Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tis the Season for Writing Competitions!

‘Tis the season for writing competitions!

When I started getting serious about writing a few years ago, I found that the hardest thing to accept was the loneliness of it. Writing is a very solitary existence. After all, at the end of the day, it’s just you and the keyboard duking it out. What I really wanted was feedback on my writing. So like many others, I started searching for a group, and luckily found one on-line that I enjoyed. This particular group was made up of people from all walks of life who weren’t looking to get published, but enjoyed the art and release of writing. There were also lots of members that weren’t writers at all, but just readers. They’re advice was the most valuable of all! Unfortunately, MSN stopped hosting it’s group sites, and this great little community disappeared.

I turned to entering writing competitions for feedback on my writing. After all, most of the competitions I entered were being judged by seasoned writers or other professionals in the field. What harm could it do? And I certainly did get lots of advice!

The problem was that a lot of the feedback from the judges in these competitions were very contradictory. One judge liked my narrative voice, another would hate it. My dialogue didn’t sound real to one critic, and to another it sounded entirely realistic. The genre wasn’t to this evaluator’s taste, while the other critiquer thought it was great.

I remember one contest I entered where my entry got ripped apart and returned to my mailbox practically whimpering in pain. This judge must have been having a total “holier than thou day” or got a new package of red pens he/she wanted to try out. I’d never had anyone comment so harshly or loudly on my work. After I had a good cry, (complete with hissy fit) I poured a glass of wine and took a step back to ask how valid were the comments made by this person. Some of them were valid, but not all. I realized I might have entered my piece in the wrong category of this particular contest, too. Interestingly enough, I entered the same ten pages, without making any changes, in a different contest and took first place.

And that brings me to the joy of entering a writing competition. When you place as a finalist or win, what a great feeling! As writers we get so little praise for what we do. Those moments of victory are like drops of water in a dry desert, and we need to lap them up. Most writing judges are good about finding positive things to comment on, too. Even if you don’t place or become a finalist, positive praise can do wonders for your self esteem and how you view yourself as a writer. As RuPaul, one of my favorite celebrities says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

As a growing writer, all this feedback—negative and positive—was key in making me realize how subjective this business is. I think that’s the most important thing to remember when entering a writing contest of any kind. When you write out the check to enter your ten-twenty pages of your manuscript or short story, you’re paying for one person’s opinion. That’s all. Whether you accept this opinion or not is up to you.

You can learn more about Mary Ann Loesch at


  1. I submitted the same ten pages to the same contest two consecutive years. The first year I scored 80-something; the second, 18. I'm almost to the point where I can laugh about it. If I'd read your post before I opened the envelope and saw that 18, my family would have been spared a lot of venting. (I'm too old for hissy fits.)

  2. Too funny! It's crazy how that works, isn't it? This business is just so subjective.