Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The "Good Things" Method

A Tip for Overcoming Post-Traumatic Contest Syndrome

It's Monday evening. Raining. The entire day has been a zoo. Now spouse and kids whine in chorus. The dishwasher fizzles. The roof over the bathroom leaks. Again. The new puppy won't shut up.

Exhausted, you all-but-stagger to the mailbox, hoping for something to lift your spirits. A letter from a long-lost friend. A fat tax refund check. Maybe a postcard from the editor or agent you queried saying that although she's on her honeymoon in the Bahamas, you MUST ship the full manuscript to her immediately.

You're hoping for anything but what awaits you.

You recognize it immediately, and your heart slides to knee level. A red-white-blue, flat-rate U.S. postal mailer with your name printed boldly on the front. In your handwriting. Oh, please, not tonight. You'd forgotten you'd entered that contest five months ago. And now here it is: The Feedback.

"Aaargh! Why do I keep doing this to myself?" Tummy tumbling, you gingerly carry the envelope into the house and drop it on the desk. Tomorrow. You'll look at it tomorrow when you're not so tired. So vulnerable. You turn to leave the room, then glance deskward again. With a flash of unexpected bravado, you snatch up the envelope and slink off to a far corner of the house. Might as well get it over with.

First judge:

Pacing is too slow
Unusually passive heroine
Good use of dialogue
Stilted style

Second judge:

Weak hook
Lively writing
Voice is fresh and unique
Plot wanders aimlessly

"Great. Just great," you mutter under your breath. "Weak hook. Aimless plot. Slow pacing. Stilted style. And not just a passive heroine, but an unusually passive heroine." You swallow hard, then take a deep breath and stuff the score sheets back in the envelope. "Oh, well, I knew I wasn't any good at this. I'm just fooling myself."

BUT WAIT! There ARE some positives in there, aren't there? Look again. But what are you focusing on? Which ones linger in your mind? Gnaw at you in the middle of the night? Leave you frozen at the keyboard with a debilitating case of Writer's Block?

You got it. The criticism. And after a few contests, you start to fill your little backpack with those haunting disapprovals. As they accumulate, they get heavier and heavier. Deflate your enthusiasm. Creatively flat-line you.

But don't just sit there--FIGHT BACK! How? By learning to refocus on the positives when a hovering cloud of negative feedback descends. It's at such times that I pull out my trusty 3-ring binder labeled "Good Things."

My "Good Things" binder is a world in which I, as a writer, can do no wrong. At my fingertips whenever the need arises are congratulatory pats on the back. Supportive hugs. Rousing cheers. Glowing praise. Gushing admiration. Confirmation of my talent. Authentication of my growth as a writer. Proof of my publishability (is that a word?). Verification of my . . . okay, okay, I think you get it.

So, here's what you need to do. And you ARE going to do this, aren't you? Believe me, this little binder can make the difference between sitting dejectedly at the computer after being stomped by a judge or igniting a warm flame inside that keeps you going for the rest of the day.

1) Acquire a 1-inch wide, 3-ring binder
2) Dig out a handful of clear, top-loading sheet protectors
3) Gather your contest feedback - score sheets & marked-on manuscript pages

Now, on a blank page type the name and year of each contest and who sponsored it. Then below each contest name, in bulleted points, type ONLY the GOOD comments you received. No criticisms. Got it? Granted, you may think you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to begin with. But "professionally formatted manuscript" IS a good comment. So it gets typed on the page.

When you have these wonderful POSITIVE things typed up, print it out, slip it into a sheet protector, and put it in your binder. Now read them. Feel the warm fuzzies flowing?

You need to regularly review your binder--especially before and after you open that contest feedback envelope. Let the positive comments sink deep down into your heart and mind. Absorb them. Allow them to serve as a balance to the criticisms. Remember, GOOD THINGS are every bit as much a reality in your writing as negative things. Maybe more so, as we all tend to amplify the negatives.

As you apply yourself to learn from the more critical feedback, you'll grow as a writer, and eventually that unusually passive heroine will morph into a "likeable, strong-willed and motivated" bullet point. Slow pacing will develop into "a fast-paced read that keeps me gasping for more." And the stilted style becomes "I applaud your style. This was a joy to read."

