• LISP Team

Sarah McDermott, LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist

LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist 'EVERYBODY SAYS SO' by Sarah McDermott

- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?

In my day-to-day life I’m an editor at CNET.com. I’ve been lucky enough to keep my day job in the pandemic and I’ve been working from home for the past two years. I spend most of my time baking, playing clunky piano and failing to keep plants alive.


- When and how did you get into writing?

I’ve been various kinds of writer and editor throughout my career, but I’ve been intimidated by fiction since I was a teenager and could never seem to finish a story. A few years ago, a colleague recommended Kerry Ryan’s highly encouraging and demystifying Write Like a Grrl course. It transformed my writing routine — the main change being that I now have a writing routine — and, most importantly, introduced me to talented writers whose opinions I trust.


Since I started working on fiction, I’ve had pieces published by Liars League and Dear Damsels, and I’ve been shortlisted in a competition. (Now “competitions”! That’s my next cover letter updated.)


- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

When I’m working on a draft, I do a very boring but very sustainable 20 minutes of writing every day. It’s less satisfying than bashing out thousands of words in one sitting, but I find it less intimidating. In between projects, I’ll still sit down and write for 20 minutes, and maybe the free-writing will turn into something or maybe it’ll trail off and go nowhere.


If I’m editing, I’ll set the same 20-minute timer but I’m more likely to let it overrun because I prefer to edit in large chunks.


- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

It’s lovely, but it’s no match for my imposter syndrome. Even answering these questions is tricky — there’s always a voice in the back of my head asking me why anyone would care what I think about writing! I suspect that most people have that voice in the back of their heads, so recognition is a handy reminder that the voice isn’t always right and that it probably won’t go away, even when things go well.


- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Screenplay/Story?

Because I write in short bursts and I often start from the germ of an idea and work outwards, my first drafts can often have a disjointed quality. It can be daunting to look at a finished draft, figure out what exactly I was trying to do and then try to develop the thing I wrote into the story I actually wanted to tell! But it’s satisfying when it works.


- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?

This was originally an exercise in voice and mood. I was thinking about situations where a single person might feel more like part of a group than just herself, times when I’ve felt like the target of a group and times when I’ve felt most like a member of a group, laser-focused on an outsider.


I was also thinking about the policing of negative emotions and the ways we allow ourselves to feel a ‘negativity’ that’s socially verbatim. I’m not immune to that fear of negativity: I wrote the first draft quickly and then sat on it for over a year.


- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Screenplay/Story?

This is advice that anyone could give you, but it’s true: You have to show people what you’ve written and let them help you make it better. I always ask people to tell me the parts where they got bored, because the pandemic has ravaged my attention span and I’m sure it’s done the same to anyone who might happen to pick up something I’ve written. The last thing I want to do is waste a reader’s time


- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?

I love reading winning entries! Like reading literary journals and reading in general, seeing who’s winning competitions and what they’re writing is a good way to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t.


For me the most challenging thing with competitions, as with any other submission process, is deciding a piece is finished and ready to send out. Could it use another draft? Maybe it needs a few more months to settle.

- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?

Does anyone ever say no to this question? Yes! Sending work out is always horrible, but you never know if the thing you’ve written is going to resonate with people until you let them read it.


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