Sunday, November 4, 2007

Contests. . .Truth or Dare?

You know those fun little projects people start like the giganto ten thousand piece puzzles of gumballs, or a replica Titanic-In-A-Bottle renown for its attention to detail, or gluing together sofa-size mosaic tiled portraits of Elvis? It can take years, and only the most dedicated (or foolish) ever complete these undertakings, but when they do, they’re hailed for their tenacity.

Now, I’m not calling myself tenacious, or dedicated, (a bit of foolishness does run in the gene pool), or anything else that conjures up images of worthiness. I’m simply a work in progress. Much like the beginning of creation, many churning seas, gale force winds, and hot dry droughts have sculpted me into the writer that sits before you. . .bruised, pitted, and scarred.

Okay, enough poetic license, let’s get real. Contests molded me into the writer I am today with the finesse of a ruthless toddler attacking his favorite colors of Playdoh. . .with about as much grace and insight too, I might add. Back in the early nineties, before a lot of judges’ trainings were offered, I eagerly released my masterpiece to contest after contest expecting the kudos appropriate for the next Kathleen Woodiwiss. Imagine my horror when entry after entry returned to me with ink of many colors dripping from the pages of my most angst-torn feelings. Many of you can relate to the hurt and tears. I’d cover up my 286 computer and put my tractor-feed printer away and turn my back on the industry that obviously didn’t know great writing when they saw it.

Alas, pride wouldn’t let me go that easily. Soon, while the kids were napping, I’d find another take on my manuscript, revise and enter contests again. Different contests hosted by chapters that sounded like they knew what they were doing.

Hmm, same scores; same colored ink. What was I doing wrong? I’d look at my pages and I’d read all the charts and profiles I’d created for my amazing characters. I’d read more how-to books. Nothing made sense. I went and knocked on God’s door and essentially told Him, I wasn’t the right person for the job. I give up.

Then the Aha! time of my life began. You know the feeling. Everything rolls out of the fog and you gain new sense of wonder each time you sit at the keyboard. It was at this time I also listened to my heart and started writing in a new direction. I went back and looked at the comments on those score sheets, I listened to my critique partners, I went back and read the stuff I’d highlighted in yellow in all the how-to books on my shelves. Only this time when I reviewed all the advice, I picked and chose the comments that seemed consistent. I weighed the differences. I shared my writing with only two people whom I trusted without a doubt.

In essence, when I gave up, God took over.

Working through old manuscripts that harbored great ideas created new challenges. I grew as a writer. I learned discernment. I gave contests another chance. Scores got higher; ink bled less. I read the comments judges offered and found flaws in my plot, my structure, my time period. Months --I daresay-- years passed and my craft grew stronger. I started finalling in the same contests that once raked me over the coals. I started winning. I started meeting editors and agents and developing treasured relationships with them.

Today, an arduous fourteen years later, I continue to sit at my computer and fight with every last word I write. I no longer barge into God’s office and declare I quit, but rather I pray for direction and patience. I’m winning contests now which sooth the ego, but it’s not a sale. Have I learned anything through the trials of fire?

Yes. God is in control. Look at how far He’s brought me. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
Happy writing!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Audra, you nailed it!

Great post and I can unfortunately relate to every last bit of it, LOL!

Or maybe I should say fortunately because at least we had the chutzpah to get back up after being knocked around repeatedly, dust off our knees, patch our wounds and start again.

"If it doesn't kill you, it'll only make you stronger..."

I don't want to tell you how often my soccer players heard that. And things like, "Suck it up, Cupcake. Pull up your big girl panties and show me what you got, kid."

If I could be like that with other people's kids (and my own), how could I expect less of myself?

Audra, I'm still laughing here, picturing you. But I'm laughing in a nice way, girlfriend!


Audra Harders said...

