2019 Writer's Games Winner
Individual Portion 1
The Writer's Workout conducted the following interview with Anne Limbergh in May, 2019. The Writer's Workout is represented as "WW" and Anne is represented as "AL". Interview responses are published as received.
WW: What made you want to participate in the Writer's Games this year?
AL: Back in February I had just submitted the final draft of my Ph.D. dissertation, and I thought something like this would be a fun way to ease myself back into the creative writing I used to enjoy (before the academic monster swallowed me for five solid years).
WW: Was there anything that you were worried or nervous about coming into this year's Games?
AL: I never, ever write short fiction. Novels? No problem, I look forward to NaNoWriMo every year, rain, shine, deployment or dissertation. Long form nonfiction? My dissertation came in at just under double the minimum required length. But a short story? Seriously? I can barely clear my throat in five thousand words! I think the last time I even attempted this particular writing form was more than twenty years ago, and as I recall it didn’t turn out all that well. I had no idea if I would be able to come up with anything coherent in such short works, even before I started to worry about the time constraints on the Events.
WW: What kept you motivated to participate in each Event?
AL: In an utterly stunning plot twist, I won the first one! After that I felt like I had to keep submitting to prove to myself that the win wasn’t a fluke. Then, when I didn’t do very well in Events 2 and 3 (proving it clearly was a fluke), I felt like I had to keep submitting to prove to myself that I could muster the discipline to work on honing my craft even without external validation. Event 4 was the one that scared me the most, because it was the story I cared about the most, and when it inched its way onto the winner’s list I knew I had to to finish the contest. I truly did NOT expect to come anywhere near being the overall winner — which just goes to show that stubbornness beats talent every time :)
WW: Did life ever get in the way during the Games? How did that affect your writing?
AL: Well, I sort of had to prepare and give my dissertation defense on the Event 2 weekend...and I also sort of procrastinated putting together my talk until about Thursday. I had imagined a hazy plan plan to have everything ready to go so I could concentrate on the contest during the school evenings, but it didn’t exactly pan out. I had to cancel some long-standing plans on Saturday night because I had a date with PowerPoint and Scrivener instead. Writing that story was very difficult for me, but I honestly can’t blame my life situation for that (see below).
WW: What was your favorite Event and why?
AL: I very much enjoyed Event 1 (Game Show of Death). It was dialogue-focused, and I love telling stories through dialogue because it so quickly brings the characters to life. I also had one of those magic moments where the story just jumped into my head fully formed, so I didn’t have to agonize about getting the ending to make sense (like I did with pretty much all the rest of them).
WW: Was there an Event that was more challenging for you than the others?
AL: Event 2 (Split Up, Gang!). Notwithstanding that other minor obligation I was dealing with, the event itself was possibly the worst combination of requirements for someone with a comfort zone shaped like mine: a short story mystery? Really? Just reading mysteries makes me feel stupid, so you can imagine how much drooling and bumping into walls was involved in my floundering around trying to write one. It turned out to be kind of a rough weekend.
WW: What inspires you to write?
AL: All of my best fiction work results from an interesting character or two showing up in my head yelling at me. It becomes a flow experience when I can just stare out the window, listen to the characters, poke at the edges of their world to see how it works, and then follow them around with a notepad to find out what’s going to happen. The flow of nonfiction is different, but just as strong; I read and think and read and think and eventually patterns emerge, which I use to shape the subsequent reading and thinking. In either case, writing is much more about the process than the product for me.
WW: What genre do you normally like to write in? How did that help or hurt you during the Games?
AL: I enjoy the creative but not necessarily comprehensive worldbuilding of light fantasy, with the occasional detour into character-driven sci-fi. The Events were broad enough that I didn’t have to explore outside of this particular comfort zone (although by doing it that way I may have missed a trick, or at least an opportunity to gain experience in other genres). As mentioned, my utter lack of mystery experience definitely proved a disadvantage, though.
WW: Whose work do you find most inspiring? Why?
AL: My Ph.D. dissertation was on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. The easy way he can blend a detailed mythic foundation with familiar-yet-fresh characterization to create a world so fully imagined that it’s more real than reality makes me despair of ever achieving anything close to his level of mastery — but even if I can’t hope to equal his skill, I can certainly find inspiration in continuing to try :) I also find deep satisfaction (as I think Tolkien himself did) in searching for the roots of today’s most powerful stories in the myths and legends and cultural touchstones of the past.
WW: What is the best advice someone has ever given you and who said it?
AL: This is kind of a hard question, because I’m a sucker for a good aphorism. I’ll limit myself to two. First: “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” I’m not sure where I first read this — maybe in one of the Life 101 books by Peter McWilliams? — but it has helped me be more conscious of the choices I make in my life. Second: “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” I think this is Jim Rohn, and I probably saw it on Instagram or something. It felt like a kick in the stomach the first time I read it, but now I return to it when I’m struggling to do something, because it makes me re-evaluate what I really want (and I feel like it gives me permission to let go of something if it turns out I don’t really want it enough to make it happen).
WW: What advice would you give to people thinking about participating in next year's Games?
AL: I found the Games to be an incredibly worthwhile experience. Taken for what it is, superb high-stakes training in the craft of writing, I’m honestly not sure you could find anything more worthwhile. If you are the sort of person who benefits from some external structure and stress in your writing practice, I would highly encourage you to register (even if short stories aren’t your thing — they certainly aren’t mine). Be prepared for a wild ride, though, and be ready for the emotional exhaustion you will feel at the end of it!
It is the policy of The Writer's Workout to publish interview responses as received.