The key is not the will to win . . . everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important. —Bobby KnightDefinitely words to live by for us contest junkies. We must prepare well, making full use of what we learn from study, workshops, critique groups, and previous contest results. What steps have you taken lately to help you “prepare to win”?
We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter. —Denis DiderotOkay, now does that fit your usual response to a judge’s comments or not? If we aren’t willing to look objectively at both our writing strengths and weaknesses, we have no hope of improving. What “bitter truths” have you been spitting out as you digest your manuscript critiques?
As an artist, I feel that we must try many things—but above all we must dare to fail. —John CassavetesThe contest you don’t enter is the contest you’ll never final in. The editor you don’t contact is the editor who will never buy your manuscript. The book you don’t write is the one that will never be published. What is God calling you to dare today? What are you afraid of? What are you going to do about it?
Finally, here’s a quote I recently came across through another source. Sinclair Lewis wrote these words in a letter declining the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for his novel Arrowsmith:
All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards; they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee.Just the other day in Seekerville (see Ruthy’s post “Pimping your prose”) several of us confessed to tweaking our first chapters to get everything in that we think the “committee” of judges will be looking for. And we’ve admitted this is often at the expense of the broader scope and more natural development of our plots. It’s a choice we make because of our hope of getting those manuscripts in front of the finals judge who just might request the full . . . and eventually . . . hopefully . . . offer us a contract.
Tweaking first chapters is one thing. But does the quest for a contest final and eventual publication cause you to either intentionally focus on or steer clear of certain issues, character types, or plot scenarios? How much does marketing and sales potential influence what you’re writing right now? Are you writing for the market? Writing your passion? Or both?
No judgment here, just something to consider. I’m all about selling these days. I just pray that throughout the process I can stay true to my personal vision, my voice, and especially God’s Word.