So come on, give my "Good Things" method a shot! What do you have to lose?

Do any of you have "tried & true" tricks for getting back in the writing saddle after you've been thrown by less-than-stellar contest feedback? I have to be out-of-pocket today, but please post them in our comments section. I know my fellow Seekers will make you feel right at home! (And I hear Ruthy's putting out fresh Danish.)



  1. Oh my, Glynna, what a GREAT idea!!!! Wonderful post!! How I wish I had it through all those contests I entered. But I do keep a file now of the "positive" feedback I get ... which, trust me, after a 1-star review, comes in particularly handy ... :)


  2. That is a really good idea! Thanks for the advice.

  3. It's so true that the negative feedback can really get you down. I think I do a mental version of what Glynna is talking about. When I get a low score on a contest entry, I remember all the high scores and positive comments from judges who liked it, like pubbed authors who signed their names. I remember how much my crit partners seemed to love my story--and THEY read it from start to finish. And I think about the awesome comments I got from Julie Lessman, when I won a critique from her! Thanks, Julie! ;-)

    I also remember that everyone gets negative feedback, including published authors. I remind myself that not everyone is going to like my particular kind of story or my particular style. And that's okay. And I also get to work fixing the things I know they are right about. Then I fantasize about winning the next contest! About wow-ing an agent or editor with my newly-revised ace of a manuscript.

    I have a vivid imagination, what can I say? Plus, and this is a big thing, I think, I truly believe in my story. I believe in it so strongly that I refuse to give up. And I believe that God is with me in this and He is going to help me succeed.

  4. You know, something that's been plaguing me recently is the idea that, with my first book coming out in January, I'm going to be receiving tons of reviews---and I know not all of them will be positive. So I'm going to take your idea and make a notebook of only the positive things people have to say! Thanks for the encouragement and the wonderful idea!

  5. Glynna is so happy and cheerful and positive!
    I say, we form a posse and hunt her down!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Now, now, Kaye, just like Melanie said about a good imagination, I mean that's the heart of being a writer isn't it?

    So just make up a scenario where the bad reviews are posted by bitter people, alone, disgruntled, swollen, hairy-ankles.

    Venting on your book is no doubt sparing some other poor person, who lives or works with them, from taking the heat for one day.

    It's a public service.

  7. Glynna you are so organized!! :-) And I wish I'd had this great advice when I was running the contest circuit. I'm going to organize my files with good feedback though.

    And...if Ruthy is indeed heading here with a danish tray...I'll take a cheese one...


  8. Glynna, what an encouraging post. And timely too.

    I'm looking at my stack of Touched by Love Long and Short contemporary entries and thinking...

    Some of these ladies are going to feel pleased with their $20-25 career investment (I think career investment sounds better than contest fee, doncha?), while some of the ladies will wonder why the judges didn't fall in love with their stories.

    Let me say my GH2008 entry was Disqualified because of a single-spaced synopsis, so please don't think my contest humdrums have anything to do with not finaling. (On that note, am I the only person who didn't recognize the names of 95% of the inspy GH and Rita finalists?) No, my humdrums are other contest related.

    When you have an agent, at what point does entering contests become...well, pointless?

    For days like this, a praise folder would be nice. Of course, I also think adding those scriptures that Julie shared yesterday would be good. No, more than good. VITAL.

    Boosting myself with praise has no merit unless my focus is heavenward.

    Sorry for the humdrums.

    I'll blame it on the cranky but utterly cute baby.

  9. Gina, I think that is the main use for babies, to blame things on.

    No supper...cranky baby kept me busy.

    Floor needs sweeping...cranky baby kept me busy.

    Whoa, the Oreos are ALL GONE??? Cranky baby ate them.

  10. LOL, Mary.

    So now when hubby comes home and wonders why all the Girl Scout thin mints that he had stashed in the freezer behind the broccoli and under the box of hamburger patties are all gone, I'll know exactly what to say.

    And since you mentioned cookies, I think the baby needs a couple.

  11. Glynna, how timely!

    I’m in the process of destroying YEARS of contest entries, at least 3 boxes…the size that 10 reams of Xerox paper comes in! (I love online contests these days; saves so much paper.)

