I’ve been involved with Iron Writers, mostly as an observer, for many years. I love participating in the competitions when I can, but life has kept me too busy lately. I always highly recommend Iron Writers for writers, experienced and new, to get that practice in. It’s also just a lot of fun. Where else can a bunch of scribblers pit pen to pen?
In your own words, can you please explain to me what the Iron Writer challenges are?
The Iron Writer Challenges are flash fiction challenges, where in the writer must compose a five hundred-word flash fiction story, utilizing four prompts, under a deadline.
It seems daunting and to some, I suppose it is. It was for me when I accepted my first challenge. Yet, what can be learned from using this format as a writing exercise is quite remarkable.
How did you come up with the idea for Iron Writers?
A fellow writer asked me, in January 2014, to participate on her blog. I accepted, expecting the usual Proust questionnaire. I committed to her, and then when she asked me to write a flash fiction piece, I raised an eyebrow. I had not idea at the time what flash fiction was. At that point, I had not even written a short story and could not imagine myself ever writing one. I did not see myself as a short story author.
The story I was asked to write, involved a 1959 ZIL III, a dead gypsy, a jug of moonshine and a mounted swordfish. I stewed over it for a few days. When I sat down to write, I had to google the ZIL III. I had no idea what that was. When I learned what it was, the idea for the story fell into my lap. Five hours later I was finished, polished, done. I sat looking at it, reading it one more time and I was surprised how I felt. What it did to me.
I was enthralled. I sent it off, pleased, happy. I shared what had happened with a friend a week or so later, remarking how I felt. He said it reminded him of The Iron Chef. The bell rang in my head. I rushed home, googled ‘iron writer’ which was taken but the domain seemed dormant. I googled ‘the iron writer’ and there it was, waiting for me. I built the website, shared it in a few writing groups I am in, and it grew legs in a single week. The rest is history.
How has it changed since you began?
What has been the highlight of your experience with Iron Writers?
Two aspects of this. First, and foremost, the exposure TIWC has given me into other authors. That has been wonderful as well as educational.
Second, from a writing standpoint, I have learned that every word counts and to kill any word that does not count. This is important because when a reader has invested their money into your story, you do not want to lose them. If what you have conceived and produced does not pay them back, you lose. And that is a horrible thing for a writer.
Even if the author is not concerned with making writing a career, to tell a story poorly is, well, poor. I do not want to produce something that does not say what I want it to say. Flash fiction, if embraced for what it is and what it can do, is possibly the best tool there is for learning to show what you have to show.
What have been some of the challenges and hurdles you’ve had to overcome with this event?
Many. Two come to mind. First, this is a challenge but I do not want anyone to approach it as a ‘challenge’ in that the objective is to defeat another writer. I think if someone uses TIWC to accomplish that, they will lose in the end. It is design, on purpose, to help any writer grow. Again, it goes back to the reader and the fact that every word counts. Every. Word. Counts.
Consider that any scene, large or small, significant or not in a novel, must engage the reader and move the story along. If any scene becomes a personal rant or social commentary, the reader will lose interest, perhaps never finishing the book. When that happens, what has the author accomplished? In reality they have failed. Now, rants and social commentary can be in the story, just learn how to do. Learn to trust your reader. This goes back to show vs tell.
Second, and perhaps the biggest difficulty TIWC has had, is judging. As TIWC is set up as a challenge, naturally there must be a ‘winner’. A problem occurred very early on because I naively added a poll to the challenge, where anyone could vote for the story they felt was best. But that was not the outcome. What happened is writer A brought his/her 1000 Facebook followers to the website, voting for his/her story.
Writer B did the same, but only had 400 followers. Guess who won? Even if writer B’s story was better conceived, written, etc, it did not matter. So we went to a judge system, where I solicited outside judges to decide the winner. That didn’t work because it too difficult to find judges not associated with anyone within TIWC and hopefully would not be biased.
We tried a couple of other methods, all failed for the same reasons. Currently I have a private, members only poll on each challenge. All the bias’ are there. Nothing I can to do to stop that, unless I had a budget where I could pay for judges.
What’s your next challenge?
Depends on what you mean. The next challenge is this coming Thursday. If you mean for TIWC, I would like to get some high schools involved in this, for their creative writing students.
I would like to have this grow to the point that there is a budget, we have paid judges, and offer scholarships to those students. Who knows, perhaps one day this will be financed and scholarships would be available to university students.
How can someone become involved with Iron Writers?
Sacrificing a goat comes to mind. Or go to the website and look at the right side bar where it says ‘Take a Challenge’. Just click on the link.
Where do you see Iron Writers a few years from now?
I have learned to not hope too much. In truth, I am surprised it is still alive. This month, February 2017, makes our third birthday. I really thought this idea would be stillborn. I am surprised it has made it this far. So, I am not sure where TIWC will be.
It might be lost to history. It might be well funded, thriving, growing… I really do not know, and of a truth, I do not think too much about it (albeit, I do dream of having the funds to make this better, like prize money for winning, scholarships for creative writing students).
What’s in your future?
More grandkids, I hope. That would be nice.