Thursday, February 7, 2008

Confessions of a Contest Junkie

I lied to you.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

In January I declared a New Years’ Revolution of not entering any contests until this current manuscript is complete.

I can’t do it.

I’m a weak person.

I need a fix.

It’s not that I’ve been gifted an inheritance, won the lotto, or received my tax return. Yes, entry money is still an issue, it’s just not as big an issue as gaining valuable insight from someone who has an unbias opinion of my work. An anonymous opinion.

Just me and them : )

Don’t get me wrong, I love my crit partners, but I’m partners with them for a reason. I’m the *why are you doing this?* person of the group, Leslie is the sequencing genius, and Theresa is the obnoxious *nope, I don’t buy this scenario, you can do better* voice of reason. Brutal as they can be, I know they love me and they know what I’m capable of producing.

Sending my baby off to total strangers for more-than-likely negative comments is, in a bizarre way, exhilarating!! I don’t know them; they don’t know me. I’m writing in a new sub-genre. More than likely, no one will recognize this piece of work as mine. Whew, I’m safe, LOL! The feedback I’ll received is invaluable in determining the direction of my next multi-colored herring (ah, exclusive red is so boring).

And, let’s face it. . .I simply feel like I’m missing out on being part of a creative, energetic community. Yes, I’m selfish!! It’s kind of like self-sacrificing chocolate for a higher good that doesn’t exist!! What was I thinking????

It takes a village to raise a child; it takes the nation to raise a writer. As I send my newest child out into the world of red pencil and purple ink, I’m praying to God Almighty that He touches my work and directs it to those with the most insight for my oversights.

And maybe, my entry might prove a blessing to others.

Blessings to all of you during this month of love


Mary Connealy said...

You say that like it's a bad think. We are all Contest Heads and I keep wondering if I should be entering my published book in contests. What do you think? Any advice on that? I mean I entered it in the ACFW Boty contest and the Rita and maybe one or two others, but as far as skimming that list of every contest in my RWR magazine, I haven't been.
Maybe I should start. Do you think this would be a good marketing tool? Bring my book to a new audience?
Or am I still the same old contest junkie Jones-ing on something new.

Audra Harders said...

Of course you should be entering in RWA contests, Mary!! Your books are fun and witty, I'll bet you'd draw a great audience. Silly Goose! I stopped entering contests just to have a complete mss. in case of a request. Pfft! I need to reach out and touch someone and have them touch me back : )
Go for it, Mary!!!!

Gina Welborn said...

Mary, you should have been in my crit group this morning because we were discussing the merit of pubbed authors entering contest. Our voice of reason chick mention the benefit of certain contests. Lemme see if i can remember them:

Holt Medallion
Romantic Times Readers Choice

Okay, I know she listed two or three others but I'm drawing a blank.

One cp chick mentioned the possibility of reaching new readers, but one must wonder if the cost of entering, of paying for the book is worth it. Does it pay out?

When I was at RWAnats in Dallas, I ended up at one of the publisher book signings. The author at the table was a 07 Rita finalist. The gal in the line in front of me asked her if she was hopeful about winning.

She said, "Nope. Winning doesn't guarantee me a bigger contract or even that I'll sell another book."

Her cynicism was rather interesting. And a bit disappointing. I wanted her to be a little more excited about being a finalist with the possibility of winning. After all, it's a RITA. The Oscar of the romance world.

Well, if she was faking her cynicism to keep from getting her hopes up, she was extremely convincing.

Would you believe she won?

I have her winning book on my TO READ shelf. Since she saw my GH Finalist ribbon, she asked me what category. I said, "inspy." So she put back the book she was about to autograph and gave me her Rita-winning one, with the comment "It's the tamest one I've got."

Tina M. Russo said...

Hahahahah!! Welcome to the lair. Come right in my pretty.

So glad we can tempt you with our offerings.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

ROFL! Too funny!
I'm glad you're entering. It's an addiction...

