Fridays 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.