Writing Contests

Since I seem to be motivated by deadlines, I have been using contests to force me to get my homeless writing projects out the door. I like the limitations on word counts and time imposed by the deadlines. Contests also inspire me to brainstorm, outline, draft, write, edit, rewrite and submit a brand-new story or essay in a relatively short period of time.

Alas, however, the contest judges don’t usually reciprocate positive vibes back to me. Within the first six months of this year, I submitted 7 contest entries to 4 different contests. Within the past few weeks I have learned that none of my first 6 entries has been deemed worthy of even an honourable mention. And this surprises me, not because my writing is so good, but because statistically it seemed to me that if I submitted a lot of entries to one contest, I’d have a good chance of winning at least the booby prize.

Sad Boy

And I didn’t just slap these things together, either. I’d written most of them before I found out about the contest, and had already revised them several times. Then I revised them again for the contest. I hate to admit it, but I was so sure of my success in one contest that when I won nothing, I was angry (a rare emotion for me in my writing world). And I wasn’t just angry, I went so far as to conclude that the only logical explanation for not winning was that there was favoritism, and the “popular” writers won. (Hmm, am I back in junior high school again, agonizing over not being in the “cool” group?)

I guess I figured that if I put an extra amount of work into them, my entries would succeed. But no, it isn’t that simple. I am still a newbie, I know, and I have a lot to learn. I adored the stories that won in one children’s writing contest, and am anxious to read the winning entries of the others so I can get a feel for what the judges were looking for, and how my piece could be even better.

One nice thing is that I can look back over the past six months and feel satisfaction at all the writing time I logged, as well as the focused effort. It’s funny how enjoyable the hard work of writing is, compared to many other kinds of hard work (like shopping for clothes—aargh!).

And my work was not wasted. Those pieces are better by far than they originally were, and they are ready to be submitted elsewhere. I see that I am succeeding in one of my writing goals, which is to have a pool of work to choose from for the next call for submissions, or the next exciting market I find out about. Just the thought of sending something out excites me, because there’s always the possibility that someone will be interested.

Also what bubbles up from my memory as I lick my wounds are the many words of encouragement and quotations I’ve read in books, magazines or websites for writers. Rejection and discouragement are part of the writing life. It is not an exact science like engineering, but a subjective art. One editor will like a book that another editor passes over. The moods of a judge and the publishing world in general are subject to change. My job is to keep writing what is important to me and what fills me with joy.

Oh! What’s this package in this morning’s snail mail? My prize for contest entry number 7? No, but it is a reminder to never give up. A contributor copy of a book anthology containing my 173-word essay, and proof that someone found my words worth printing!

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