LOL, I love your philosophical outlook on life, Ruthy. Yep, Cupcake, pull up those big girl panties and let's get on with life. Not one to spin my wheels here, I'd rather burn rubber and cross the finish line. But obviously, the good Lord thinks I STILL need lessons in patience. Sheesh.

Real Live Preacher said...

I've had the pleasure/pain of working with three editors. In each case, it hurt. Funny, for me their comments I didn't agree with didn't hurt as much as the ones that made me see my writing in a new way. And see its flaws.

growth hurts, right?

Julie Lessman said...

Amen, Preacher Man -- preach it! Growth does hurt ... but not as much as stagnation, failure and loss of dreams, eh?

Audra, cool post! And, yeah, thank God that God's in control ... because with Him at the helm, the end result is ALWAYS good ... no matter how long it takes to get there.

Pam Hillman said...

Wow, Audra, you were on a roll there with the seas, and being molded and all that. Very evocative imagery that effectively describes the writing life.

Play-doh: I only have one color left in my pre-K Sunday school class. Brown. One of the toddlers wrinkled his nose and handed it back! I hate to think what the poor baby thought I’d handed him. I still can’t get him to play with it.

Okay, *everything* hasn’t rolled out of the fog for me, but I do have a few sunny days here and there…

Seriously, Audra, I know exactly what you mean. There were times when I would study craft or attend a workshop and I felt like I was lost in a fog. What were they talking about? Sure, when someone used The Wizard of Oz to explain plot points, I got it, or when they highlighted scenes and sequels in published works, I was there.

But later, when I tried to apply it to my own writing, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of what I was supposed to be looking for. How would I know if I had done it write… uh… right? Most of the time, I still can’t tell, but day by day, year by year, I’m getting better and better at improving my craft.

How do I know?

Not by picking my writing apart: I’m still not good at that. But by having enough experience imbedded in my foggy brain that I can feel my way through a story and somehow put all the pieces in the right place. Gut feeling, if you will.

Tangible evidence?

Consistently placing in contests tells me I’ve improved over the years, as well as requests from editors and hooking the interest of a tenacious agent.

By sticking with it, I can only go up from here, right?

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

I just have to chime in and say, "WOW" I can relate like never before. Congrats on your contests wins and the ability to keep at it.

Janet Dean said...

Wonderful stuff, Audra! I'm guessing we've all reached the "chuck it" point with our writing, at least once. But when we've got the need to put words on paper, that drive given by a wise God, who asks us not to bury our talents, then we can't give up.

Getting published--or not--may have more to do with the market, a particular editor, a line closing or opening, than with a lack of talent. We can't control those ups and downs of publishing, but God can. That's the best news. :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Keep on keepin' on, Jen.

If the other choice is to STOP, then it's not a choice for most of us, and since God isn't quite as definitive about his timeline as we might like him to be, until he throws a complete brick wall, impenetrable, in front of me, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

And Pammers, look at you, getting all awesome and introspective! And I think you're right, that when we're not sure who's blowing sunshine at us, or who's being honest, and whose opinion actually counts (you get to a point where the only opinion that should matter is yours and the editor's)a contest is a good way of seeing things a bit more clearly.

That doesn't mean every judge is good, or that every judge will 'get' your stuff, even when the stuff is good. Opinions are subjective. Gotta live with that.

And if you're trying to please everyone, you're probably pleasing no one.

Preacher, that's an excellent point. Realizing we still need to grow and learn is humbling.

Real humbling.

But I don't no a person who couldn't stand a bit more humility, eh?


My egocentric self included!

Ruthy (whose puppies have grown to about 45-50 lbs now. Need new picture)

Mary Connealy said...

Audra, Wow I'm inspired.
And I need to talk to Jennifer. Hi, email me.
My address is on my blogger profile and I also left a comment on your blog.
And no matter what she says, Audra is NOT pitted.

