Monday, May 30, 2011

The Burning of the Judge's Score Sheets (On Writing Contests Part 2)

“I’m just entering for the feedback.”   That’s a statement I hear a great deal concerning writing contests. 
The question is can you handle the feedback?  A critique group will sprinkle their well meaning suggestions with compliments.  Whereas, contest judges, according to my recent experience, are brutal.  This year I entered two writing contests that were both sponsored by RWA chapters.  In the first contest, which will remain nameless other than to say that it was sponsored by a city’s chapter known for the production of cars and Bon Jovi, I received no feedback.  There was no number ranking, no score sheet and certainly no line edits.  In fact, I think they took my entrance fee and put it toward their Mexican vacation.  The second contest, which will also remain nameless other than to say it focuses on a certain period of British history, only gave me partial feedback.  I got one score sheet for a book that I did not write!  Who is Prudence?  Last time I checked, my heroine is Lillian.  The two score sheets that were intended for my entry were harsh to say the least. 
After getting the feedback that everyone says is the reason for entering, I found I lacked the self confidence to write for a week.  I wished I could un-know the mean spirited criticism of my work.   It took four pep talks from two writer friends and one from Mr. Alpha Male, not to mention far more margaritas than I should have ingested, before I was able to sit back down at the computer and continue to work.  Because of these back to back negative experiences involving writing contests, I have decided to implement a new system.  It is a simple system I like to call WSFB, (Writer’s Sanity Found Buried, for easy memorization.)
Write it. Write your entry the way you want your book to read.  Write it for the joy of writing and storytelling. Write the shit out of it.
Send it. Send your entry in to as many contests as you wish. Without this risk you will never final and never win.
Forget it. Let it go and keep writing.  Do not count down the days until the day finalists are announced! Do not check your email thirty times when that day comes!
Burn it.  When you get that feedback you’ve been waiting on, burn it.  This is the most important part of this system --burn it. 
Now, you may be saying, “I can’t burn the very feedback I paid for and have been waiting to receive for months!”  But, think about what you just said.  You paid for it.  You waited months to receive it.  Critique groups are a wonderful thing.  They are free, quick, and offer better feedback than some unknown, unpublished writer in a bad mood because they’re reading a hundred first round contest entries.  With any critique partner or group there is discussion involved with the critique. 
“Is this secondary character important to the plot fifty pages from now?”
“Did you phrase it that way because it is referencing a specific plot point?”
However, with writing contests, there is no discussion.  This lack of communication makes half of their feedback invalid.  Instead, you get misinformed judgment of your work that will cause much second guessing and self doubt.  For these reasons, I don’t think you should ever enter a writing contest for the feedback.  Enter to win or don’t enter at all.  And when you do enter, remember my system.  Writer’s Sanity Found Buried.  Good luck and happy writing.


Darcy Drake said...

I agree that feedback can be pointless without discussion. One reason I'm not fond of judging is that I can't talk about an entry! As entries are still in the development phase, I think discussion helps. I wonder what the writer would tell me if we were sitting on the patio enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

Since we talked about it, I've been seeing contest opinion blogs pop up everywhere. I thought this was a good one:

Heather McGovern said...

Step 3, Forget it, made me LOL for real because that is SO YOU!!! I bet you really were counting down the days. You've got to lose that calendar!

I agree though, we should really enter for exposure. For the chance to win! Now that I have a couple of crit partners, I feel confident in the feedback I receive from them. Everything else is to get my work out there. Good luck with exposing yourself! And I love the burning pic. ;o)

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