Let’s face it: one of the scariest things we can do as writers is put our work out there.
What’s even scarier than that? Putting our work out there to be judged by other writers.
*The horror! The horror!*
But as a newbie writer, contests can be a helpful way to get feedback. I entered my first fiction contests in 2012. My motivation was not to win or get accolades of any sort (though of course I wouldn’t turn them down if I did!). No, my reason was simply feedback.
At the time, I didn’t have a critique partner and had just asked a few non-writer friends to look over my work casually. I truly had no concept of how “good” or “bad” my writing was – in other words, I didn’t know where I was on the spectrum. Entering a few contests was a fabulous way for me to start the process and claim the title of AUTHOR.
After I entered the contests last year, I eagerly awaited the feedback – and, I have to admit, was a little disappointed.
Because results seemed to conflict.
Because a few judges weren’t so nice.
Because the amount of criticism was overwhelming.
So for anyone who is new to entering writing contests, here’s a little 5-step plan I’ve devised for dealing with the feedback.
- Give yourself 24 hours to react. Regardless of the feedback – whether positive or negative – you need to just let yourself absorb the information, or in some cases, the sting. It’s okay! I say, it’s the perfect excuse for ice cream whether you did really well in the contest or not.
One day is a great amount of time to process the emotions before moving back to look over the results in more detail. Take a few more days if you need it, but don’t stay off the horse for long.
- Read results carefully and compile them in one document. Open an Excel spreadsheet or Word document and organize each piece of information from judges side by side, so you can compare what they thought of your writing within the same category.
- Find at least one positive. As you look through the judges’ responses, find at least one area where you did well. Are you great at drawing in readers to your storyworld and setting? Are you fabulous at bringing characters to life? Maybe you have an uncanny knack for stringing words together beautifully. Whatever your strengths, find them and rejoice in them.
- Glean at least one area that needs improvement. Inevitably, judges are going to differ in their responses. That’s why you should look for commonalities. Is there something that all the judges, or at least more than one, mentioned as an area for improvement? Focus on finding one and then finding a craft book that deals specifically with that area.
- Remember that a contest does NOT determine your self-worth or your worth as a writer. There is an incredible amount of subjectivity between contests and judges. This week, I finaled in a writing contest, but last week, there was another contest I entered and didn’t even semifinal in! Keep sight of WHY you do what you do: to bring God glory.
Writing is a hard business, but don’t let contest results or rejections of any sort make you feel like you aren’t meant to do this. Look to the One who gave you this talent in the first place, and ask him to direct your steps.
Lindsay Harrel has a bachelor’s in journalism and a master’s in English. She is a 2013 ACFW Genesis Finalist (Contemporary Category) and is published in the Falling in Love with You anthology from OakTara. She works in marketing as a copywriter and has worked in the past as a business writer and curriculum editor. Lindsay lives in Arizona with her husband and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training. Connect with her on her blog or via Facebook or Twitter (@LindsayHarrel).