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NYC Midnight and My Positive Spins

I always make a positive spin out of everything. Even when I enter a contest that I immediately regret entering.

By Stephen Kramer AvitabilePublished about a month ago 9 min read
NYC Midnight and My Positive Spins
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

So many contests out there have such similar rules and themes and layouts, that when I read the rules for the NYC Midnight competition, I was intrigued with how different it was. Now, I love all contests, and I enter into a lot of them. But NYC Midnight caught my eye in a different kind of way.

So, it is new to me, and I admittedly don’t know everything about it. It appears they do several different competitions, but the one I am participating in is the Screenwriting challenge. It goes a little something like this…

You sign up. You know the upcoming dates but you do not know what you are writing yet, so you can’t start. The date comes around and everyone who signed up gets put into different groups. Each group has a genre, a theme, and a character. So, you find out your genre, theme, and character, and they say, “Go!” You have about a week, maybe it’s 8 days, to write a script that is no more than 12 pages. Pretty cool, right? Total time crunch.

Then, they select the top 5 from each category, although this year I guess it was the top 10. Those winners from each category move on to round 2. Same deal, you find out your new genre, theme, and a character… and now you have 3 days to write a script no more than 8 pages! An even tighter turnaround. They pick the top three from each group I believe, then there is one more round. New genre, new theme, new character, and you have 24 hours to write a script no more than 5 pages! Then, they pick the top 10 overall.

Sounds crazy, right? That’s what I loved about the idea. It’s that ‘back against the wall’ kind of feel. You have a deadline fast approaching and you only just figured out what the hell you’re supposed to write about. Can you spin something up in limited time? Will your brain work fast enough? Can you think and act on your toes? That’s the part I liked so much because I sometimes feel that I act well under pressure and can create things in a moment’s notice if I need to. It’s a bit of improvisational skill, I think.

So, I planned on signing up for the NYC Midnight Screenwriting challenge, and then on the last day I was able to sign up, I was second guessing it. I already had so much going on, so many things I had planned on doing. I have this whole damn agenda planned out for myself for all the projects I am trying to work on, and as it is, I keep pushing things back. Other projects are taking longer. I have so many things I am trying to accomplish before moving on to my next steps, scripts and stories to polish to prepare to send out… what am I doing? Why am I adding on one more contest? And one that will be hectic and make me grind everything else to a halt. And what do I gain from this contest? It isn’t aligned with the path I am trying to take. It isn’t part of my plan. Sure, there are prizes and recognition and all of that… but am I taking a silly detour and preventing myself from taking the path I’ve been carefully planning for myself?

I decided against it.

And then, because I am crazy, or who knows why, I decided against what I decided against. And I signed up anyway.

And I am not joking, the next day I regretted it.

“Well, you signed up now, dummy. You have to go through with it. Just wait for the day when you find out your group.”

The day was approaching and I started getting a little excited about it. The possibilities were endless, and I fancy myself someone who can write in many different genres with some success. It could be fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, horror, suspense… I love writing in any of those genres. This might actually be great. I am excited to see what I am going to get. Just as long as it isn’t drama. The genre that spans too large a range of possibilities, jeez, if you get lumped in with people in drama there are so many directions people can go. That will make things more difficult. And maybe, just maybe, I don’t think of myself as so great when it comes to writing, just drama.

They announce the groups. I got…


Of, fucking, course.

Oh well. You signed up for it, dummy. Got to write it now.

It was drama / a makeover / a pet owner.

I wasn’t so thrilled about it. I already did a harumph kind of noise when I read drama, then I think I double harumphed when I read “makeover.” These do not feel like my kind of topics. But a pet owner? I am a pet owner. I have had many pets, I love animals. Maybe I can use that to my advantage. And then I started telling myself, it isn’t all about writing what you prefer all the time. This is a challenge. Challenge yourself. Accept this challenge, even if it isn’t what you wanted. Prove to yourself that you can do this.

So, I started writing my script. I mean, I had no choice. I used my unique pets that I have as inspiration, my guinea pig and my desert tortoise. So, wouldn’t you know it, those were the pets of my main character. I hoped it gave me an edge. I tried to work some truth into the script, I tried to use some of my life and some challenges I face, difficulties from my life, caring for pets while working at home. The makeover part, umm, well, I am at home a lot. And if I were a nation, and I had a flag, part of that flag might just be a pair of sweatpants. So, I suppose I could lean into that, “I work from home and sometimes don’t give much of a damn about my appearance” which definitely lingers around me at times. I mean, I do try to keep my sweatpants fresh and my hat, you know, whatever… hatty. But I can work with the idea of a makeover and extract some truth from this.

So, I got to working on that script. I wrote, I rewrote, I retooled, I got it to be as good as I could in the limited time and with my limited real estate. I finished it and thought, “That’s pretty good. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. And I think the story I set out to write, I made it as good as I could. I like it. Maybe I am leaning towards loving it… but will someone else love it?”


I was honest with myself, it wasn’t really all that special. But I had to set out and write it anyway. I polished it up as best as I could and I felt proud of that. But I started regretting entering the competition once more. I spent about a week on this thing, put a halt to my other projects, for what? A challenge that won’t go anywhere? Eh, I don’t know, probably some value in it. Doing something that was out of the ordinary, flexing different muscles.

I always pull some positive spin out of my ass, don’t I? I got to find something positive about the experience. And that was what it was. I tried something different, I challenged myself, I flexed different writing muscles. I suppose it was worth it.

