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Friday, August 28, 2009

Do Writing Contests Crush Your Spirit or Encourage Your Creativity?

Do you hesitate before opening those returned non-finalist contest entries? Have you ever stared at your computer screen in shock at the nasty things some contest judges say (the ones who never put their name on the score sheet, of course)? Do you get excited when you find that one golden nugget among contest comments (usually from a published or soon-to-be published author) that sends you not only back to the manuscript with an idea for revision, but on to another contest with the hope for a better result?

We have all been there, sad to say. And we all have the battle scars to show for it. But I have something to share with you that came out of the 2009 Golden Gateway Contest, something I hope will give you hope, even if just a glimmer. Sometimes, you find yourself orbiting the right planet, or perhaps it's that the judges happen to be orbiting your planet. And when this happens, you feel as if your world is perfectly balanced, as if it's rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun just as it should be.

I entered three entries into the 2009 GG Contest—Aliya Arabesque, Deus ex Nosferatu, and The Loving of Lord Loxley. Aliya Arabesque had won the 2008 Wallflower Contest (a contest in which published and unpublished authors had competed against one another), but that contest had been a 25 page contest. The 2009 GG Contest permitted up to 55 pages for novels, and up to 45 pages for novellas. So, for Aliya Arabesque, it would be a test of the next 30 pages, and for Deus ex Nosferatu and The Loving of Lord Loxley, it would be their first appearance in any contest.

I had no expectations whatsoever. Contests are contests. I've said it before (see my April 3, 2009 post entitled "Can You Hear Your Voice?"), and I'll say it again. "When you lose a contest or receive a rejection, don't take it to heart. It mightn't be as complicated as the possibility that you don't have voice. It might be as simple as the fact that you didn't have the luck of the judicial or editorial draw." So, when I heard that all three of my entries were finalists, I realized I'd had the luck of the judicial draw for each of them. In sum, I'd drawn judges who'd heard my voice.

But the experience of having judges hear your voice isn't only about them telling you what makes your writing good. It's also about you listening to them tell you what could make it better. Yes, even when you have entries that final, you should grab hold of any and all golden nuggets in the comments. As I've said before (see my May 30, 2009 post entitled "Revisions, Revisions, Revisions"), I believe my words aren't written in stone, but are as fluid as an ocean.

In the 2009 GG Contest, the judges not only gave encouraging compliments, but also made excellent criticisms. I considered each criticism and made revisions before submitting the entries for the final round. No matter what happens in the final round, I'll come away with manuscripts that are better post-contest than pre-contest. So, for hearing my voice in this contest and giving me several precious golden nuggets, I sincerely thank the judges.

Have you gotten back contest comments that crushed your spirit or encouraged your creativity? If the former, I am here to tell you that contests aren't always a negative experience, but sometimes can be a very positive one. Yes, it's actually true—contest judges can encourage your creativity. With the 2009 GG Contest judges' words of encouragement in my mind, I'm off to write, write, write, leaving you with my words of encouragement: If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

Keep Writing!

All Text © 2009 Madeline Smyth. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I love contests. I have no idea why, because sometimes they are crushing. I'm thrilled if I final, pleased if 1 out of 2 like it, crushed if neither likes it. I just got an entry back today. I merely scanned it. There was a lot of yellow. So do I want to possibly ruin my day by taking a look or wait until a day that is already shot and do it then? I think I'll wait.

  2. Now you've heard it from the mouth of the Queen of Contests. No one I know has more experience than Kelly with submitting to, finalling in, and winning writing contests. And she has said it best, as always. They can thrill; they can please; they can crush. But no matter what, they draw us back again for another round.

    Why do we enter contests? For feedback from the toughest romance readers? For the possibility of a win? For the chance to get before an editor or agent? ... Or merely for the thrill of having an audience like a published author? I can only say that I enter contests rarely, but when I do, I expect so little that I'm satisfied with a little something.

    Happy Contesting!