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Today’s Recipe is a Reflection

WinningFridays are tagged for Recipes From the Ranch. However, after mulling over a reader’s comment on contests I decided to post my reflection as I believe it has value for all writers, especially those considering contests as a means to build a writing presence.

Entering into the traditional book publishing industry is a new river for me to navigate (as if I were Huck Finn). There’s so much advice out there in the form of industry news, author interviews, publisher insights and, of course, tons of writers like me who are forging dreams of publishable novels. Entering your writing into contests is one of those venues for getting noticed if you are seeking an agent or traditional publisher.

Sylvestermouse posted a comment on my post, “A Question of Contests.” Her discussion is based on her own experiences and realizations. She was wise and confident enough at a young age to recognize the slippery slope of contests. The danger is that the scrutiny of judges, which is only the opinions of a few, can devastate budding creativity. After reading her comment, I sighed relief. She made me realize the discontent that had come over me. Instead of enjoying the productivity of my fellow contestants, I became hypercritical–of my writing, their writing, comments, the whole thing. And that is not what inspires me as a writer.

Each story selected, mine included, was a submission deemed worthy of publication in a contest by an editor. In that sense, all stories accepted are equalized as “winners.” But once the competition began, anxiety churned my gut. I’d rather read what writers craft than develop a pretentious sense of what is best. Different writers have different voices; different readers resonate to different stories. Best is subjective.

That isn’t to say that contests aren’t for me, but I need to be more self-aware of how they can create inner turmoil for me and stay objective, but above all, kind. Writing is a business, but business professionals do not have to “win” to be successful at what they do. In fact, as professionals, we need to connect and learn from one another without creating barriers. When entering contests, keep a balanced perspective and acknowledge the accomplishment of being selected in the first place. You don’t have to wave the blue ribbon to have a solid portfolio piece.

In one form or another, contests will continue to be a part of the literary scene–you can even conclude that making the New York Best Seller’s List is a contest. For marketing and profitability, success will continue to have markers that seem like trophies. But for true success as a writer, I still say that finding your own voice and writing into your own truth is the greatest gift you can share with readers.

To any writers reading this, keep in mind that contests are a way to get noticed in the industry and a viable way to build credibility and a portfolio. However, it is merely one avenue. If you write, please continue to write beyond competition outcomes and develop your own special voice, discover your own inner truths and practice (practice, practice) your craft. Do not let a contest be the final judge on your work; do not succumb to discouragement or haughtiness. Be you. And write.

And if you are George R. R. Martin and by the very slim chance happen to be reading my blog…I’m waiting for the next installment of “Song of Fire and Ice.” Write, GRRM, write.


  1. Good for you, Charli, in discovering the ‘truth’ within your discontent… and finding your way back to your own ‘special voice’. My daughter is an artist and (I believe) a very talented one. But nearly every piece of artwork she creates she becomes critical about it and thinks her artist friends’ work is so much better. Until she stops herself and remembers that she has her own special style and there is no comparison needed.

  2. My friend, we have not known each other long. It seems odd to consider that it has only been a few weeks. But, as I have read your posts and articles, I feel as if I have known you for many years. Your writing has a quality that embraces the reader and wraps them in a warmth that is so clearly you.

    I am but one inconsequential judge, but I think you’re the best! May your voice be forever strong and your passion for writing be forever inextinguishable.

  3. Honest reflections, Charli. Thank you for sharing. I get where you are coming from.

    I’d like to talk about my poetry contest that I’ve hosted since 2010–four years. This 2014 would have been my fifth contest. Not sure if it’ll happen. Kinda doubt it.

    My poetry contest grew from an online poetry group, Mindful Poetry, that I hosted at That social media site is not running as usual and I’ve put my time there on hiatus.

    The annual, month-long (April) contest worked, however, due to our group’s cohesiveness and camaraderie. Together and growing since September, 2008, we’d built up a level of trust, support, and willingness. We learned and practiced and triumph together.

    So once the contest began, we all were in it together. Sometimes outsiders would submit a daily poem, but mostly, submissions came from our group of over 200 members. There was not rivalry as one might experience with strangers.

    The contest was difficult–less than 24 hours to create a poem with very tight specifications–in other words, we were all in the same boat. The person who could create a shining poem under those conditions was recognized not only by me, the judge, but by the other contestants.

    Contests where the competition does not know one another sets itself up for more raw emotions. Players have more to lose personally if their work is not accepted–face. And less to lose if they play dirty–anonymity drives them and absolves them (so they think).

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, yes, loosing face and the ugliness that anonymity can bring out in those suffering from their own raw emotional state. Good point, that contests between strangers can increase anxiety. If the moderators can control any “trolling” that can help. Also, if the contest organizers are professional and fair, that can keep the contestants elevated to a professional level, too.

      And a note on the word professional…there are amateur and professional writers. You either write for a hobby or for a living. Neither is right or wrong, superior or inferior. The importance of accepting professionalism is twofold–first, you never want the IRS telling you that your business deductions are invalid because your creativity is a hobby (this happened to a musician and writer in MN). So at every opportunity, you need to look, act and think like a professional. Second, writing as a career is business. I wouldn’t network with or go to a dentist who says “pulling teeth is just something I do for fun.” Fun is okay, but there has to be a certain level of business acumen for building that “street cred.”

      What you have done to create a supportive community among poets is amazing. I’ve tackled a portion of your contest (April in 2012) and learned so many new poetry structures. I am not a poet, yet I felt so welcome among your members to be able to learn and practice during that contest. I think reading and practicing poetry makes me a more creative writer. I hope that your contest evolves into something new for poetry because I believe in the power of “mindful poetry” as it can also heal hearts, connect people and improve access to the creative mind.

      Like you, I’m hoping to build a community of creative writers by developing a flash fiction blog hop that may grow into a monthly contest. I need to talk to you about best practices for such an endeavor.

      Thanks for all your thoughtful inclusions to this discussion!

  4. The only contest worth winning, in my humble opinion, is that of living authentically. Before we can write our truth, we must live our truth. The truth will set us free: free of disillusionment; free of the fear of not measuring up; and free of the need for outside affirmation of our worthiness. As one who is very competitive, I have found that contests sometimes rob me of peace, of joy, and of the sense that I am enough. Yet, I still feel compelled to enter into that arena where I contend with the best that I can be. I so appreciate your willingness to share the vulnerability we all know as writers who put ourselves out there every day.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You mirror my own beliefs about truth and writing. Readers know right away when a writer is not authentic. Living authentically and writing into our truths is hugely a vulnerable act. Add the pressure of a contest on top and it can be an anxious situation. Personally, I’m not competitive, but I harbor this huge flaw that “I have to be right.” Contests play into that flaw and “best” soon equates to “being right.” But the beauty of being a truth-writer is that we tend to be reflective and can work through the stuff that rises, editing inappropriate emotional attachments as if they were unnecessary words. Again, I think personal integrity has to be balanced with professional credibility and we can carefully select the best contests to match our career goals without letting results rule our psyches. Thanks for joining in the discussion with your insights!

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