Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Justification for Entering Writing Contests

I absolutely loved watching the Olympics. An added benefit to my viewing the competitions this year was watching two incredible stories ripe to match today's topic.

USA men's skater, Jason Brown, went to the ice as a 19-year-old representative of our country. He knew he couldn't do the quadruple jumps to earn a medal. He also knew the competition would help him learn many new skills. When Jason received his scores and learned he placed ninth, his face shined. He smiled and hugged his coach. He didn't medal, but his delight in the experience radiated and the crowd cheered him on.

Russia's men's skater, Evgeni Plushenko, skated Monday in the team competition helping the Russians to earn a gold medal. During the days that followed, Evgeni skated the short program and did well. He then warmed up for his long program on Thursday and fell during practice, injuring his back. He was given medication to help him endure the pain for the performance that night. His country depended on him to win another gold. 

During the time between his fall and the evening's performance, Evgeni considered what to do. For whom and why would he risk his health by skating the long program? Later in an interview with ABC he said, "I think God is saying, 'Evgeni enough, enough with skating.'" The crowd cheered as he stepped out on the ice. He waved. He scanned the adoring audience then turned and approached the judges table to withdraw his name from the competition, stating he was retiring. It was a very difficult decision to make.

I have a feeling Evgeni will be coaching many children on the finer points of skating in the years to come. His career is long from over.

As successful writers or aspiring to become successful writers, we have our own style of Olympics. We enter writing contests. First, we enter small competitions then move to larger contests. Why? Why should we spend the money and work really hard to enter a writing contest?

Benefits for Entering Writing Contests:

1. One of the most beneficial and hardest components of entering a writing contest is to accept/receive the criticism. Confession: I entered a contest last December and have received the scores and comments/criticisms. Two of the three scores were exceptionally high. The third was rock bottom. I had to dig a hole in the ground to see the number. Despite the two great scores, I couldn't bare to open any of the comments because the third score broke my heart.

I gave myself a day to have a pity party then assigned a day in the future when I would open all three score sheets and learn. I wish I could have smiled and been excited at the two high scores like Jason Brown. Hugged my coach (God) and been thankful for all He's done to bring me to this point as Jason did with his coach. This is my new goal in my endeavor to become a successful writer.

2. Time management. There are many things in life that steal our attention away from what we should be doing. A theme in my house is do the hafta dos before the wanta dos. Plushenko used the time between his fall in practice and when he stepped out on the ice to consider the best choice for his life. 

The strict requirements given for each contest are great practice for agent/editor submissions. If you receive a contract, you will be expected to adhere to specific deadlines and specifications. Time management skills learned in the process of entering a contest prepare writers for publication. 

3. It forces us to examine/edit our work. Both Jason Brown and Evengi Plushenko arrived early and stepped out on the ice before their performances. They tested the ice. Practiced their most difficult jumps. Skated the arena and noted where the judges tables were. They watched other skaters, listened to their coaches, and took deep breaths.

The only work ever written perfectly the first time was the Bible. Like the skaters, we need to step into our arena, examine our words, listen to critique partners, read other writer's works, note what the judges/editors/agents are looking for, rework sentences to improve quality and move our manuscript to a higher level of acceptance. Use the time before pressing the send button to make your manuscript medal worthy. Perfecting our work for a contest prepares writers for publication.

Reasons Not to Enter a Writing Contest:

1.  The prize money. Generally speaking the prize isn't more than a token over what you paid to enter. We may not receive a gold medal, but successful writers use the affirmation of a contest win to press forward to the high calling by God to become a published writer.

2. Capture the glory. We may wave to the crowd cheering to us in appreciation (usually on FB and locally) but that glory will not last forever. Some gold medal olympic winners have faded from the eyes of the viewers. Successful writers note the success of a contest win on a resume, a query letter, or proposal as validation of their skills in order to earn a contract. The goal is not the contest. The contest is simply a tool to prepare writers for publication.

3. Because other writers are entering. This turns the contest into a fad and takes away every benefit. A successful writer doesn't need to please others, they need to please God. Imagine what might have happened if Plushenko had taken to the ice for the long program as his coach and others wanted him to. Most likely he would have fallen or injured his back during a jump. He may have been carried off on a stretcher. He chose, instead to withdraw because it was the right thing for him to do. The last skating memory the audience will have of him is his excellent short program and the gold medal performance for the team. As it should be. The goal is not to gain the attention of others in the field, but to prepare ourselves for publication.

Many writers have won writing contests and have never been published. Winning the contest does not guarantee a published book. It does not guarantee an editor will read your full. 

Competing in a writing contest does guarantee to be a process in which your skills and your manuscript can be honed to a quality worthy of what it's original intent--for publication.

Are you planning on entering a writing contest this year? 

Here are a few writing contest websites that are open for entries at this time:
My Book Therapy The Frasier Contest
American Christian Fiction Writers: The Genesis
American Christian Fiction Writers: The Carol
Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Contest: BRMC Writer's Contest

Why are you/would you/have you entered a writing contest? Your answer may help a reader with their decision, so please comment.


