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Online Exclusive: Q&A with Sabrina Hicks

"Blink," by Sabrina Hicks, is the Grand Prize winning story for the 85th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, besting over 6,000 entries across 10 categories. For complete coverage of the 85th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition, please check out the November/December 2016 issue of Writer's Digest. You can read "Blink" here.

What do you think are the biggest benefits and challenges of writing short stories?

I find the biggest challenge of writing short stories is making every sentence count. When you’re used to novel writing, you can get away with some wordiness. The concise nature of short story writing benefits my overall editorial skills, eliminating unnecessary details and learning how to tighten my prose.

Describe your writing process for this piece. What inspired it?

After five years and four drafts, I was stuck in a rut editing my novel. My mother suggested I take a much-needed break and write a short story to recharge my batteries. I woke up one morning with the phrase: It all began with a staring competition. Then I had to figure out what to do with it! Three drafts later, I was finally satisfied with the end result.

Write a short summary of your short story.

When the school bus breaks down, June Walker’s friends challenge her to a staring competition with the new eighth grader, Koaty Taylor. What begins as a contest to pass the time turns into a deeper exploration of self, testing the depths of compassion we allow ourselves when viewed under a careful eye.

How long have you been writing? How did you start?

Writing has been a passion of mine since college. After graduation, career and family took over, and I had to put off the late night calls to write. Five years ago, I couldn’t ignore the ringing and finally decided it was time to answer. I haven’t stopped since.

Why do you write?

I write for many reasons: to make sense of people and places, to express myself creatively, to make connections in life and understand them in a meaningful way. Sometimes I think the only way I can effectively communicate is through writing.

What do you do for a day job?

When my first child was born, I left my job in publishing to focus on raising my family while my husband worked. Three kids and many years later, our life is at a point where I can concentrate on my writing.

Who and what has inspired you as a writer?

My father originally inspired me to write. After reading some of my work, he talked me out of pursuing a law degree and convinced me to pursue a creative writing degree. My first job was in publishing in New York City. The first author who inspired me was JD Salinger, and The Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book.

Do you write in any other genres?

I also write poetry, but my larger works end up being YA, which initially was a huge surprise to me. Generally, I’m not a YA reader. I prefer literary fiction. However, every time I open my laptop, a younger voice comes out. I tap into my childhood very easily, as I think it was my most creative time. I grew up outdoors, exploring mountains, horseback riding, and trying to keep up with my two older brothers and prove I could do anything they could.

Describe your typical writing routine.

I’d like to say I have a very structured and disciplined writing routine, but the reality is, I go in spurts, where I’m a madwoman, unable to tear myself away from my story, while laundry piles up and dinner becomes breadsticks. However, between the ups and downs, I aim for 500 words a day, and morning is always my primetime.

What's the one thing you can't live without in your writing life?

I cannot live without my laptop. It goes wherever I go and no one is allowed to touch my Precious, which will be hissed Precioussss in Gollum’s voice if little hands attempt to thieve it.

Where do you get ideas for your writing?

I get my best ideas from nature, people watching, great books, and traveling. Often times I get a seed of an idea in my head, let it roll around for days, ask a lot of questions about its significance, then begin to thread the pieces together.

What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? How have you developed these qualities?

Descriptive writing and setting is my strength. I can write about the desert much easier than I can feelings. Sometimes I need a lot of time to think about how a character would feel and react and take myself out of the equation. I am largely inspired by nature, so going on hikes helps loosen my mind and develop these qualities, in addition to reading great books.

What are some aspects of writing you’ve struggled with? How have you worked to strengthen yourself in these areas?

I sometimes struggle with the emotions my characters are feeling and getting it to translate on the written page. What’s in my head doesn’t always make the page. That’s when I need to go back and dig deeper, adding and subtracting with each draft.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

I have found the most basic writing advice is the best—write everyday. It teaches you that writing is work. It is a discipline. It isn’t this romantic endeavor you think it is when you first get started. It isn’t about looking the part -- that notion is a first draft of a very bad novel. Just write. And write. And write. And cry. And write. And repeat. And don’t forget to eat real food somewhere in the middle.

What’s your proudest moment as a writer?

My proudest moment is winning this competition. We tell ourselves we don’t need validation, but when it comes, it’s pure oxygen.

What are your goals as a writer?

My writing goal is to become a published author and continue honing my craft.

Any final thoughts or advice?

My final advice is basic, too, but can be easily forgotten in the throes of writing – don’t stop reading. Sometimes all you need is a good book to get you going again.

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