C4 is the Central Canada Comic Convention in Winnipeg. The C4 Lit Fest is a separate, smaller event that focuses on writing. Check out #C4Litfest on Twitter if you like. People there are really approachable; not just the Winnipeg writers and publishers who form the core of the event, but the visiting guest authors, too. This is my second year and I just got home last night. The first time, I went because I had finished my book and wanted to know ‘what now?’ Wow. I thought the writing was the bigger part of the job and getting published, although not as much fun, was a chore that had to be completed when you were done. Writing is work, but it can be a labour of love, like cooking for your family. Getting published is a different kind of work, more like catering for a crowd. A hungry but picky crowd who want food now but don’t like your menu and don’t care how busy it is in the kitchen. So I left last year’s event feeling overwhelmed. But I’m a sucker for punishment, and I’m determined to do this, so I went back for more this year.
I entered the short story contest. I already had some other irons in the fire elsewhere but I was intrigued to notice that the rules of this year’s contest called for entries of between 500 and 2000 words. That is short. My stories tend to run 2500 words and up. I set about seeing what I could do in less. To simplify the process, I indulged in ‘licking the spoon’, by using the world-building foundation from my novel and writing a short prequel story, almost like a prologue. I was just getting warmed up when I realized that the line I had just written was hard to follow, because it had more impact than anything I had planned to add. Facing a choice of toning it down and writing on, or ending the story there, I went for the latter, and ended the story at about 525 words. Did it win? No, it did not, although one of the judges was kind enough to say that it was in her top three.
This year I was more ready to hear what a struggle it is to get published, so I sat and paid attention to the panels. I asked questions. I talked to authors – not only the pros, who were unanimously gracious and generous with their time, but the others like me, in the audience chairs. I think I made some friends, and I know I got to share in a sense of common purpose, which is not available to a writer in the same way it is to, say, a hockey player.
I learned much, not just about writing, but also about writing as a business. I’ve been busy with the opening moves on that front for many of the last twenty-five hours. Most of the remainder were spent corresponding with other writers and exchanging stories. I have a new beta reader for my novel, one who reads tons of SF with a discerning eye. Shoe on other foot department: I’ve been trying to help other writers by critiquing. I am not very experienced at this. It’s easy to be critical; it’s harder to be constructive. A strange benefit of this, because it’s easier to spot someone else’s mistake than your own, even when the mistake is the same, is that it will help me improve my own writing. Plus it’s nice to read different voices and styles.
In a word, invaluable. In three words, I’ll be back.