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July 28, 2017
NIAID Writer Excels in Weekend Writing Competitions

Claudia Wair is just getting started when most of NIH is heading home for the weekend. That’s because she participates in competitions where she composes short stories, often beginning on a Friday and ending on a Sunday.

NIAID writer-editor Claudia Wair has found success creating short stories in weekend writing competitions.
NIAID writer-editor Claudia Wair has found success creating short stories in weekend writing competitions.

In July, she’s entering two fiction writing competitions: the 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge organized by NYC Midnight and the Fiction War magazine summer competition. Both will require her to write, edit and submit a 1,000-word short story in a weekend based on a prompt she won’t know until the battles start.

When she’s not writing short stories over a weekend, Wair is a writer and editor in NIAID’s News and Science Writing Branch in the Office of Communications and Government Relations. She has a master’s degree in English literature with a concentration in creative writing from George Mason University and has worked in public relations and journalism since she was 20 years old.

Wair thinks her job helps her write better stories. Good writing is good writing, she says, whether it’s technical writing or fiction. She adds, “Writing about science definitely helps when writing science fiction,” which happens to be her favorite genre.

Typically, 2,000-3,000 writers from all over the world enter the competitions. The challenges usually require participants to write a 1,000-word story over the course of a weekend. At noon on Friday, she’ll receive a writing prompt. Sometimes the prompts will give her a genre, subject and an object. Others only provide a sentence like “I can’t leave her, she’s already gone,” or a theme, such as Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Once she gets the prompt, she has 48 hours to write, edit and submit the story.

At the beginning, it’s all mental work as she thinks about approaches. She might go out for a walk or meet her friends for dinner. She’ll go to sleep Friday with some possibilities in her head. The next day, the ideas usually flow and she’s able to write quickly. At the start, however, she isn’t sure where the story will go. Sometimes she’ll reach a dead end and need to start fresh.

So far, she has entered 10 competitions. She’s placed as high as 14th out of 2,500 writers in one competition and has had three other winning stories published by Fiction War magazine. She believes her previous experience helps her. Wair is learning to manage her time, to create interesting characters and plots in as little as 700 words, and to predict what judges look for in winning submissions.

Three years ago, she wanted a creative outlet. She always enjoyed writing fiction, but never had the time. So she began entering writing competitions. She counts Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler and Franz Kafka as favorite authors.

She prefers writing over 2 or 3 days because “the deadline forces you to do it,” she said.

What’s next for Wair? Right now, she is in the process of compiling the short stories she’s already written into a book. All she needs is an editor. She’s also working on a novella, an Afro-centric fantasy.

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