2020 Writer's Games Winner
Individual Portion 2
The Writer's Workout conducted the following interview with R.A. Clarke in October, 2020. The Writer's Workout is represented as "WW" and R.A. is represented as "RAC". Interview responses are published as received.
WW: What made you participate in the Writer's Games this year?
RAC: I fell in love with the Writer's Games my very first time taking part, which was portion 2 of 2019. The high word limit offered by this competition was a huge attraction for me, as I tend to write lengthy stories (even when I plan to write short ones). The ability to write in any genre was also exciting, as I enjoy writing in many genres. Honestly, those two things alone were enough to lure me in, but the cherry on the cake was the feedback. What other competition gives such amazingly detailed feedback for every story submitted? None that I've come across yet. I was hooked and I've been returning for each portion ever since. Oh, and I should also mention that the intensity of creation over the span of several weekends is a mental challenge, but one I find rewarding. A positive feature. With each new prompt I constantly find myself exploring new concepts and ways to put them onto the page. For a writer, it's a stretching exercise in the best way.
WW: Were you nervous coming into Games this year? What were you worried about?
RAC: I think I'm always a touch nervous entering any competition. Leading up to the Games, a variety of questions churned in my brain, like: can I be creative enough? Do I have another story in me? How can I possibly compete against all the other amazing writers participating? But most of that ends up stuffed in the bottom drawer of my mind. I find it works best to get on with it, do the best I can, and let the chips fall where they may.
WW: What kept you motivated to participate in each Event?
RAC: Receiving thorough and helpful feedback each week (thanks to all the amazing judges) is a major motivator for me. Even if none of my stories ever manage to place, knowing that I'll get constructive critiques to help me rework the story and make them stronger after-the-fact is huge. A prize in itself. And of course, there's always the dangling carrot of winning and being published too. Man, who isn't motivated by that? I don’t let it become a main focus though—keeping my expectations quite low so I won't get too disappointed. It’s a defense mechanism, I guess. Does anyone else do that? Ha-ha.
WW: What was your favorite part of The Writer's Games this portion?
RAC: Hmm… Let's see. I'd have to say, my favourite part about this portion was also the most surprising. I realized I have a stronger proficiency for writing romantic comedy than I ever thought. Truth be told, I've always been a closet hopeless romantic. My single years were spent binge-watching romantic movies and fantasizing about Mr. Right—however, my writing typically doesn't showcase that fact. I was pleasantly surprised to place in Event 3, where the task was to write an adorably romantic first meeting. That prompt must’ve shaken loose my inner Women's Network, as I quite enjoyed living vicariously through my characters, giggling or feeling their butterflies as I wrote. For Event 5, I couldn't help but dive in for more rom-com. When that story also placed, it was a real confidence booster, and a prime example of how this competition stretches a writer in a positive way. That was definitely my favourite part.
WW: What was the hardest part and why?
RAC: The hardest part and why? Well, I tend to write way over word count (by at least 1000-2000 words) and then scramble to rework things so it's short enough while still remaining cohesive. I often cut it pretty close to the deadline due to this struggle, and nearly didn't submit a story at all for the final Event of this portion. Every idea I had was too large—too many words. I hit a major block and felt like throwing my hands up. My inner imposter kept planting seeds of doubt, saying it wouldn't make any difference if I submitted or not because there's no chance I could ever win. However, the idea of not completing every Event made my soul cringe. So, I chose the best “too-long” idea I had and ran with it, refusing to give up. I’m sure thankful I got stubborn now, because it turned out well in the end!
WW: Which Event was the most difficult for you?
RAC: The most difficult Event for me was Hidden Treasure. I really struggled to come up with something original and surprising, which is what I always strive for in my writing. I tell you, if I'd been jotting my ideas on paper that weekend, there would've been a waste basket full of crumpled wads. I ended up retreating to the only kid-free, quiet thinking spot in my house (the screen deck), and in the end, I landed on something workable.
WW: How did the outside world get in the way of your writing?
RAC: With so many things happening in the world right now, concerns definitely roll around in my brain on a regular basis. What will change tomorrow? How will it affect my family and community? My productivity has suffered at times, but for the most part I manage to channel it back into my writing. I'm thankful in a way, that as a stay-at-home mom in a Covid world, I kind of exist in my own bubble. I don’t get out and see my friends nearly as much as I’d like. One might think I'd have oodles of time for writing since I’m at home, but that's definitely not the case. It’s perpetually busy with my kiddos, never-ending lists of things to do, and urgent launch preparations for my children’s chapter book The Big Ol’ Bike. It’s a constant challenge to find writing time, so each slice of the day I can steal to put words on the page is my way of "getting out" for a nice mom break.
WW: What did you learn about your writing during this portion of the Games?
RAC: Aside from my newly acquired adoration of rom-com, I learned that my ability to write believable and natural sounding dialogue is stronger than I thought. Through all of the Events, the judge's feedback for each of my stories was fairly consistent in mentioning that fact. Creating well-balanced and believable dialogue can be a tricky beast, so receiving that kind of validation was wonderful. Having to focus on the core competency of dialogue during certain Events has definitely helped improve my skill in this area.
WW: What's the best writing advice you've ever received? Who said it and how has it helped you?
RAC: “If I waited for perfection... I would never write a word.” - Margaret Atwood. That quote has always grabbed me because I can be a bit of a perfectionist, and in my youth, I had a hard time finishing the projects I started. Whenever I read that, it reminds me to simply get the words on the page, then go from there. Now, with that said, the BEST writing advice I've ever received was communicated more through action than specific words said. When I was still in high school and a lover of all things writing-related, I wrote a 100-page story called "Lost", which ironically has been lost through the years (I'm hoping someday to find it buried within some long-forgotten box). I asked my language arts teacher, Ms. Buizer if she could review and edit it for me, looking for any advice. A few weeks later when she was done, she didn't merely hand it back with her red-inked notes. She offered to meet me for a coffee like adults, which was HUGE for me at the time. For a teacher to make that kind of time for a student was going above and beyond. We sat for an hour sipping lattes and discussing writing. She liked my story, told me I had real skill and promise, and encouraged me to keep writing. It was such a simple thing, yet it meant the world to me. It said something stronger than words ever could. Ms. Buizer believed in me, and to this day, that helps me believe in myself. I'll never forget that—ever.
WW: What are you currently reading?
RAC: I spend lots of time beta reading for people in an amazing writing group I'm part of. I love helping and supporting my fellow authors, and it's also an exercise I'm constantly learning new things from. The last year and a half I've made creating new content and building my writing career a priority, so I'm embarrassed to say I've barely dented my ever-growing backlog of books to read. The stack on my bedside table is starting to grow out of control! So, what I try to do is have one craft-related book and one fiction book on the go at all times. Though my progress is slow, I'm currently reading Stephen King's On Writing, and Undivided by Neal Shusterman (book 4 of the Unwind Dystology). Nothing beats a good YA fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novel.
You can follow R.A. Clarke on Twitter: @RAClarkeWrites.
It is the policy of The Writer's Workout to publish interview responses as received.