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.
Pacing is too slow
Unusually passive heroine
Good use of dialogue
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.)