So you’re going to apply to Alpha. You have it all planned out. You’ve convinced your parents. You can’t stop talking about it with your friends. You’re so excited to have the chance to spend two weeks of your summer with famous authors and other young writers just like you. The application doesn’t even look that hard. Except for the application story, that is.
And you haven’t started that, have you?
That’s okay. No really, it is. Okay, so you only have a little more than a week, but we come from a world of procrastinators. I myself am one of them. And if it makes you feel better, I didn’t even know Alpha existed until twenty-four hours before the application deadline, and I managed to get in.
So the good news is, you aren’t doomed. It is possible. Hey, you have a week. That’s plenty of time, right? Whatever you do, don’t say, “I don’t have enough time. I should just not do it,” because Alpha will change your life, and you don’t want to pass up this opportunity.
The bad news is, well, you only have a week, so you’re going to have to make some sacrifices in order to get a good application story out, because even though it’s doable, you really don’t want to be writing your story in twenty-four hours. Trust me.
“So how do I do it?” you ask. “How do I write a story that will be accepted at the last minute?”
It might be tempting to down a two liter bottle of your favorite caffeinated soda, throw yourself at the keyboard, and see what happens. But don’t do that. At least not right now. Don’t worry, that part will come.
First of all, if you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, you know it’s important to set up a good support network for yourself. So tell anyone and everyone that you’re applying to Alpha. Get them excited about it too. This way, they’ll understand when you’re hiding in your room for hours at a time, bashing your head into the keyboard, demanding large amounts of chocolate, and running around the house screaming with joy when it’s finally all done. The other plus to having people who know what you’re doing is that they’ll help you. Use them to talk about ideas and things you’re stuck on. Get them to read your story when you have a draft.
So, you have an idea, you have a designated group of people to cheer you on. Now do you chug your soda and throw yourself at the keyboard? No. Not yet.
First, I want you to make an outline. Not a super complicated outline. Not even a detailed outline. Make a list of basic events that happen in your story: Protagonist does this, then this happens, then protagonist does this, then this happens, then antagonist does that.
“But I don’t write outlines,” you say. “I just sort of go with it.”
Okay, so normally you don’t make outlines. That’s a perfectly legitimate way to write a story. But in this case, there are a lot of good reasons to use an outline.
Most importantly, when you finish writing the outline, you’ll be able to look at your story as a whole before you’ve written it and avoid any massive restructuring that might be necessary. You can analyze your characters and their motivations. Does it make sense that your protagonist does X? Would it make more sense if they did Y? Is your protagonist being active enough, or are they just responding to the antagonist? What about your antagonist? Are they sufficiently antagonistic for the scope of the story? What about your setting or world and your speculative element? What role do they play in the story? You can look at all of this just in your outline and make changes before you even start writing. Be sure to talk about your outline with your designated writing buddies. They might have other ideas you should consider.
Once you have your outline and a good sense of your story as a whole, now it’s time to stock up on that favorite highly-caffeinated soda and plenty of candy, sit yourself down, and start writing. When you’re writing, be sure to use active, vivid language with strong nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are fine, but make sure you aren’t using them instead of strong nouns and verbs. Keep a consistent point of view and verb tense, and don’t forget standard manuscript format.
Once you’ve finished your story, assuming you have time, get some sleep and then ask your designated writing buddies to read it over. There’s nothing like another set of eyes on a story, especially if those eyes belong to someone you trust to give you good, honest advice. Don’t underestimate the value of sleep either. It will give you a chance to clear your head and look at your story with fresh eyes.
If you don’t think you have time to do more than a few small edits, though, you might consider just looking through the story again, making some small changes, and sending it off. You don’t want someone to tell you your protagonist’s actions don’t make any sense if you don’t have time to fix it, so sometimes it’s better for your emotional well-being to just not ask. And to be honest, at this point, your emotional well-being is just as important as your story.
So you’ve finished your story. You’ve cleaned it up so it doesn’t look like you bashed your head into the keyboard a couple of times. You’ve run a spell check and cursed Microsoft Word for objecting to each of your names at least twenty times. You’ve put it into standard manuscript format. Now it’s time to take a deep breath and send it in and let the waiting begin.
So the shorthand version of this is: make outline, write story, edit story, send in story. It might seem like a lot to do in just a week, but your application story will be stronger for it.
Good luck. You are not doomed. You can do this.
Now you just need to turn off the internet and go write already!
Jameyanne Fuller attended Alpha in 2011 and 2012.