This winter I submitted my first Sci-Fi into Writers of the Future, a highly esteemed quarterly contest for unpublished writers. It was both the first Sci-Fi I had ever written (I’m a fantasy guy) and my first time entering this contest. I walked away with an honorable mention.
With the volume of submissions WotF receives, and the incredible quality of their winners, I was overjoyed at getting this nod. Past WotF winners include Brandon Sanderson, who was a finalist in his quarter, and Pat Rothfuss, who won his quarter with an excerpt from Name of the Wind. Needless to say, WotF is full of heavy hitters.
There are some writers on the forums who have racked up a dozen or more Honorable Mentions in their pursuit of contest gold. Nonetheless, I’ll take my badge as a sign that I’m on the right track. If I can land anywhere in the ballpark, even the parking lot, of Sanderson, that gives me motivation to persevere.
This sentiment was shared by my writing group. When I told them about my mention I got several back-slaps and emotional hand-shakes (not literal hand-shakes, mind you, this is Covid season). And I was also asked a pretty simple question: What had I done to nudge my writing up to this caliber?
My answer was pretty simple. I went to Toastmasters.
Now, this may seem counter-intuitive. Toastmasters is a public speaking organization, after all, with an emphasis on professional non-fiction delivery. But here I’ll share what I told my writing group.
A Toastmasters meeting has 2-3 program speakers at each meeting. With an additional 3-6 tabletopics (impromptu) speakers. Evaluators give feedback for each speech, and there is usually a designated evaluator for the tabletopics speakers as a whole. Even if you’re not assigned as an evaluator for someone’s speech, you’re still encouraged to provide written feedback to the speakers. Most evaluators focus on vocal variety, body language, or presentation style. I, being a writer, focus exclusively on story structure. Every meeting. Every speaker. Regardless if I’m the designated evaluator. And when I’m not working overtime, I attend two meetings a week.
For those keeping count, that’s 9-18 short stories per week that I’m evaluating/restructuring for practice. Oh, and my primary Toastmasters club is Story Masters; a club that specializes in storytelling elements, story flow, and value change.
9-18 short stories per week, at spoken pace, on top of my regular written story swaps from critique groups. That’s also 9-18 speakers per week who are ridiculously grateful that you a) paid attention, and b) offered them structural points on their speech, based on Fraytag’s Triangle.
So…who has two thumbs and an honorable mention after doing speech evaluations for every speaker, every week? This guy!