I miss not being able to enter. So enter some for me while you're at it. LOL!

Recovering (against my will) contest junkie...

Cheryl Wyatt

Gina Welborn said...

Oh, I forgot to comment to Audra.

Then again, I could have intentionally forgot so I could make another post and get one post closer to my 5-entry max for the Seeker contest.

Either I'm a ditz or I'm a greedy conniver. Not sure what's better.


Audra, I applaud your understanding on how fresh, unbiased eyes can give to your writing. I've learned a ton from the different CPs and judges who've read my stuff.

When my kids complain about me making them clean house or what not, I tell them I'm not their maid. My job as their mom is to teach and to train them TO LEAVE. The only person I want them to be dependent on is GOd. Well, for my girls, I want them to know that being dependent on their husbands doesn't make them weak, but actually shows their trust in GOd.

Becasue most of us are learned writers not gifted ones, we need CPs, beta readers, mentors, judges, craft of writing books, etc, in our lives to teach and to train us TO WRITE.

Use contests to benefit you, to move you one step closer down the road to publication.

Last night I decided I need to suck it up and write a new syno for the ms I finished revising. I hate syno writing. But not as much as I hate reading templetes to fill out to help one write a syno. On a side note, Kathy Carmicheal has a great article on short syno writing. I answered five questions before the panic kicked in.

Still, I managed to think though a couple things and realized my heroine needed one more lesson to learn. Actually, she had learned it, but it wasn't clean in my ms tht she had so I had to spell it out. Doing so made me feel better about my ending.

But if I hadn't finished the ms, I woudln't have realized that. And there ain't a contest judge whose going to tell me I didn't tie up all my story threads.

Learn what you can from the contest judges, but finish the manuscript. Then set it aside, read a craft of writing book or two, judge a contest or two, crit crazily for your CPs, and once your mini-break is over, start polishing your finished ms.

And I'm not a complex gal so if you aren't either, start simple.

1) Layer in setting, sensory, and character details until the fictional dream comes to life.

2) Tweak the dialogue until at least one lead character has a distinctive speaking style.

3) Make the scene and chapter ending hooks riviting.

4) Find any mention of an emotion--anger, worry, desire, yearning, fear, etc. Now can you "see" that emotion in that character, even if it's not the POV character? If not, then layer in physical action, facial expression, body language, inner thoughts, crisp dialogue, etc, so that the reader can sense that emotion beyond you saying "he looked sad or anger hardened his eyes."

I heard a quote once that said something like "A story doesn't come to life in the first draft...or second..or third."

Audra Harders said...

Well said, Gina! Even if I've been writing for more years than I willingly admit to, I still look for new how-to books, new lectures, new methods.

This year, I'm following Susan May Warren's Book Therapy blog. She posts writing a book her way, step-by-step. Very Interesting. Makes me consider details in a whole new light.

If anyone is interested in her method, hop over to

I'm a definite lurker on her Voices page, but man, do I learn stuff!!

Melanie Dickerson said...

I totally understand, Audra. So which contests are you entering so I'll know not to waste my money on those? :-)

I'm having trouble finishing my ms. I keep entering contests but not getting anywhere with finishing my WIP. Since I came out of my writer's block funk two months ago, I've only written 9,000 words. What's wrong with me!!!? Part of it is that I'm revising my entries every time I enter a new contest, and I can't stop revising my entire WIP. Somebody stop me!!!

Missy Tippens said...

So cute, Audra!! We won't hold the lie against you. :)

Good luck! And I hope you final so that it inspires you to kick in gear and finish the manuscript! :)


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruthy acknowledgement of Audra:

You Sweet Thang!!!!!!!! Playin' in a new sandbox, are ya'???

Come on in, Cupcake, the water's fine!


Every author has their own path, their own voice and Audra, yours is amazing no matter what genre you settle into. Always room for spreading your wings further, broaching new waters later, right? Get that foot in the door.

