Writing Contests: For Better or Worse

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In the past few months, I have entered two different writing contests. Though, of course, I hoped to win (or at least be a finalist), I mostly entered these contests in order to receive feedback from those in the industry (other writers, publishers, editors, etc.) Well, I got my feedback.

I did not win. I did not place. I did not even impress.

When I received my scores, I already knew I was not a finalist, but it was still painful. Looking at the first judge’s scores, I saw 4’s and 5’s and hoped that meant the scores were from “1” to “5”. Since the next judge had some 7’s and 8’s, I knew it must be out of 10.

In both contests, I received comments from three different judges (anonymous so as to protect them from irate and sensitive writers). In both contests, the first judge dislikes my story and has little (if anything) good to say. In the first contest, the second judge was a bit more middle of the road with her/his comments, and the third had at least a few good things to say. In the second contest, both the second and third judges had encouraging things to say, even though they weren’t totally sold. I had to wonder if they were doing a bad judge/good judge routine.

My first thoughts upon reading the comments was to want to throw my beloved “work in progress” into the deepest sea. But, from following a recent online discussion among members of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I know that receiving such a wide range of comments is not unusual, and that I am not the only one that might feel a bit confused by the seemingly inconsistencies of the judges. (One person said they had received a 67 and a 98 from two different judges in the same contest). None of us enjoy receiving criticism, but it would seem to be more helpful if the comments were more consistent across the board. But, judges are human and they do not all like the same kind of stories.

Takeaway: Though I have struggled at accepting the comments, I have been able to go back through them and find what is helpful and what is just one person’s opinion. After I sent in my last entry, I changed a few things and have a few other areas marked to be either omitted or rewritten. So, if I had been a judge myself, I have to admit, I would have been of the same opinion in several ways. Will I enter more contests? Yes; definitely. Overall, it has been helpful and has made me work harder to perfect my writing before sending it to an agent.

Are you wondering about the shells? All are olive shells found on the same beach (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), but none of them are the same. Basically the same shape, but different colors and sizes. I picked up the shells that attracted me and wanted to keep. So are our stories and those works in progress. Not everyone will be interested enough in what I write to even desire to pick it up. Some may be interested (even when I finally get it right), but maybe not enough to read it through. But, I will work at polishing my stories and finding the readers who will be interested for their enjoyment.

Any writers out there that have been entering contests? Have you found them helpful? Worth the submission fee or not? Not every contest is for every writer, so it’s important to find some that will benefit you and will be worth that entry fee.

 

 

The End! Or, at least, the Beginning of the End

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I just came to the end of my book. Not one I am reading–the one I am writing. And like so much of this book, it was kind of unexpected.

Ok, I have some rough spots and a couple of places I know I want to rewrite, but I actually came to the end. I was planning on another chapter. Actually, have it started and sort of have an outline for that final chapter. (In my mind, that is, which is where most of my outlines actually live).  So, I was working on finishing up this chapter, started adding a bit, then realized as I completed the chapter that I really could end the book here. I’ve long since conceded that it is going to take another book to tell the story I want to tell. Since I have (gasp) 113, 308 words, perhaps it is time to wrap this up. But, I have so much more to say! You think because you’re the author that you’re in control, but, no, not really.

I want to tell the story of Solomon–growing up in the court of King David. What was it like to know you were the chosen prince? When exactly did he know that? What did his brothers (and others) think of that?

So, I started telling the story. And, along the way: Solomon’s brothers are fighting; Solomon wants his father to raise horses to drive chariots; Solomon’s mother seems to be the only one who really thinks he is special; and Solomon and two of his brothers take a trip to Egypt.

So, over 100,00 words and Solomon isn’t even king yet. But, he will be soon. I can’t wait to begin writing that story, but first–I need to work on my platform. Do any of you follow your favorite writers on facebook? Twitter? Why? What do you look for? Or what do you enjoy about what they do? I hope you will all stay with me as I begin to share more of what I’ve written and begin my search for an agent.

 

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Word Crutches and Other “Various” Words

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Reading through the first draft of my work in progress, a very kind friend noticed a few words that were a bit overused. One of them was the word “various”. I had “various” birds, “various” foods, “various” colors, “various” fish, and even “various” mothers. She even suggested (gently) that this word might be a crutch for me.

That kind of hurt, but in rereading another chapter, I found another overused word–“curious”. Curiously, I seemed to have had a hard time spelling that word, so, really, you would think I would have been looking for synonyms even before I realized I had used that same word four times in a single page.

Doing another read through some more chapters, I decided every time I saw the word “various” that I would circle it with a blue colored pencil. What was it about that word? It’s not even a great word. It’s actually kind of lame. Boring. “Various.” Really? What about diverse? Manifold? Miscellaneous? Sundry?(Now, there’s a good word). However, it’s become a bit of a game to me to see how many times and in how many various places I have been able to work that same word into a phrase. I mean, you would think I had entered a contest where the prize went to the writer who could find the most ways to use a certain word in many different (and various) ways.

On the other hand, there are other words I’m reluctant to use because it might seem like showing off. For example, this morning I used the word “quirk” twice in my current writing. You know, “he quirked a smile” or perhaps an eyebrow. Great word–quirk. Much more interesting than “various”. But, I don’t know. Does that fall under the rule of not using a “fancy” word when a more familiar one will do? Of course, if I use it enough times, won’t that make it more familiar? Or maybe it’s not really fancy at all. Just because I don’t use it in everyday conversation doesn’t mean it’s not commonplace in another place and time.

Another interesting fact about words is that they can run in cycles. Remember when everything was “awesome”? I like that word, but hesitate to use it after hearing that so many people had “awesome days”, own “awesome dogs”, make an “awesome grilled cheese”, or saw an “awesome sunset.” Still, I don’t want to throw it out the window just because of its overuse because it is, after all, an awesome word. But, I will proceed with some caution when I want to describe anything as “awesome”. For now, when I want to describe a new book, a new song, or anything else that touches my soul, I will probably call it “impressive”, “astonishing”, “breathtaking”, or downright “splendid”.  Any of those various words should do.

How about you? Any words you tend to use as crutches? Or are there some words that you would like to use but feel they have overplayed their hand?