Friday, June 24

Writing Contests Make us ALL Better Writers

Recently, I’ve been judging entries to the On the Far Side writing competition for unpublished authors, held by the Future, Fantasy, & Paranormal chapter of RWA (wow, that was a mouthful!). And I’ll soon begin judging entries for the Indiana RWA chapter’s Indiana Golden Opportunity 
Check out the IGO Contest...
still taking entries until July 1st!
contest for unpublished authors.

Even though judging contests take me away from my own writing (not an issue at the moment, since book #2 is with my editor. Bwah-ha-ha!), I LOVE judging them!

Firstly, these two particular contests allow feedback – the IGO even encourages track changes! – and feedback is essential for a writer to improve. These contests are more than just “win/lose/maybe get in front of an editor,” they are an opportunity to have qualified authors look at your work and give you knowledgeable suggestions (some people have to pay big bucks to a content editor for this!).

Contests strengthen writers and their writing. Receiving criticism on our writing is difficult (or, to be more precise, heart-stomping, soul-crushing, and dream-dashing). Writing contests are a little like the college flunk-out courses… if you can’t take the heat of a contest, and come out better and stronger, then maybe you should reconsider your desire to be a published author. It’s not a profession for the weak, that’s for sure! And the adage certainly holds true with contests: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Contests make me feel better about my own writing. Okay, I’ll admit to being petty here. When I read these entries (that have been written by new writers still learning the craft), I admit I gloat because my own writing is so much “better” *hair flip*. Isn’t it human nature to compare ourselves to others? I’m a better writer than this person, prettier than that person, smarter than those people, more successful that these… No? I’m the only one who does that? I’m obviously going to Hell.

Contests show me a better way. For as many times as I get to gloat, there are also times I’m humbled by the skill of the writer. Not everyone who picks up a paint brush can be Monet, and the same goes with writing… Some writers just craft their stories with artistic strokes that make angels weep with joy. When these beauties cross my computer, I pore over them, admiring them and hoping to glean their secrets to impart some of that skill on my own writing.

Contests remind me just how far I’ve come. As writers, we all had to start somewhere, and very few of us put golden words on the page from the get-go. So, as I’m gloating about how I’m such a fabulous writer *cough!*cough!* I am also acutely aware of just how bad I was when I began. And believe me, that’s “bad” as in “horrible, awful, vomit-inducing.” So, every time I make a comment about show versus tell, head-hopping, grammar, character development, etc, I am not saying anything that hasn’t already been said to me. Several times. With frowny faces and face-palms. And if I can grow from where I was to where I am now, then these new writers can do it!

Contests make me a better writer. I judge myself each time I judge a contest entry. And usually find my own writing can benefit from what I tell the contestant. When I suggest an entry “introduce the over-arching conflict sooner,” I think of my own manuscript, and the thought usually follows with a “Crud! I don’t get to my conflict until chapter three! I’d better change that!” 
Contests give back and give hope. Yes, contests are hard. Hard for the entrant who has put his/her heart out there for total strangers to shred (because anything less than enthusiastic praise will do that). Hard for the judge who gives up his/her time from our own writing to help newbies. But, it’s also how we writers help each other. Facebook memes espouse that writing is not a competition; we’re all in it together. And Tim McGraw tells us “When you get where you're goin, don't forget turn back around, and help the next one in line.” Many authors have helped me get to this point in my career, and I’d still be writing (unpublished) schlock without them. Contests are one way I can help others who also want to publish a book they can be proud to call their own.

It’s a humbling, empowering, hope-inducing experience, and I would encourage everyone who hasn’t already done so to both enter and to judge a contest!


  1. I have fond (and groaningly un-fond) memories of contests. However, I'm proud to be a judge in the IGO. It's a good one. Great post, Tippi.

    1. Yes, I've had to lick a lot of wounds from contests I've entered. But there is always some good to take from it!

  2. Great post, Ava! Contests--entering and judging are a great way to become a better writer. Love your analogy of contests being like the college flunk-out courses--yup. If you can't take the criticism you get in a contest, you'd best rethink the whole sending it out think. I can remember some particularly painful comments from editors...ack!

    1. And reviews can be even more heartless! I haven't experienced it myself, but I've seen writers shredded in reviews, sometimes over the smallest issues. Ouch!