And Melanie!!!!!!!!

Time for a kick in the head for you. I'll refer you to Gina's well-thought post.

Finish it, dahling. Don't dawdle, don't squirm, don't dally.

I'm a big fan of finishing everything. Always have been. And it was a leap of faith for me to adopt Deb Giusti's advice (and Tina's dare) to write an opening without a book and submit it to contests.

Then it finaled. Umm... Great. Now what????

You know what?

I'm having a ball racing the clock, trying to finish it before the contest ends just in case it gets a nod. For both books I've entered into contests, the proposals are fully done in case an editor or agent makes a proposal request, and the first book is well on its way to being complete.

So I know how Audra feels, and I hope she's feeling that adrenalin surge of new territory, unexplored, the whole Lewis and Clark thing.

Go get 'em, Rocky Mountain Girl!

And Melanie, I've got people. My people will chat with your people to see if you're lolly-gagging or jump-starting.

Go, go, go! Plow through it once. Beginnings can be beefed up anytime, right.

Finish the book.

Ruthy (Tyrantish today)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Ruthy, can you email me once a day, preferably early in the morning? Tyrannical threats will be just the thing.

I can't stand to leave anything unfinished, either. I don't know why I keep going back and fiddling with it so much.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, and I saved your revision checklist, Gina. I'll use it when I'm FINALLY FINISHED and not a moment sooner. Self-control ... self-control ... self-control...

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mel, you're on.

You will live to rue the day you invited me to bother you daily, LOL!

Get on the stick, girlfriend. Time's a'wastin'.

Play your work and work your plan....

The Tyrant

Audra Harders said...

Oooo, Melanie, I know where you're coming from, babe!!! When my creative juices are at low tide and some well-meaning judge suggests tweak to my manuscript, I jump on that bandwagon like it's the fount of knowledge : ) Ruthy, being the wise woman that she is, hits it on the head when she badgers us into finishing. Ah, we all need loving tyrannts in our lives. Yes, we are blessed : )

Absorb the suggestions of contest critiques, but plod on. I've taken the Book Therapy challenge to finish the rough draft in 3 months (actually, I'm on the 6 month plan). My writing is very ugly, but it's words on paper. And how can you fix something you haven't created in the first place???

Go Melanie! You can do it : )

Audra Harders said...

Ruthy!! Oh my stars!! You finalled with an opening that has no path??? I bow to your talent and am painfully aware of how out of touch I've been.

Congrats, girlfriend! My prayers are with you to finish before the full is requested : ) Hey, we're in Lent, right? I'm certain you've given up every vice to focus on your God-given talent of writing awesome books, right????

Melanie Dickerson said...

Did y'all notice how I turned this into a "Help Melanie" project? We writers tend to be a bit self-centered.

Thanks for the encouragement! If I can just get in 4,000 words a week, I should be able to finish in about two months. At least I have a plan. As Ruthy said, Plan your work, work your plan.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mel, that's my girl...

That paltry bit of planning does not save you from the wrath of the Ruth-meister, or deliver you from your very quickly thought invitation to bother you...


But you're right that 4,000 words is very doable.

And sometimes we procrastinate because we're either:

A. discouraged
B. stressed
C. lost, not knowing what direction to have the book take
D. lazy

Since I'm relatively sure that 'D' doesn't apply, think those things over, take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

The Tyrant

(I'm not a nice person, I just play one on TV...)


Gina Welborn said...

I can't stand to leave anything unfinished, either. I don't know why I keep going back and fiddling with it so much.

Okay, Melanie, I totally understand going back and fiddling. But let me ask you something. Are you doing little word choice tweaks or adding layers or doing real changes? If it's the latter, then you might want to take a minute and figure out why? Is your internal editor telling you something is't right?

Now if it's either of the former, then...well, I can't really tell you to stop because I tweek constantly.

