NYC Midnight: Flash Fiction Challenge

This is going to read less like a Publisher’s Spotlight and more like a personal story, because it is.  If you only care about the contest, skip to the  quick and dirty.  The rest of you, feel free to join me in a little reminiscing.

The end of July will mark the one-year anniversary of me getting my writing life back on track.  I was in a bit of a writing funk.  Diving in here and there but never really devoting the time and energy to my writing that I ought to.  It had been a year and a half since my short story, Needs More Salt, was published and I didn’t have drive to keep it up.

Then in July I saw an ad on Facebook for a contest: NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge.  The entry fee was steep – if you know me at all you know I hate paying entry fees at all, so $50 made me cringe.  But skeptical as I was, I did a little digging and here what I found out:

  • NYC Midnight runs four contests a year on a rotating basis, one of which is the Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC).  (The others are screenplay-related or for Short Stories.)
  • The entry fee for the FFC gets you:
    • two rounds of competition with two unique sets of prompts
      • an additional two rounds should you place high enough in your groups
    • official feedback from the judges
    • unofficial feedback from the forums should you choose to participate
    • access to prizes, given out to the top 10 writers of the final round competition

So, why did I join?

I hadn’t written finished anything in a awhile.

Lord, what would I become without a deadline?  Don’t answer that.  For perspective, I had the idea for a superhero story sitting around in my computer since early 2014.  I only wrote/finished it on May 6th because of a certain Heroes vs. Villains contest deadline.  (It was well received; thank you for asking.)

I liked the odds.

Because they split the contestants into different groups, you’re only really competing against 30 – 40 writers.  That said, some of the finest writers I’ve had the pleasure to meet were in my group.  That hurt my chances a bit, but on the plus side, we made friends with each other on the forum and I was invited into a writer’s group who have kept me active over the last year, even when the contest wasn’t in session.  So, win-win.

Also, you only have to beat out half of the group (roughly) to get points for this contest.  With two rounds built into your entry fee you have two chances to score high enough to move on.  Your points for both rounds are tallied together, so even if you get 8th place in round one (8 points) and 5th place in round two (11 points) you’re still going to do better than someone who took 1st (15 points) in round one and 14th for the second (2 points), even if you didn’t get in the top 3 for either round.

It was an even (more or less) playing field.

George R.R. Martin would not win this contest.  If you want to win you have to come up with good ideas – fast – and polish it as best as you can within the time limit.  Prompts like “Action-Adventure, a Dumbbell, and an Underwater Cave” will throw anyone for a loop.  You could get a genre that you’re not familiar with, but chances are, there are other writers in the group who are just as lost as you are.

I got to read the competition.

Here’s the thing: when you’ve collected as many rejections as I have you start wondering whether you’re really any good.  Did I come really close to getting published or am I at the bottom of the pack?  I did my first round of the FFC without any beta readers at all – no help, no outsiders allowed.  I did that partially to test myself.  How well can I write when left to my own devices?  It turns out I’m pretty good at being creative under pressure.  The judges didn’t think so, but that’s another matter.

The judge’s opinions are subjective, but at least in this contest you get to read what the competition wrote (assuming they submitted it on the forum, which is locked to outsiders, so it counts as a workshop, not a first publication.)  Some are going to be better than yours, and that’s great!  Learn from them!  Be awed and take notes!  And also, some are not.  Be kind.  Give advice to help someone improve.  That’s what you’d want for your piece, right?  Advice, not mockery?  And yes, enjoy the ego boost it gives you when you find a piece that isn’t quite as awesome as yours.  You worked hard.  Celebrate.

Oh, and one more note before moving on… Just because you thought someone else’s story was awful, doesn’t mean you get to trash it if they scored higher than you.  Not cool.  To be 100% on the level, the judging for this contest is erratic.  I got 0 points on both of my stories.  That sucked.  Hard.  You put on a brave face, you bitch to your friends, you send a note to the contest runners if you think the judges (legitimately) screwed up.  But do not trash the other contestants.

I couldn’t can’t afford a writer’s workshop.

Listen, writing conferences are expensive, take up valuable time, and rarely exist within driving distance to me.  96 hours of balls-to-the-wall writing without having to leave my apartment?  Literally hundreds of stories to read through on the forums to critique (and compare myself to?)  Yes, please.

