by Narelle Atkins
In January I sit down and plan my writing goals for the coming year and this process includes thinking about writing contests. I enter writing contests for a number of reasons. I want to receive honest and helpful feedback from experienced judges to assist me in revising and improving my story. I also enter contests in the hope of being a finalist and skipping the slush pile by getting my work in front of editors and agents. I have received valuable feedback on partial manuscripts from final round editor judges and also a full manuscript request from an editor at my target publisher.
The first manuscript I wrote was a finalist in the Faith, Hope & Love Inspirational Chapter of Romance Writers of America’s 2007 Touched By Love contest. This was only the second contest I had ever entered and I was beyond excited by the news. Being a contest finalist gives you validation that you can actually write and also the encouraging knowledge that others can see potential in your manuscript. As well as receiving helpful feedback from the first round judges, I received five excellent critiques from the published author final round judges. I learned an enormous amount about writing craft from the judge’s comments which helped me to revise and strengthen my story.
I’m selective and usually enter contests sponsored by writing organisations and their chapters eg. Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers of Australia, American Christian Fiction Writers. I enter contests to gauge how the quality of my story compares to stories by other aspiring authors. I want to discover what is working and what isn’t working in my story, and ascertain whether or not my manuscript is ready for submission. I look for contests with scoresheets that provide feedback on the various aspects of writing craft as well as numerical scores.
Entering writing contests has helped me to grow a thicker skin and learn how to accept constructive criticism of my work. It’s good preparation for the inevitable rejections from editors and agents. Writing is subjective and I have come across judges who don’t like my story or my writing style. If two or three judges comment on the same problem in my story then it’s probably an issue I need to address. I ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with me, or put it aside to review later when I’m not feeling so emotionally attached to my story.
I tend to focus more on the comments than numerical scores. A numerical score provides an indication of the quality of my story. But it’s the comments that are gold because they can help me understand why a judge didn’t think a particular aspect of my story worked and provide ideas on how to fix the problem. I try not to let low scores or critical comments discourage me and instead view them as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.