Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Dineen Miller ~ I'm No Contest Diva
Actually, entering contests scared the heebie jeebies out of me. Each time I sent something off, I spent the next several hours terrified I’d forgotten to included something, missed a typo, or sent it to the wrong place. Paranoia set in every time.
But I persevered, determined to see what I could learn through the process and perhaps even catch the eye of an agent or editor. I even entered a few RWA chapter contests, just to test where my inspirational stories would land in a mostly secular perspective.
Sometimes I received great feedback, lots of positive comments and input. I really appreciated those, because they were the fuel to keep writing. But the tough critiques—those were the ones that stung at first, but became the fuel to write better.
One year, I entered a manuscript a writing contest and got a score that equated to a failing grade in my perfectionist, school-based mentality. Needless to say I didn’t final. The other two gave me high scores and positive input. That low score kept bugging me intensely, and I found myself going back to it again and again. The more I studied it, the more I saw validity in my judge’s comments.
I made revisions, rearranged scenes, and reentered this same piece the following year. I also targeted a specific category, because I wanted to catch the eye of a particular editor. At this point, that was more important than winning, to be honest. And it paid off. I did final and catch that editor’s interest.
Here are a few insights I’ve picked up along the way:
Do your research.
Look at each contest carefully and find out who the final round judges are. If you’re just starting out, focus more on the quality of feedback you want. Talk to other writers who are involved in contests and find out which ones have benefited them the most. Then as you progress, strategically enter contests that will put your work in front of editors and agents with good reputations. You just never know.
Pray first, then read.
Some comments will hit a tender spot, but often those are the ones we need to consider prayerfully and perhaps return to at a later time for consideration. That’s why it’s so critical to be aware of your state of mind as you look over your entries. If you’ve had a rough day and already feel worn out, this is not the time to intelligently consider a critique. Assess your mood, pray for God to show you what you need to see, and for the ability to discern what’s accurate and what’s not. Remember that these judges don’t know you, only get to see a small section of your story, and most importantly, cared enough to take time out of their busy schedules to read your work.
Consider input carefully.
Sometimes a judge’s input can be totally off target. One judge gave me comments based on one small, insignificant area of the story. This judge wanted me to expand on this area, to reveal the suffering this particular group of people underwent. Though I appreciated her comments and her passion for these people, that was not what my story was about. I was able to set aside her input in good conscience. Other times, this kind of input can inspire you to a whole new and more exciting direction.
As you grow more confident in your writing and have benefited from an established critique group, consider giving some time back to the contests that have helped you. Volunteer to judge a few entries or to even be an emergency back-up. Having worked as a category coordinator and as a judge, the time is well spent and is very rewarding. I absolutely loved working to support the Genesis, one of the best writing contests out there for inspirational fiction.
Contests aren’t a part of every writer’s journey, but they’ve helped me grow in many ways. Now that I have critique partners I trust emphatically and a wise agent who’s not afraid of a red pen, my contests days are about over. I’m ready to be paranoid about the next phase of this crazy writing journey—a book contract. See you on the shelves!
Dineen A. Miller writes suspense novels, articles, and devotionals and is the owner of Designer Girl Graphics, which specializes in the design needs of writers and authors. She finaled in the 2005 ACFW Noble Theme Contest, took honorable mention in the 2006 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and placed second in the 2007 ACFW Genesis Romantic Suspense Category. (For the sake of space, she won’t list the contests she tanked in.) She has also served as a category coordinator for the past two years in the Genesis contests and as a judge in several contests. Formerly a youth counselor and Stephen Minister, her most challenging adventures to date are being the mother of two teens, the wife of an avid disc golf player, and getting her first novel published.