Granny's personal March Madness:
Howdy Neighbor. It’s open season on contests and I just ‘shot’ one.
Meaning to say, I pushed that key--the button of no return. If you’re like me, you start and then you go back and make sure the file you’re going to attach is the one you just did your 543rd edit on and not #542 which you thought was perfect when you went to bed last night. Got that? (okay so I do use a lot of run on sentences)
Finger poised above ‘ENTER’ key. Heart rate increases. “Oh Lord, help this entry succeed if that’s in Your will. Remind me this is about You and not me but boy I sure want to do well.”
Then, I chicken out and go back and read it again, out loud. Make more changes, then worry that I’ve not done a faultless job of checking for the little errors. Because I’ve done this enough to know, last minute changes are asking for trouble. (Never completely trust Replace All)
Contests are a strange ritual for writers, especially for genre fiction. If you are one of us, and have written a story without critique partners, contest feedback, or any other ‘fresh eyes’, and sold the book to the first editor you showed it to, please stop reading now. In fact, get off my property or I’ll get my dog after you. She's killed before and she'll kill again.
If you’re a reader… yes, we’re looking for a little pity here, for crying out loud.
I’ll skip ahead in the process, passing creative writing classes, and writers’ groups and critique groups to the day you’re ready to pay someone (who doesn’t know you from that Stephanie lady who wrote those vampire books), to tell you what they think of your writing. Your friends and family will do it for free, by the way. You might very well be paying someone to tell you how ugly your baby is, but you do it anyway. Strike a pose: Noble Writer, a Slave to her Craft. And PayPal is so painless, after all. It’s not like using real money, or anything.
I’m probably the only one who wants the accolades of “great story!” You, being a more mature writer than I, want the hard truth . . . “Give it to me straight. If it stinks, let me know.”
Kidding! Sort of.
I still smile over the encouragement, the profuse praise, the high scores . . . but I digress. Anyway, I learned that my WIP isn’t going to improve if no one points out ways I could improve it. (So eloquent. And you can quote me.)
Just when I think I’m grown up and thick skinned, a comment or score blows up in my face. Ouch!
I congratulate any of you who have entered a writing contest. Hit that send key or dropped that fat envelope in the mailbox. Yikes. Stop holding your breath.
Scoresheets return. Good. Until...WHY THAT NO GOOD DIRTY ROTTEN….
I suppose we could sit around the greasy spoon, where all hunters hang out, but come on over to my place.
I started out looking for feedback. Was this story so awful I should throw it out yesterday? No. Okay, it’s not that bad. Feedback is helpful. Good. More contests? Sure. Now the goal isn’t just feedback, it’s the elusive ‘finals’ and getting your story in front of dream agent/editor who will surely beg for your submission.
Okay, let’s kickback with a six pack of chamomile tea, turn off the DVD (you’ve seen Mr. Darcy propose twenty five times. Is that really helping your writing, girlfriend?) and Git R Done.
We are under some strange notion that the people on the other end of the scoresheet know more than we do. Sure. It’s probably true. Some will make comments, some will go through and edit and change your sentences for you.
Ain’t that special.
Judges come in all flavors, just like readers, editors and agents. None of them would write your story the way you would, you clever, artistic soul.
Sometimes they really mess with your head. Bad Day. Or it’s just that you have so much to learn. Sorry.
Exhibit A: Scoring. For this example, we’ll say you can get a 1-5. Some judges think a 5 is only for perfection, as in just maybe the apostle Paul might get a five for his letter to the Romans, but he just had too much backstory in those first few pages. Bummer. Some think 5 is attainable, after all, what is ‘perfect’? I have listened to and been part of many gripe sessions about contest scoresheets and judges’ remarks. I have to say I have also judged at least six or seven contests, myself. It’s so much easier to see the trees when you are in someone else’s forest. I suppose I think I’m a good judge. Don't we all.
Remember, take a deep breath, read them over, reach for the chocolate, take a day or two off and feel sorry for yourself. Make sure you come back and read them again in the next few days, because right or wrong, they have a point. Prove to yourself they're right or you're right. You can only do it by taking their comments seriously (unless they are judging historicals and question your use of the word CRAVAT, which they have never heard of... Do I look annoyed? Ah. Yeah.)
For me, part of the pain is having to do all the work over again. Duh. I want it right the first time. Double Duh. Okay, so I thought a version of my WIP was the best it could be last year. And think how much I’ve changed and hopefully improved it this year! That’s something to hold on to.
So who’s right? You or the judge? Well, if they think you’re the best thing ever, they’re right!
Okay, not so much. A real brain fogger is when two out of three judges liked it, gave you good scores and made you smile and think "oh shucks. L'il ol me?" But judge #3 doesn’t like it a bit. What sticks with you? No doubt, it’s #3. WAAAAAAHHHH! I'm going to throw myself in the lake. (Judge #3 just had lunch with your inner critic—don’t worry, salmonella poisoning is not usually fatal)
Why do we let the “this stinks” outweigh the “this is wonderful”? I know you do it.
Now, what if the judges have completely different opinions or their advice contradicts each other. Which one is right? Are you right 'by default'?
Well, don’t expect any words of wisdom from me, I’m just as confused as you are. But I’m learning to hold on to what feels right. Consider each judge’s suggestions but don’t let them shake your confidence, completely. If you are willing to take advice, if you are determined to improve your writing, and most importantly, if you are willing to take the crunchy with the creamy, you might just step beyond those “unpublished” contests. From Contest Diva to Published Author! Go for it.
Like I said. Unpub Contests are a bizarre ritual. But they prepare us to be published authors. I was just reminded in the last week or two that if and when I get published, I’m going to have readers and reviewers doing the same thing these judges are doing now. Put in your order now for thicker skin!
Anybody want to gripe, blow off steam, burn your manuscript? I just bought a new box of Puffs for tender noses, so come on over and comment. I feel your pain. One last reminder:
Don't put so much faith in the praise of others, unless you're also willing to give their criticism equal importance. Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Click here for a spectacular roundup of this month's contest opportunities: