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Only connect: Young Writer’s Competition Finalists

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The finalists in the Young Writers Competition (YWC) have been chosen, and this month readers are being asked to vote for the winning story. In these tech-obsessed times, where many of us ‘like’ more than we write, YWC mentor Peter Sherwood celebrates the competitors’ readiness to go against the flow.

Why write? Why not? Writing is a form of speaking and, as social animals, we’ve been talking and storytelling since we first ‘discovered’ fire and started huddling in groups. We Sapiens have a need for connection – for our survival, for comfort and for a sense of belonging. Enter the 21st century and the wilful destruction of heartand soul-felt human contact via memes, ‘likes,’ abbreviations, and cringe-worthy spelling and grammar. The act of writing separates thoughtful communication from the flippant and frivolous. It brings us back to ourselves and each other through clarity and inward and outward expansion. Like peeling an onion, the more we write the more we uncover. None of that is possible with a Trumpian-type rant on Twitter.

The disconnect

Communication has deteriorated into a high-tech version of ancient Native American smoke signals and 19th-century Morse code; part of a rapid-fire breakdown of our tribal and village ancestry, breeding the alienation felt by billions worldwide.

Much of the personal interaction we once enjoyed is long gone. We don’t talk on the phone anymore, we text. We live in isolated boxes in high-rise buildings where, cheek by jowl, we never as much as make eye contact, and neighbours would likely call the cops if we knocked on their door.

So, despite all the wonderful ‘connectivity’ we enjoy through social media, we are more alone than at any time in history. More robotic than human, with gadgets permanently attached to our arms, and spending more time in chat rooms than we do in each other’s homes, we are part of what is becoming known as the ‘loneliness epidemic.’

The huge expansion in wealth and technology over the past half century is paralleled by the exploding rates of depression. It’s counter-intuitive that the advent of ubiquitous computing and instant messaging has seen despair, anxiety, loneliness and alienation increase alarmingly. Something is missing. We’re deluded, believing that direct interaction with each other could be replaced by remote electronic contact.

Getting connected

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” E.M. Forster, Howards End, 1910.

In a world of hyper-connectivity where attention spans can be gnat-like and we flit aimlessly from subject to subject, from socialmedia gossip (studies show that 90% of social media content is just that) to abusive polemics, ‘only connect’ shines through in value and substance; a reminder to us to slow down and… connect. Nothing should be more important in this nanosecond of life on earth.

So how do we avoid the angst and start to feel connected? I have found that three simple acts take me to a better place: meaningful human interaction, be it minutes or hours; reaching out and giving to others; and writing out my feelings.

To write is to lose oneself in another time and place and reveal more of who you truly are. When I write, my sense of self takes over as it should, and I feel better. Many have expressed similar sentiments. There is a cleansing, a euphoria born of the discovery that comes with self-expression.

If not you, then who?

All the Young Writers Competition (YWC) entrants are winners. I don’t mean they should be rewarded just for showing up, or that some have not been ‘judged’ better than others. But by putting their thoughts and feelings on the line, every entrant has attempted to connect. First prize should be awarded to everyone who took the challenge.

This writing racket can be fearful. What will they think of my work? Am I opening myself up to criticism or even ridicule? Will they like me? If you submit your work to public scrutiny, these feelings come with the territory: but no pressure, no diamonds. My advice? Stop caring, be true to who you are and love yourself.

To write these days is to go against the flow. But remember the adage,‘If not you, then who? If not now, then when?’ If you feel an urge to express your innermost feelings, or simply want to write for the fun and challenge of it, then begin. Your work will always and forever be unique.

Being cheap, I like the idea that, like love, you can give what you write away and still keep it.

Start to write, a few words, a few sentences, relax and allow the process to carry you along. Take this sage advice from Louis L’Amour, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Not happy with the first few hundred words? That’s why your God gave your computer a delete key.

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” So says Stephen King, whose books have sold more than 350 million copies.

Most writers throw stuff out and rewrite constantly. The good news is you never know what will emerge once it begins to flow. You may well surprise yourself. Strange things can happen when we’re absorbed.

Most writers rarely have in mind a beginning, middle and an end. They simply start with a rough idea and allow it to develop into that ideal moment when one thought unearths another and it begins to write itself. (My dream is to awake to the aroma of fine coffee, hit the computer start button, and chill while it produces some spectacular prose and fires it off for publication.)

Faced with writing stories, adults tend to search for ideas before they can begin, whereas children understand that the act of putting pen to paper stimulates their imaginations, and that their ideas come while writing, not before it.

Like I said, first prize should be awarded to every YWC entrant who took the challenge.

Vote for the winning story in this year’s YWC

June 7, 8am: The three finalists’ stories are posted online  for readers to vote online
June 14, 9am: Online voting ends
June 14, 5pm: The results are posted on the Around DB and Life on Lantau Facebook pages


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