While I admire page limit goals, they don't work too well for me. I figure if I can get past a scene and feel satisfied that it moves the story along to the next point, then I'm happy. But do I go back the next day and tweek? You bet. I'm a tweeker-aholic.

But that it's taken you so long to get 9k words written makes me wonder if there's not a bigger issue at play. Perhaps your leads don't have strong enough individual external goals, as well as internal ones. Perhaps the conflict is weak. Perhaps your secondaries aren't adding anything to the situation. I love secondaries who convince the lead(s) to do the wrong thing.

Ask yourself "What is the point of this scene? Does it advance plot? Add characterization? Add conflict? Progress the romantic relationship? Progress the spiritual thread?"

I understand writer's block, but you just have to write through it.

Or maybe it's not a word-limit goal you need. How about a chapter a week? Doesn't mean the chapter must be XX pages or XXX words.

Better to hack out blech than to stare at a blank screen.

Debby Giusti said...

Hey Audra,
I wish I'd get your manuscript to read as a contest entry! I know you're a fantastic writer! So keep entering those contests to snag the eye of the right editor who will do your work justice . . . like with a big advance, lots of promo and a three-book contract!

Audra Harders said...

Ah, Debby, I knew I loved you for a reason (and the check is in the mail : ) )

Melanie Dickerson said...

I think the main reason it's taking me so long to write this book is because I'm just so darn good at procrastinating, and it's so much more fun to write emails, read blogs, and such like, than to endure the travails of my poor hero and heroine. I mean, when my heroine gets nervous, I get nervous! Okay, I'm slightly crazy, I admit, but writing is kind of hard on the nerves, when you're trying so hard to get every scene right!

All right, no excuse. I just need Ruthy tyrannizing me every morning! If she didn't live on the other side of the country from me, I'd buy her a megaphone.

Ausjenny said...

Loved your post today Audra and i can understand you wanting other critics of your work. friends dont always say the things you may need to hear.

ok back to my learning ways what is RWA? (my groups learn to love me for my constant asking what things are!)

Hey Mel, I was the president of the procastinators club last year then something happened! oh yeah thats right i went overseas, i had to get some stuff done.
having my tax done by the end of August i think the earth stopped for a second! i normally send it at the last possible time the last week in Oct (our tax year is July -june) I even cleaned my room and the spare room and stuff. im slowly drifting back to the procrastinators club.

Mary Connealy said...

Wow I missed an active day over here. What have I been doing all day... oh, yeah, I wrote 1000 words.

Settle down and write that book, and Mel, I give you permission to write to RUTHY once a cay and be tyrannical to her. Trust me, you must show no fear.

It's been kind of a tough day for me, though, bad, bad news.
Charles Darwin called and I have NOT been selected.

Ausjenny said...

Mary im sorry you had a bad day and weren't selected.

Audra Harders said...

So sorry, Mary. I heard ol' Charlie chose Hannibal Lector instead.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, for the laugh, Mary. Oh, my. That was a good one.

Julie Lessman said...

AUDRA!!!! I miss you!! Loved the blog and even the "lie," because addictions are fun when they're writing-related, right???


Missy Tippens said...

Mary! ROFL!!

ForstRose said...

As a reader I love intensely emotional books though I've found that I have to actually take a break and read something lighter or nothing at all or I get burnt out on the roller coaster from the books.

So Melanie I can totally understand your feeling like you are going through what the character is when you are writing - I'll have to look for your books sounds like they might be just what I love to read.

I don't write but am a reading junkie so I know the feeling of "needing" something like it is food or water.

Please enter me in this week's drawing.


Sally Ferguson said...

Is it possible to spend too much time on contests, or blogging, or anything else that diverts you from the main goal? Or is it possible that each of these things leads you to that goal?

Tina M. Russo said...

Good question and observation, Sally. Moderation is the key.

As someone noted on the Diva Blog, if you are not continually producing new manuscripts you have missed the point and seriously done yourself a disservice.

It's all a balancing act isn't it? Learning how to juggle all the balls.