    I’m keeping all the scoresheets and I’m thumbing through each entry for any comments that are keepers, and I’m going to put it all in a binder just like you suggested.

    Up until now I’ve stuffed everything into boxes and folders, but my hubby AND my dining room are begging for relief!

  12. And for those who have yet to amass 3 or 4 boxes of contest entries:

    Go ahead and start your program now before you have a gazillion entries to go through!

    If you can't bear to part with the actual mss. pages yet, at least put your scoresheets and encouraging comments in the ringbinder so that you won't have to sort through it all in years to come.

    That way in 5 years, you'll be able to pull out those old mss pages, glance through them and shred them. Maybe you'll never be able to do that, but I have mss. that have improved so much in the last few years that I don't need the copies (esp. if there are no comments) that I received back from contests.

  13. Gina asked: When you have an agent, at what point does entering contests become...well, pointless?

    My agent and I discussed this and I enter very few contests these days. She can get my work in front of an editor faster than any contest.

    I'm not saying I won't enter ANY contests for unpublished authors, but each entry would definitely be weighed carefully.

    Also, it took two years after I signed with my agent to actually ACCEPT that I could step back from the contest circuit. I mean, my name won't be out there...they'll forget me!!

    But...who do I want to remember me? The editors, right? So, see paragraph 2.

  14. Pam, thank you!

    I really really really needed to hear your answer.

  15. Love the idea but Mary, that "swollen, hairy" ankle thing? Great description but not a visual I needed! (g)

    Gina, isn't eating them when no one else is looking half the fun of having frozen GS Thin Mints?

  16. And c'mon, Gina, admit you've got your own box of Girl Scout Cookies stashed somewhere no one will ever find it. Like in the basket of clean laundry that holds the remaining mismatched socks that you know the mate will surface the INSTANT you burn them.

  17. Kaye, I know you'll get good reviews! Don't worry! And if someone does happen to say something you don't like . . . well, just ignore them!

    Thanks Glynna, for a great idea! Keeping positive is half the battle . . . okay, maybe three-fourths of the battle . . . then again, maybe 99% of the battle!

  18. Glynna, thanks for the idea, and more importantly, the reminder to give yourself permission to focus on the positives once in a while.

    Gina, I'm certain GS Thin Mints were meant to be eaten by the whole sleeve.

  19. Pamela, if eating them when no one else is looking is half the fun of having frozen GS Thin Mints, then is the other half the fun knowing I'll have to run three laps around my neighborhood to work off those delicious calories?


    They're Girl Scout cookies, for my sake. Shouldn't God zap away the calories becuase they're sold for a good cause?

    Umm, actually, Mary, I don't have any boxes of Thin Mints stashed anywhere. They never last long enough around here for me to even ponder where I'd stash them. If selling children wasn't illegal...

    With all this cookie talk, I think I'm finally climbing out of my contest humdrum mood.

  20. I enjoyed the post to day and the replies now i have a question

    what are thin mints????????

  21. I don't know what thin mints are either but I really want some whatever they are!!

  22. Thin Mints are a really great cookie (a crunchy mint cookie coated in chocolate) that the Girl Scouts sell. (Although Tag-alongs are my fav--they're peanutbutter and chocolate.) Man, I know entirely too much about GS cookies!

    Great post, Glynna!! I love your file idea.

    Kaye, I had terrible dread of reviews beforehand. But once they started coming, I wasn't so on pins and needles about it. I've been so blessed by reader emails that talk about how their lives have been touched by the story that I don't worry so much about the few reviews. I print all those emails out and share them with my hubby. He loves to read them, too. I plan to keep a file.


  23. Glynna, you're so right --it's the negatives that stick in our heads. I love your suggestion for the positives only notebook! I'm going to get one and save good reviews
    ...if I get any. Oops, that's negative. Proves how much I need this.


  24. Don't they have girl scouts in Australia, Jenny? Whoa, totally worth emigrating. They are seriously good cookies.
    I hid under my bed when the girl scouts came selling this year. I'm on a diet and I tend to eat the cookies like......a row at a time.
    Servings per package...two.
    Calories per serving...if you have to ask, you can't have a cookie.

  25. Man, I wish I could get under my bed, girl scouts or not!