Saturday, July 10, 2010

What's the Value of Entering Writing Competitions?

Chances are when you get the results of the latest writing competition you entered you'll be feeling one of two things: heartbroken or elated. If you're elated - congratulations, well done - fantastic news. If you're heartbroken, put the darned thing aside, drink coffee, eat cake, go for a walk, weep and wail, get over your disillusionment then go back to your score sheets and look for enlightenment.

Here's an example. I recently entered the RWNZ GB (Great Beginnings) competition. I've entered writing competitions before, won some, lost some, so I was hopeful but not all rosy-eyed when I flicked 'send' and spun my entry through cybyerspace. I hadn't entered at the last moment - I'd polished my little gem till it sparkled. I got great marks but didn't finalise. I scanned the comments. I was disappointed. I closed the email and filed it away.

Take Heart from the Positives and Look for Enlightenment
A day or so later (after coffee, cake, wailing etc) I went back to the score sheets and read them thoroughly. I re-read my entry. Two things were common to two out of the three judges - too much back story/not enough conflict. I took heart from the positive comments and honed in on the weaknesses, and this has been so useful in moving my MS forward. The faults were obvious once they'd been highlighted, but without the objective eyes of unknown judges, and even though I had a sense that something wasn't quite right, I couldn't tease them out.

For me, the value of entering competitions is in the constructive criticism that thoughtful judges will provide. It's very important that judges do give comments, particularly when they've marked down. It's frustrating to receive a low mark without seeing the reasoning behind it. Judges should be very aware of their responsibilities to the writers they are marking.

Another thing entering this particular competition showed me is that the competition out there is fierce. My marks were good but not good enough to compete with some of those excellent writers out there skipping up the ladder towards publication!

What have your experiences been in writing competitions? The best and worst?

14 comments:

  1. Hi Leigh,
    You are so right competitions are a wonderful tool in your writing arsenal. As long as I get some constructive criticism back, whether it be in a competition or a review, I am happy. Happier of course, if I win or get a 5 star review,(human nature being as it is), but constructive criticism/advice is helpful and as you say, it can move your story forward and make it even better.

    Regards

    Margaret

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  2. Great way to look at contests. I hadn't thought about that before. And yay for finding the positive and improving your ms with the comments. :)

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  3. Hi Leigh,

    I enjoyed reading your post - it's a great one, particularly for any newbies to the contest scene. You've made some valuable comments about taking the common points made by judges and looking hard at the validity of them with fresh eyes.

    And you're right, it certainly does take someone else to point out the things you're too close to see.

    Kylie

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  4. Leigh, I'm glad they at least give detailed comments where you could focus on what to fix. It's so true, that we often don't see the weaknesses on our own, but it seems obvious once it's pointed out. You have a heck of a lot of courage for even entering!

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  5. Leigh, there's a lot to be said about writing competitions. I enter the Writer's Digest Annual Competition every year. I fined tuned my short story skills using this competition and I learned a lot. Every year I always get an Honorable Mention which I consider good. In fact, one year, one of my stories, Spontaneous Decision, won 8th place in Mainstream/Literary. I encourage writing competitions because I think it does hone one's writing skills.

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  6. I entered two lately, didn't finalize and never got any feedback either. I was really disappointed.

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  7. Hi Margaret - winning/getting 5 star reviews is the best!

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  8. Janet - thanks so much for stopping by. I'm luck to have a bit of a rhino hide when it comes to criticism so I can turn things around without too much angst.

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  9. Kylie - thanks so much for commenting. I'm always amazed how another set of eyes can pick up things we don't see - not just in writing, but in all things. It's good to be brought down to earth sometimes!

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  10. Julie - yes, it's a real plus when judges give genuine consideration to their comments. It's up to the writer whether to take them on board or not but there's always something to learn. I don't have courage - I have the 'ignorance is bliss' syndrome. Sometimes in my life this quality has worked - sometimes it's been disastrous!

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  11. Steph - I'm sure you're right. It sounds as if you're continually learning and writing very successfully - something we all aspire to!

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  12. P.L. - I'm sorry you didn't get any feedback. I truly think written feedback is the most important part of a judge's responsibility when agreeing to evaluate competition entries. I hope you don't let this discourage you from entering other competitions.

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  13. Great post! Anything given and TAKEN constructively is going to help the writing process. Sometimes we all need reminding that the coffee/cake is for initial reaction time only - no wallowing - just pull up the big girls nickers, take it all constructively and improve, improve, improve. (I realise this comment is gender specific - I'm not sure what the guys pull up...)

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  14. Hey Tyree - thanks for stopping by and following my blog! Excellent comments. When most of us begin our writing journey I don't think we appreciate that writing is work - at least when we're writing towards publication. A few people hit the nail on the head straightaway, most of us need a little (or a lot) of help. This is where competitions can come in handy - as long as we don't get addicted to them as the be all and end all of writing. Thanks again.

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