And that’s my biggest take-away from this experience.  For me it’s not about the contest (because again, the judging isn’t always the best) but about the writer’s workshop portion.  If you really want to get your money’s worth, invest in the forums.  There’s a camaraderie with participating with thousands of other entrants and seeing what you all managed to crank out.  And really, $50 for a writer’s workshop is the cheapest I’ve ever heard of, and I don’t even have to take time off work to join it.

For the record, I also participated in the Short Story Challenge and made it all the way through to the final round, something I’m extremely proud of despite my last story not placing in the finals.  There were many talented writers, so being among the top 40 was no small matter.  I say this because the judging is erratic, not necessarily bad.  And that’s frustrated a lot of participants to the point that I can’t blame them for not joining.

But then again, what other contest is this transparent?  In any other contest you get to read your entry and maybe a handful of the finalists that get published at the end.  You’re tossed into a group with a thousand other participants all writing to the same prompt hoping that you’ll rise to the top.  That’s a lot of pressure and a lot harder than out-writing 15 other people who got the same crazy prompts 48 hours ago.  And you just have to trust that the judges are ranking you fairly, you don’t get feedback, you don’t get ranked, you don’t know.

Am I going to participate this year?  I’ve thought about not.  Partially because I’ve had the experience, I’ve met my people, I don’t technically need to pay to play anymore, I’ve got the motivation and support I need already.  And Lord it is expensive.

But I can honestly say that my writing has improved and I know it will continue to improve by participating.  I know I need a deadline to get things done, and I know it forces me to test my skills by making me write for genres I’d never considered.  I hate writing Mysteries, but I wrote one I’m really proud of that’s currently under consideration at a publication.  That’s a story I never would have thought of, much less written, and it’s close to being a new credit on my resume.  How cool is that?

And more than anything, I really don’t think I can wait another year after this for it to come around again.  Even though I placed higher in the Short Story Challenge, it was a much more stressful experience.  I need the rush of 48 hours, which is just enough time to get an idea and get it out the door before I overthink things.

So yeah, sign me up!

All right, all right, I promised you some quick and dirty details, so here we go:

  • In their own words: “The Flash Fiction Challenge is an international creative writing competition, now in its 8th year, that challenges participants to create original short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments. “
  • Genres they accept: Depends on your prompt.  “When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group.  Each group receives its own unique genre, location, and object assignments (see past examples here).
  • Word count limit: 1,000
  • Time limit: Prompts are e-mailed at midnight on Friday-into-Saturday.  Submissions are due by midnight on Sunday evening.
  • Entry Fee: The entry fee is US$45 by the Early Entry Deadline of June 16th and US$55 until the Final Entry Deadline of July 21st.  Click here to register.
    • You also can get $5 off the entry fee just by tweeting.  Click here to make a post to your Facebook or Twitter account to receive a promotional code for $5 off.
  • Prize: The top 10 entrants after four rounds of participation get cash prizes.
  • Schedule: 
Early Entry Deadline: June 16, 2016
Final Entry Deadline: July 21, 2016
Challenge #1: July 22-24, 2016
Challenge #2: September 16-18, 2016
Challenge #3:* November 4-6, 2016
Challenge #4:* December 9-11, 2016

*Note: you must place high enough to participate in Challenge #3 & #4.

For more Information:

How the Contest Works

The FFC 2015 Winning Entry


Who to Contact if I have trouble registering/technical issues

My handle on the Forums, if you want to be friends.  You can also check out my stories for FFC 2016 if you’re a registered member.  (I share all my stories in the forums but I have removed the links to stories written for previous contests.)

Still not sure?  Check out the entry on Jen’s Pen Den that convinced me to join a year ago or ask me questions below in the comments.


6 thoughts on “NYC Midnight: Flash Fiction Challenge

  1. Signing up for my first NYC Midnight competition was some of the best money I ever spent for all of the reasons you mentioned: forcing me to finish something, giving and receiving feedback, writing stories that never would have come to me without the sometimes wackadoo prompts, but most of all, for the great people I’ve met from around the world. Writing is a lonely and discouraging pursuit, and a group of people who both pat you on the back and let you know when something is not working is invaluable.

    P.S. Yes, the judging is awful sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

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