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Casey said...

Very nicely written...I enjoyed!

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Mary! I have been in a bit of turmoil over the year, trying to decide if I was done with writing contests. There are times, when I get AMAZING feedback, but then other times when it so contradicts itself, that I want to shy away from the frustration. However, I think the good feedback and experience outweighs the inconsistencies in certain contests. It really is a matter of setting your mind with the right attitude and humility BEFORE receiving the results. IT's difficult to do...and to not dream of the win...but it's the best way to treat it as a learning experience and not as the time that you "arrive" in the publishing world.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Good words, Ang. Words of experience and accomplishment.
Winning is defined by how much we learned in these contests and it takes the setting of our minds, as you said to really win.
And it definitely isn't the time that we "arrive". There are so many more steps! Entering is, however, an important step to take.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Casey:)

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Unknown said...

I did the Fraser Contest last year, and received some very constructive feedback. In fact, I plan to enter again this year.

I've also done a couple of paid critiques. And I'm with Angie on the frustration that comes with receiving conflicting feedback. Like so many things in the publishing industry, a reader's response to/interpretation of a work is subjective. Sometimes it's challenging to know which advice to listen to. But I suppose that's a taste of the publishing world!

As long as we're entering the contests for the reasons you've listed, I think they're worth it

Casey said...

Conflicting feedback is very frustrating and it comes in abundance from contests, but and this is a big BUT, you can enter contests to see if you've improved from the year before. Are your different stories striking cords with the judges, sometimes it's not just about the semi finaling or finaling, it's about the feedback and the growth we can glean from that. Great post, Mary!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post! I love how you tied it into the Olympics. I'm a fan of Evgeni's skating and his attitude.

I do love the feedback gained through contests. I've only entered two so I'm certainly not an expert, but even the conflicting stuff is very helpful in my thought process to know how different people might be processing my same story.

Angie Dicken said...

Haha, said big but! No, really, that is true. My scores did go up over the years...on the same story but with tweaks from previous feedback. Something a mom from my son's swim team said that might resonate with writers here, is that as long as the kids times improve, the win doesn't matter. They are showing progress, and that's what counts!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Contests can be a very important part of the writing journey. First, the feedback helps you see where you are going wrong and how to improve in that area.

Second, once you do start to improve and start finaling in contests, you have the chance to get your work in front of editors!! A huge accomplishment.

Right now, I have one story with a Love Inspired editor that came about through a blog contest which I almost didn't enter. And I just won first place in a contest and the editor of Bethany House asked to see my manuscript. These may not lead to anything, but they are sure a step in the right direction!

So, if you can learn to take sift through the judges' comments without taking their remarks too personally and use the kernels of wisdom to improve your craft, it will be well worth it!

Happy contesting! We'll be cheering for you all!


Mary Vee Writer said...

I love your key word: sift. Yes it's difficult to know which comments can add the perfect seasoning to your story and which ones simply reflect a palate that wasn't cleansed before reading the last entry.

Even still, the harsh comments do carry diamonds. They may look like coal from the outside, but the pressure it puts on us to refine our work produces the gem. That, in truth, is why I impose a wait time on my comments. I know I can't handle the pressure at first. I have to give God time to hug me and whisper He loves me, and prepare myself to learn. Then I look and take one comment at a time. And take breaks as often as I need to be recharged with God's hugs.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Mary! I've always entered contests with the goal of gleaning constructive feedback. Any I've semi-ed or finaled in have been encouraging surprises. Most of the time, the feedback I get is good. I've found some judges either love or hate my work. I've been told that means I'm not a vanilla writer. That's a good thing, right?

With conflicting feedback, sometimes, I just take it as reader's preference. I'll look at the third (when there is a third) judge's opinion to help me figure out if the issue that is conflicted is one I need to focus on or let go.

I'm not sure which contests I'm entering this year. I've got a lot of work to do before my story is ready for contesting. :)

Loved your thoughts today, Mary!

Mary Vee Writer said...

I found Susie May Warren's counsel very helpful. I was trying to figure out what to do with scores from a contest and spoke with her. She said to take each judge's score sheet independently. Then examine where the judge gave higher numbers and where the judge gave lower numbers.

This makes the score sheet no longer a 1-10 but a you do better here and you need to work in this area.

I felt this was great counsel.

Ashley Clark said...

I was thinking something very similar while watching the Olympics myself! I think sometimes there is such a hard balance between a healthy competitive edge and entering a contest for the wrong reasons. But when we focus on bettering ourselves rather than "winning," I think it's a lot easier to get more out of the experience. Love, love, love the Olympics!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Of course, the added benefit….would be if we won. :)
That would be perfect 2 for 1.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I haven't gotten to watch any of the Olympic coverage this year! So neat to hear these stories! Great stuff here, Mare!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Amy.
I've been thinking about you a lot and praying for you.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm late to chime in but just wanted to say I enjoyed this post. I'm considering entering the Frasier this year but I'm still undecided. Good food for thought here!