Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why Writing Contests? I'll Tell You Why!




Eye Candy: The photos to the left of Alex O'Loughlin and Shemar Moore, snagged from the Internet, have nothing to do with this post. Denny S. Bryce

Last week was one of those weeks during which I sat back and smiled big time (Cheshire grin for real), pleased with and proud of the recognition, accolades, and general good wishes I’d received for my writing – then I broke out in a cold sweat.

The latter will become more clear as I get this little tale out.

I’d learned that I’d placed (2nd) in the second writing contest I’ve ever entered in my entire writer girl contest life. The 2010 Heart to Heart Contest, presented by the San Francisco Area – RWA, is the instigator of my latest joy (and fear). I am a finalist in the paranormal category.

So what did I immediately do after letting the world in on the good news (via Facebook, Live Journal and Twitter) – I panicked. Why? I’m not all that sure, but…

I’ve been working like a minion for years (the number in print would make me wince) – writing more than a half a million words of fanfiction, taking writing classes, workshops (one with Rebecca Walker in Maui, you’ve got to do this if you can, and don't be thrown by memoirs - it's writing, okay?); RWA conferences, other writing conferences, reading, studying, questioning, in fact, where’s my Internet doctorate on writing romance fiction and what’s hot and what’s not in the publishing world today? Seriously, that’s how much time I’ve devoted to the craft, to the industry and to learning, and its only a smidgen of what I still need to do. Because I want to learn. I love the process – getting the information, figuring out the puzzle (one of the reasons I’m a plotter – with a heavy, heavy dose of character, I believe) I love the commitment required to be a writer.

Anyway…

The question on the table is why am I panicking and what is the value of entering writing contests (for me)? Does placing in a contest mean I am a good writer or is it a testament to the fact that I write good contest (not meant in a mean-spirited way BTW).  But a contest is a means to an end – a step on the journey.

So what do I look for when I enter a contest (this is a lesson learned from my former critique partner, Marta, a smart lass, who writes kick ass fantasies:) …(girl, where's your website!)

The judges. I look at the editor and agent or published author who will be judging the final round. I want that feedback. Sure, I also dream of having one or all of those editors or agent(s) request the first three chapters or the full manuscript – but as an unpublished author I also crave feedback.

And of course, it’s not just the final round. The feedback from authors and writers who volunteer to judge a contest can provide reaction to the excerpt submitted from your manuscript.  

Also, I suggest you volunteer to judge a couple of RWA contests this year, especially if you are an unpublished author. I did, and I learned a lot about analyzing and critiquing and how to apply that impartial screening to my own manuscript. I should add that of course writers can't be completely objective about their own writing. I mean we have to have a high level of ego to write IMHO. You're creating worlds, people, goals, motivation, your ego lets you bring these people to life - so it's not always easy to critique your own stuff (and critiquing to me is different from editing). 


NOTE: If you have doubts about your ability or have questions, email the contest coordinator - ask him or her questions, and then after you submit your critique ask the coordinator how you did. 

It all contributes to achieving our final goal - writing good books that get published and that people want to read (oh, first they have to buy them:)...

And still I don't think I've answered the question as to why I panicked.

That's easy – over and above the excerpt submitted--the rest of the book has to be a winner as well…

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