to you. Take the time to find an idea that you will like writing, and be active in finding the time to write. When the time to write comes, don't slack off or worry. You have plenty of time, but on the other hand, don't plan on writing a story that you will never manage to finish before the deadline. Remember that the only way you won't have any benefit from participating in the competition is if you don't submit anything in the first place.

Look for Strengths. This is more of a piece of advice related to writing in general, but I find it important to consider while writing for the writeoff. You may not yet possess the same technical expertise as the writers that started before you, but you always have that little something that can make your story stand out. Time and time again, the bottom of each writeoff results table has been populated by stories with dull, clichéd ideas seen a thousand times before, or by stories with premises so vague, undefined, and lacking in anything resembling story material. The ability to create an interesting, believable premise and deliver on it is a near guarantee of taking a spot on the upper half of the competition. So take the time to think over your story ideas and what could make them interesting—to you, first and foremost. Try to think of what made you like the stories that you loved to read, and what that could mean to your story. You may not make a masterpiece like that straight away, but the results may very much surprise you, and remembering this piece of advice could help you in your future writing.

Don't Forget to Edit! But with or without ideas, you still need to deliver a readable story first and foremost. It's easy to ignore typos, grammatical and punctuation errors, and missing words in the heat of creating your first draft, but you will do yourself a great disservice by not taking care of them. You may not possess the time or experience to fix whatever greater stylistic or narrative issues your work may have, but the least you could do before submitting the story is run it through a spell checker. With all other things being equal, submissions plagued by mechanical errors get several points fewer on their final rating than other stories.

And don't forget that you can edit your story if you submit it before the writing time closes. After that, all submissions are locked in.

Stop Worrying. And finally, relax! The writeoff is a competition second and a way to have fun first. You may be competing against some quite experienced fellows, but your story will be judged on equal grounds to theirs. My very first writeoff was also my very first time writing something for public scrutiny. I barely had any knowledge or experience, but I decided to participate on principle, and got first place and a shiny new Rainbow Dash collectible as a result. So do your best, do not allow anxiety to stop you from writing, and even if you do not get first place, you'll still have a great time.

And that concludes my little advice column for the writing part of the contest. I plan on writing another one for when the voting begins and the participants start writing reviews for the entries. But for now, remember that the writeoff is not only a chance to win prizes and bragging rights, but also one of the best ways to get good feedback on your work in abundance and have your story be seen by people who will leave a comment.

Now go out there, put a vote for your favorite prompts, and get to writing. Have fun!

RogerDodger
Group Admin

My advice is to write the ending first. It might so happen that with a combination of time constraints and unexpected plot developments, your submission ends up half-finished when the deadline looms. By writing the ending first, you've at least got that safeguard there so that you can submit something with a satisfying conclusion.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

I've gotta say, I'm not looking forward to having seven days to write. :B For one, having only 2-3 I find really helps in terms of motivation. The longer a contest goes on, the more you can say, "Oh, I've still got X days left, I don't have to write now."

For two, people gonna be able to write towards the upper end of the word limit. And with as many people as have apparently signed up for this (GV told me 80?), even after the prompt scares half of them away, there's likely to be a lot of words to go over for voting. If history has anything to show, nothing kills interest in a writeoff like an extended voting period.

Not that I'm saying anything should be changed this time around, but it's something to keep in mind.

Seeing as how I'll be in Florida for all but the first write off day, I won't be able to submit anything this time. But I wish you all luck with whatever you write.:rainbowdetermined2:

Axis of Rotation
Group Contributor

2308753
Hmm, well, while it may turn out that seven days is a tad too long (though I don't think it will be), I certainly don't want to go back to three. My issue with the old time frame was that if you had a busy weekend, or even just a busy Saturday, it would seriously damage your chances, if it didn't outright kill your attempts at completing something to turn in.

Yeah, seven days certainly makes it easier for writers to give into procrastination, but the way I see it that problem lies within themselves; not having enough time to really write any cohesive material because of life is an external problem whose fault doesn't necessarily lie within the author or their abilities as a writer. If the contest had to "penalize," so to speak, a contestant for one or the other, I'd rather it be for something they can control, such as procrastinating.

This is coming from a terrible procrastinator, by the way. We'll have to see how things go of course, but I'm hopeful about the seven days. :twilightsmile:

Casca
Group Contributor

2308753
>having to read 10+ stories to vote
>if each is 3k words, that's 30k to read before voting
>a small novel
Please say it isn't so. D= ahh, but knowing Roger there's probably some kind of round-robin system thingy in the making to make it digestible, or something.

As for advice? This is very much YMMV, but... don't care. Like, forget quality control, forget trying to get your prompt, forget trying to impress X or Y or whichever big shot's going to show up. Personally, this writeoff is a chance for me to write whatever, however, and while that kind of callousness has given me but 2 wins of 6 submissions (which isn't that shabby, I guess), that's six more things I can touch up on and publish. Six more things I got a ton of comments and feedback on, which helped me see what kind of 25's aforementioned strengths I have.

The writeoffs are pretty much your one chance to truly be selfish and write for your own gain. While you can use the chance for glory, you could also use it for experimentation. Or sadism, if you're the kind of sadistic person that enjoys making fellow participants squirm because they have to read your 2nd-person HumanxFluttershy submission before they can vote. D=

ocalhoun
Group Contributor

2309823

>if each is 3k words, that's 30k to read before voting
>a small novel

Meh... 50,000 is a small novel, in my opinion.
I Could easily blow through 30,000 in the space of one lazy afternoon, :rainbowdetermined2: but your results may vary. :derpytongue2:

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer
Group Admin

2309785
I always found having three days brought down to one and a half makes it a real challenge. :D I'm always busy on weekends!

2310068
no geev you don't understand

I always read all the entries and everyone should or else it just isn't fair ._. I will read them all unless physically prevented from doing so.

Axis of Rotation
Group Contributor

2310613
Oh it's a challenge alright haha just not one I'm always ecstatic to take :derpytongue2:

Tayman
Group Contributor

"Stop worrying" is the first acorn of advice all writers should take to heart. How many authors have wallowed themselves into submission before clacking out a solitary character? Easier said than done, but I've found writing to be leagues above fun when I release unrealistic expectations.

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