Say it Ain’t So, Joe by Nancy Brophy

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s also littered with the remnants of writing contests.

Writers are procrastinators. The electronic deadline is at midnight? I guarantee you that more than one entry is being posted between 11:55 and 12:00. Maybe more than ten.

Pity the poor volunteer who agreed to help their chapter raise money by running this year’s contest. She becomes fully aware of the nature of writers at 12:01 when her contest entries have just doubled and she’s scrambling to find more judges.

Long before we see her crumpled body, twisted into an unsightly mess lying by the side of the path, we will notice shriveled manuscripts and discarded judging forms. We’ll stare into the glazed eyes of writers who fully expected to win and instead were advised not to give up the day job.

All this sounds bad, right? It’s not. Contests are an invaluable teaching tool.

As a judge you learn more about your own writing when you have to evaluate another’s work. Craft becomes more than a concept. As a writer you learn humility and how to offer advice—hopefully without the sting, because you understand how much it can hurt.

Everybody get rejections, particularly in this market where everything is uncertain.

The publishing game is difficult. (For naughty fun click here.)

Here is what I’ve learned:

* There are lots of rules for writing—most of them can be broken.

* The stronger your voice, the more readers/judges will like you.

* The stronger your voice, the more readers/judges will hate you.

* Just because you did well, does not mean the final editor or agent—the reason you entered—will ask to see the full manuscript.

* Sometimes the judge who gave you the lowest score actually understands your writing better than anybody else. Other times they’re just idiots.

Would I enter another contest? You betcha.

My weekly Starbucks’ bill is more than the cost of most contests. In trade, you get 3 people—who aren’t friends or family members—reading a portion of your story and providing you with honest feedback.

One last side note, if you need to borrow any body armor, let me know. I have a suit with only a few dents.


Posted on August 12, 2011, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hilarious and soooo true!


  2. I laughed at the depiction of the poor coordinator. Having been there myself, by the time I got to the eyes cannot stay open part all my hair had also been pulled out. I’ve entered many contests prior to getting published. I learned something from every single one. They are great–particularly as a way to see how your book hits readers.


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