I was co-president of my university’s writing club by default. When I joined during my freshman year, there were two people running it. When that year was up, they graduated, leaving a void. I, being consistent to a fault, was one of the few who’d hardly ever missed a meeting, and, what’s more important, I cared enough about wanting the group to survive that I agreed to step up alongside another young woman who’d volunteered.
It must be admitted that I was not the most sociable, nor did I do much to make our weekly meetings fun, but I did attend the Student Government Association meetings and do all the paperwork needed to ensure we continued to be recognized and receive funding. In concert with the other president, who made up for the areas in which I lacked, we had a system that worked.
Not that our group was very large, of course. We reserved one small room once a week, brought our own paper and pens, and typically gave out a writing prompt. Every person present would fall silent, writing away until time was called, then anyone who wanted to share was given the opportunity to do so. Most weeks, I found this to be mainly useful as practice in turning off my “internal editor” and writing freely just to get ideas on paper. Some weeks, however, I was struck with inspiration and ended up quite proud of my results.
And so it was that when I was considering what to enter in an annual short story contest that my professors always recommended, I picked up a sheet of looseleaf paper that had a promising beginning and brainstormed how I might add on a satisfying end. I rewrote it a few times, typically adding on a section I liked only to veer off in a direction I didn’t.
I started with a character and a setting, and my original burst of inspiration had also given it a particular vibe. Eventually, I discovered I had wanted to capture a particular type of experience, to show readers what it felt like to be inside my head while I was experiencing something I felt had often been misunderstood by others in my life. The events of the story presented themselves as the perfect circumstances to draw out what I wanted, and my draft was complete.
I knew it had its rough spots, though. For one thing, I’m the type of writer (and reader) who doesn’t care what the characters look like. I know in theory what a person looks like affects their experiences in life and therefore affects who they are, but I simply can’t be bothered about whether this character’s hair is brown or blond or black or red, and I pay such little attention to fashion that I have no idea what “normal” people would wear.
So I worked up my courage and asked a friend who lived in the dorm room next door. She had some great ideas, including the idea that the girl who has a conversation with my main character could wear sunglasses and use them as a way to subtly distance herself from her father. She ended up being happy to read through the entire thing and give me notes, as well as verify some choices I’d made in the final version that I was feeling uncertain about.
I polished the story as much as I could, submitted before the deadline, and hoped for good results. Really, I wasn’t expecting much because I knew students from many other universities were entering and, indeed, I had entered before with no success. The important thing to me was that I’d written a good story, and I would use the experience to continue writing better ones.
Of course, if you’ve read the title, you know this time I actually did win. I was thrilled to have my fifteen minutes of fame in the English department and to share the good news with my parents and the friend who’d helped me. Having something actually published for my first time ever gave me the confidence to believe I was capable of revising something to a publishable standard, an important stepping stone on the path that was to follow. And getting a bit of prize money to offset my student debt by the tiniest degree didn’t hurt, either!
If you’d like to read Key Lime, a short story about a teenage girl who spends a lovely summer afternoon inside a pie shop, you can find it here: Delta Epsilon Sigma Journal 2014.