The results came around. Time to read it and find scripts written by people with not my name. Let’s go through the motions and…

… whoa…

“Cold-Blooded” by Stephen Kramer Avitabile came in 6th place in the group and is moving on to the second round.

What the hell?

I think people overuse the whole “I didn’t expect anything.” or “Not in my wildest dreams.” Listen, your dreams need to get way wilder if they don’t even include imagining yourself winning stuff, people. My mildest dreams include me winning competitions, and getting scripts turned into movies, and winning Oscars. My wildest dreams… well, there’s this one with this 800-foot-tall monster that walks around the city and I’m trapped on the top floor of a skyscraper and I can’t let the monster see me or else I will die, for some reason. And yeah, there’s some other wild dreams. But winning competitions, achieving big things, I dream about that stuff. So, I won’t say this was something that wasn’t in my wildest dreams. But I will say, I already admitted defeat. I just assumed I had lost.

And I moved on.

I was shocked. And then I thought, hey, I guess this competition was worth it! I am moving on, there will be a new round. I am still in it! Maybe this is something I will be able to mention in certain situations, how I worked well in a time crunch. That’s a nice skill to have.

So, I waited for the next round… and then I got feedback on my script. Shit, I didn’t even know that was coming. I read through the feedback… and let me tell you… that was the positive I needed to find. Yes, moving on to the next round of the competition is fantastic and all, but I don’t know where it will go from here. I don’t know if anything will come from my placement in this competition. But what I do know is that I got extremely helpful feedback on my script. I read the positives and loved seeing that the things I wanted to come through did come through. Then, I read the constructive section. And these readers hit on so many points, so many things that I was worried about would hold my script back. They recognized them, but clearly, they weren’t as bad as I thought. They even pointed out a few things I hadn’t thought of. Flaws of mine when I write, that I know about on some level. But they spelled them out for me. Issues with conflict, with the climax, with tension… yes, I do have issues with that when writing.

They offered possible solutions to these problems, how I could’ve rewritten it to make it better. All excellent suggestions. And I realized, this 12-page script may not matter in the long run. But what about the 110-page one I may write next? What about when I am working on the climax of it? What about when I am trying to create tension? Maybe I will think back to this script and this feedback that I received and recall some good advice, recall a critique of a flaw of mine, a pitfall to avoid. Maybe this will help me grow as a writer. Because I wrote something I wouldn’t usually write, and I learned from mistakes.

And I moved on to the second round. Still baffled by that one.

I’m glad I participated in the NYC Midnight Screenplay competition. By the way, the second round prompts came out. I got mine, wrote the 8-page script in two days, and submitted it. Now, I wait. This one was Fantasy / a takeover / a seasonal worker. I loved this one so much more. And what will probably happen? What would be hilarious? The one I disliked, the one I dreaded, that script helped me to advance. I now had one I was really jazzed about and honestly felt so proud of the script I wrote. I probably won’t move on with this one… because that’s the most hilarious possible outcome. Obviously, I want to. But it doesn’t matter if I do or not. I already got a nice, little prize in the form of feedback.

I’ll have to see where it goes from here. It’s a fun competition and I am enjoying participating in it. And it has already been more worth it than I thought it would be. Is there a lesson here? I don’t know. I changed my mind a million times and went against things that made sense in my own head. Maybe the lesson is… just fucking write. That’s how you get better.


About the Creator

Stephen Kramer Avitabile

I'm a creative writer in the way that I write. I hold the pen in this unique and creative way you've never seen. The content which I write... well, it's still to be determined if that's any good.


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Comments (5)

  • L.C. Schäfer25 days ago

    I signed up for an NYC challenge and got ROMANCE. Never a-fucking-gain, I swear! "Out of all the genres," I thought, "I can hold my own in any of them, probably, maybe, on a good day... just as long as I don't get romance". The universe laughed and laughed and laughed.

  • Mackenzie Davis29 days ago

    Congrats on getting over that hurdle and moving into the next round! That is SO exciting!! I'm too poor to enter NYC Midnight, but the idea of it was enticing at first. I don't think I'd ever do it, though. Someone recently changed my mind on challenges like that and I agree with their take. I did do the winter Writing Battle and it was very fun, but ultimately, not for me. Like Davina said, the "genres" are not really genres. They're tropes or themes. If I were to do that kind of "assignment contest" thing, I would need way more time to work my literary brain into gear and find the loophole. Best of luck to you, Stephen!

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a month ago

    Well now... I love these updates and stories about competition. I seriously need to start searching for some of these contests so I can start facing the turmoil and or success that I keep hearing about. I'm so glad you changed your mind and decided to give it a shot. I must've come as a huge surprise that your efforts turned into something. Regardless of the outcome, you did it and have more experience under your belt. Can't wait till the day I see your credits in bright lights... You are on your way!

  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a month ago

    I entered their microfiction challenge years ago, and that meant you had 24 hours to turn around 100 words. My big brained action was to wait until the topics were released since I was EST, the same as the challenge organizers. Then, rip out a first draft, sleep on it, and rewrite in the morning. Weekend barely even begun. Can't imagine having to put as much investment as you did into every round. And since I didn't make it past Round 2, at least I know one Vocal Stephen has a shot of making it to the Midnight Big Leagues now 🥲 Best of luck!

  • Mark Gagnonabout a month ago

    I've competed in their short story competition on several occasions and you're right, it's all about the feedback. It's not a cheap competition to enter, but at least you get something for your money. They have another short story challenge coming up soon and I may give it a shot. Good luck with yours.

Stephen Kramer AvitabileWritten by Stephen Kramer Avitabile

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