Trends I’ve noticed during writing contests

Writing contests typewriter

Let me preface this by saying I am but a humble writer with aspirations of becoming a novelist. I’m not a mentor (something one might find in Brenda Drake’s amazing Pitch Wars contest). I haven’t penned a best seller. I’m not agented. One day, I hope to be a mentor with a wondrously amazing novel and a kick-ass agent. But until then, I’m just me. And I’m OK with that.

Unfortunately, it seems, dealing with silence and rejection breeds self-doubt. I’m no stranger to this — I’m currently involved in Pitch Wars, and as far as writing contests go, this one always comes with baited breath and mild cases of hysteria (with just shy of 2,000 submissions, it’s sort of a given). I’m not perfect. I’ve dissected #PWTeaser tweets in ways that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. I’ve tirelessly followed mentors and kept my eyes peeled for any inkling as to whether or not my MS is holding up. I’ve DM’d my critique partner (CP) with woes and found relief in her assurances (until the days wear on and the process starts again).

And it’s all normal. Normal, I tell you! The thing that saddens me, though, is seeing my fellow writers crack. Social media, for better or worse, is the perfect platform for immediately venting thoughts, feelings, concerns, statuses about your cat . . . sorry, off track there. My point is, I’ve seen a lot of negativity floating around. So let’s address the elephant in the room and come up with some ways to get around it.

Writing contests are about more than winning

This one is a hard pill to swallow for most of us. If you’re like me — uber competitive with perfectionist tendencies — not winning equates to losing. Well. Let me tell you that isn’t the case. Trust me, I didn’t believe it at first, either. When I entered my first contest a few years back, I was overly confident. So when I didn’t get the results I wanted, my carefully constructed world came crashing down.

I liken writing to giving birth to a child. I could be entirely wrong as I have yet to produce another human being, but when you spend so much time creating something (sometimes even longer than nine months), shaping a life out of nothing, it kind of has a similar emotional effect. As such, “losing” a contest damn near ruined my entire writing experience. I cried. I hid in my room. I swore off writing altogether. I nursed my wounds and shut down. And then a few weeks later, I started up again.

I argued with myself a lot at first.

“This is lunacy. Why put yourself back out there again?”

“I enjoy it.”

“You’ll just get hurt.”

“Maybe.”

“Don’t be a martyr — find something else.”

Blah, blah, blah. Hello, self-doubt monster. We all have them. Mine rears his head in the wee hours of the night when I stare at the irregular patterns in my white ceiling. He’s kind of a dick and he doesn’t let me sleep. It wasn’t until a few contests later that I learned how to tune him out. How to pick myself up again and move on, taking newfound knowledge with me.

Because knowledge, relationships and connections are what writing contests are all about. Sure, I aspire to win one day, too. That competitive part of my brain will never die. And that’s OK, so long as I don’t let it totally dominate my existence. But something happened during this go around of Pitch Wars that I hadn’t done before — I joined a community on Facebook for aspiring mentees and I found a CP.

When all the dust settles, when the winners are declared and that fated blog post goes up, what we have left is the experience. The people. And I’ll be damned if I’m letting go of my people (I’m looking at you, CP). 

Even in the future, when we’re all fabulously wealthy authors with amazing agents and publishing deals, we’ll still want our people. And writing contests are a great way to meet said people, because they’re our people. Now, I dunno about you, but I can talk my fiancé’s ear off night and day about the finer plot points of my book (and he’ll still love me for it in the end and try to comprehend to his fullest extent), but there’s nothing quite like sharing the highs and lows of writing with someone else in the business.

Kill the negativity, peeps

I’ve seen a ton of tweets/posts from writers recently that are way negative. I can’t tell you how many variations of “I suck” or “Well, maybe one day I’ll be good enough” on social media as of late. Guys, for the love of all things holy (whatever that may be fore you), you have to stop.

via GIPHY

It’s really easy to fall prey to the self-doubt monster. I’m not perfect, I swear. It happened to me just last week. And you know who pulled me out of my funk? MY AMAZING CP. This goes back to the true concept of “winning” in writing contests. When you have someone in your corner, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get through the tough times. And let me tell you, if you decide to continue down this avenue, there will be plenty more tough times on your radar.

And please, if you’re feeling uncertain or lost, find a different way to spout your frustrations. Publicly stating that you’re not good enough doesn’t help anyone, and it can certainly hurt you in the long run. You never know who’s looking at you. Who’s reading your statuses or gauging your words. Don’t make this journey any harder than it already is.

Be courteous, respectful and understanding

This is kind of a no-brainer for most. Treat all writing contests — and the people running them/participating in them — in the same way you were taught to treat others growing up. The writing community is small. I know, hard to believe when mentors in Pitch Wars are pouring over 2,000 submissions. But in all reality, it is. If you’re rude to someone, even out of sheer frustration, that doesn’t go unnoticed. People talk. This comes back to being smart about what you’re saying publicly, as well as harboring realistic expectations.

Agents don’t always respond to queries. It’s harsh, but true. And it’s not because they don’t want to — they are in the business because they love words and stories. They’d love to see us flourish as authors. But they don’t simply have the time to provide feedback to everyone who asks. The same can be said for contest hosts. Most of these lovely individuals are taking time out of their days, out of their incredibly busy schedules, just to give you the chance to elevate your writing to the next level. They deserve some sleep in there, too. And maybe some chocolate. And/or alcohol. Certainly coffee.

A little gratitude goes a long way.

In conclusion

Basically, keep your chin up. We’re all in the trenches together. We all want to see our books on the shelves one day. In the meantime, take this opportunity to develop new friendships. Build a network of your peers and find someone to lean on. And perhaps most importantly, take some quiet time to remember why you write. Think about the reasons behind the lofty goal of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. I think a lot of times we get swept up in the desire to win, and we forget about the little things along the way. And if you’re in need of additional enlightenment, you should check out Michael Mammay’s post about 10 things you might not know about Pitch Wars.

Happy writing, everyone. Stay positive and keep working! I can’t wait to read all of your lovely words someday.

-M3

Feature image photo credit: Drew Coffman via VisualHunt / CC BY

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  1. PitchWars 2016 mentee courtesy of Layla Reyne - Maxym Magazine

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