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Audra. In all the ups and downs, what I've always had to fall back on is that it all happens in God's perfect timing. And often, that doesn't fit quite with what I think is perfect timing. :)

And yeah, growth can be painful. But isn't it nice to see the end result is a better story! We can get better each time we work on another one. It's a new chance to use what we've learned.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Audra, you inspired Mary!

Congrats, girl.

Not easily done. Oh, it's easy enough to embarrass her, but inspire, well....

Whole 'nother matter.


Pam's well written comment reminded me of how differently we all work. She's analytical and sees things in a more structured way...

Whereas I would gnash my teeth, grind my bones and bake some Englishman's bread before I made it through some of the books and workshops.

And that's not reflective of the quality of the workshops, but of different learning styles.

I think a big thing we've all learned by working together is that style doesn't matter as much as substance. Good isn't subjective, but degrees of appreciation are. I can read a well-written book, know it's well-written and still not like it.

Same with contests. You'd think judges might try to step out of their framework a bit more, open their minds, and some do, but I think appeal is one of the huge points you get in contests and in real life books sales.

Find your audience. Nail it. Then hope your judges are from that demographic.


Audra Harders said...

Well, Mr Preacher sir, it's easy for me to gloss over the comments that massage my ego. It's the truth and insights that strike home that draw blood (and tears) and make me a better writer. Drat.

Audra Harders said...

How right you are, Jules! Patience has never been an easy virtue for me to practice. I guess when I work on sitting still, that's where I'll find the most growth.

Audra Harders said...

Aw, Pam! You nailed it! I could read Deb Dixon until I was blue in the face and still not understand how to apply the analysis to my own writing. Nope, I can't tear apart my writing either, but I can feel it so much better now. Oh, and that BROWN Playdoh thing?? Pam, think about it, LOL!!!

Audra Harders said...

Hi Jennifer! Ha! I have you fooled : ) I'd have quit a long time ago if it had been an option. God has plans for everyone who has the dream--then he sends in the Seeker Squad to make certain there is no pullin out, LOL!

Audra Harders said...

You know it, Janet! Keep reminding me : )

Audra Harders said...

Hmm, Mary, not pitted? Okay, so bruised and scarred fit the bill, but that Oil of Olay stuff works wonders : ) Wow, inspired huh? I'm honored!

Audra Harders said...

Speaking of inspired, Missy, look at you, girlfriend! We traded contest wins for so long, I'm rejoicing someone bought you. Now if some of the other divas would just get bought, I'd have smooth sailing. . .

Audra Harders said...

Ruthy, my girl, for all you said. . .Amen!

Mary Connealy said...

If you're not bruised adn scarred then you can't call yourself an author, Audra honey. But well, Pitted? No way.

AND readers, Ruthy mentioned what was it? I read it like four whole minutes ago and already forgot it. She insulted me somehow though.
Wait'll tomorrow.
My turn again to post.
It's going to be about contest from a JUDGE'S view. And I'm usin' Ruthy as an example.
No, I did NOT say BAD EXAMPLE.
Settle down.

Audra Harders said...

Ooo Mary, great topic! Silly me, I love judging contests : )

Debby Giusti said...

Loved what you had to say!

I always want things faster than God allows me to have them. But his timing is best. When my children were younger and still at home, I wouldn't have had the time to devote to them AND the writing. God knew that . . . plus Steeple Hill didn't have a suspense line in those days and my writing wasn't ready. All that took time.

Patience has never been my strong suit, but I'm learning.

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Can't wait, kid.

And you and I have judged enough contests to probably read each other's minds.

If, in fact, we had minds. A debatable quotient.

I'll look forward to reading it, Mare. And no doubt, commenting.

And Audra, you and preacher dude are right on. It's the blood-letting that shapes us into better, stronger authors. Takin' it on the chin, gettin' up, and takin' it again.

Til we get it right and someone wants us.


Pam Hillman said...

Oh I did think about the Playdoh, Audra, the second he handed it back. I was just being attuned to other people's sensitivities in a public forum, you know.