Kat: Contest Fever

writing contest, royal ascot, regency romance This week I’ve been dealing with a nasty case of contest fever. For those of you unfamiliar with contest fever, think in terms of wedding fever and you’ll get the gist of it. Wedding fever (like contest fever) is a highly contagious disease that spreads through a female circle of friends (the 18 – 30 group is most susceptible). Symptoms include: trying on wedding dresses (entering every contest that comes down the pike), getting glassy-eyed at the thought of walking down the aisle (dreaming of fame and fortune when you hit the NYT Best Seller’s list).

It’s not that the afflicted isn’t genuinely happy for her friend the bride (writing buddy), she is! But somewhere deep inside there’s a bit of longing and yes, maybe even a touch of envy. Ready or not, she wants that, too.

I thought I was immune to both diseases, of course. The ladies have been collectively entering (and finaling and winning) contests for some time. It was easy to sit on the sidelines and root for my friends because I was genuinely happy for them, but also because I wasn’t there yet. Heck, I’ve been tight-fisted as hell with my draft of Cheyenne, determined not to solicit any feedback until I had the story down from start to finish.

Then, Jeanne finaled in the Golden Heart (the Lady Diana contest extravaganza for the unpublished). This was huge! I was excited for Jeanne, thrilled that she was on her way. She’d worked long and hard and no one deserved it more than she. I (and the rest of the ladies) were the writer’s equivalent of bridesmaids. We stood around her as she began her journey down the aisle, happy, supportive and wallowing in her joy. It was just a matter of time and the rest of us would walk that walk.

Then, I heard about the Wisconsin Fab5 contest. It wasn’t the GH by any stretch, but hey (I thought) it didn’t require a synopsis and the entry fee was relatively small. I immediately entered (If the GH is a wedding, Fab5 is a prom), and then pretty much forgot about it.

The finalists for the Fab5 contest were announced last Saturday night at the Wisconsin RWA chapter conference. On Sunday, I found myself compulsively checking my email for notification that I’d finaled. By Monday, I was still checking (and googling for a list of finalists), but hope was waning. By Tuesday, despair set in. I couldn’t deny it now. It was over and I didn’t final. Wallow, wallow, ding-dong. To quote Sally Field (sort of): “You don’t like me, you really don’t like me!”

I’ll be honest here. I felt bad. Gut wrenching, “I suck and I’ll never write again and I want to crawl into bed and never get up.” bad. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted to final in that contest! Damn it, I needed it! Wait. What? Had I become an alcoholic with the DT’s? A crazed bridesmaid so smitten with the idea of the wedding that I was ready to marry my best friend’s cousin Curtis? The one with the beerbelly and the receding hairline?

Nope. Just a touch of Contest Fever that was quickly cooled by:

  1. Reading Justine’s post “Five Things I’ve Learned From Contests.
  2. Looking at my own personal reality. I’m not ready to submit my work, yet. Period. My story is progressing in an extremely good way. That’s enough for now.
  3. Remembering that writing = rejection. Yeah, contests aren’t the same as submitting, but they can dish out a type of rejection. Dealing with it is good experience for the future.
  4. Reading this awesome post by Chuck Wendig that put it all in perspective and made me laugh about this crazy writing thing.
  5. Applauding the finalists/winners:  Jeanne E. finaled in the Wisconsin Fab5 (at least the judges weren’t all blind!). She deserves it, and my hearty congrats go out to her.

How do you deal with contest fever?

6 thoughts on “Kat: Contest Fever

  1. I’ve been too shy and scared to get into the contest business. I think that’s it. I’m so easily influenced . . . what if some judge tells me my baby is ugly, and I start to believe her or him? It would only take one sourpuss who had a bad day (even if I had seven other evenkeeled judges with nice things to say) to make me feel like a failure and a non-writer.

    I understand, intellectually, what a pile of BS that is. And, if I want to be published, I certainly have to toughen up my skin, because I’ve hung around enough writer chat groups to know that fans can . . . put their feet in their mouths at times. They don’t mean anything by it, but it can feel like assassin stars to a writer.

    So, there’s another advantage of entering contests for me! I start to distinguish helpful advice from stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with me! (Trying to rah-rah myself into looking into contests next week. You are right — contest fever is catching!)

    • One helpful thing to keep in mind when you start entering contests and getting feedback is that not every judge is going to be your reader or in the mood for your story when they read it. It’s okay if they are not because, even those who don’t like your story can have useful things to say. Part of the contest process is learning how to pull out the feedback that is relevant and useful for you and how to let the rest go without taking it personally. That’s not to say it won’t hurt your feelings a bit – some judges will tell you your baby is ugly in no uncertain terms – but if you have a plan for dealing with the comments, the sting will fade pretty quickly. Good luck.

      • Everything Elizabeth said. I can’t honestly say every judge’s form has been useful, but some of them have been incredibly helpful. I entered six (I think) contests last year and got something actionable from every single one.

        I think they’re also a *relatively* gentle introduction to the lesson that not everyone is your reader. And that many readers don’t read everything you wrote, and think you wrote things that you did not. A writer on one of the RWA loops said that her reviews on Amazon have followed broadly the same pattern as her contest feedback, which I tucked away for future reference 😉 .

    • What Elizabeth said. And this: When I get back into the contest game (hopefully by entering GH next year), it will be for the right reasons — I’m ready for feedback, I want to get my work in front of eyes that matter, etc. Not because everyone else is doing it. At this point for me, feedback could be a hindrance to writing my discovery draft (which I’m finally writing) and it’s also an unnecessary test of my writing commitment. Why do it, when I’m not really ready to submit a full should someone ask and set myself up to feel like a failure (I can do that all by myself).

      Don’t get me wrong, when a writer is ready (like so many of our ladies are) contests can definitely be a good thing. But for writers who aren’t there yet they can be life-changing in a bad way. I quit writing for a time after my first book because of truly vicious contest feedback.

      It all depends on the individual — where they are in their writing career and what their contest goals are.

      • (-: I suspect the only way to get to having a tough skin is to face rejection over and over until the skin toughens. I understand that intellectually, but . . . my heart wails, “I don’t wanna do it!!!!!!!”

        You did it, Kat, and you have a plan for when you’ll do it next time, and how you’ll cope with it, and that all by itself is a milestone (-:.

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