Loser!

6 Comments

This blog goes out to all the non-winners and the people who’ve judged them…

I recently entered a writing contest and lost. No big deal. That happens… a lot. I don’t feel bad about it, considering the majority of people who enter contests lose and I’m sure I’m in good, if not great, company.

The thing is I wasn’t expecting to win. Although winning would have been awesome, that’s actually not why I entered. I entered because contests are a great way to share work and get nonbiased feedback, constructive criticism and helpful comments. For the most part, I’ve found contests to be a useful tool in improving my writing. That is my primary goal.

But recently I entered a contest and one judge in particular was pretty nasty.

It was a simple 3-page contest. How nasty can someone be judging just three pages? Well, this judge’s comments read like a lecture, were written in red and all caps and were longer than my submission. I won’t bore you with all the gory details but it included comments like, “Your main character is an idiot” and, my personal favorite, “Reading this ruined my day.”

Rejection is one thing. Believe me when I tell you that I can take it. I have 4 years into this journey toward getting my novels traditionally published. The path hasn’t been paved with fairy dust or lined with daisies and giggling teddy bears. No. It may be hard to believe but there have been zero unicorns along this uphill battle either. I keep going, despite that because I’m not in this for the fairy dust or the unicorns. I’m in it because I know I have it in me to do it.

I try to take rejection and negativity with a grain of salt. Even when it seems impossible, I try to extract something positive from it, whenever and however I can. I usually pay no mind to the haters, grumpy naysayers and know-it-alls.

I submitted my three pages and asked to be judged, not because I’m particularly masochistic. I wasn’t looking for empty accolades but I certainly wasn’t hoping or expecting to be insulted or mocked either. While I didn’t expect to win, I also didn’t expect to be spoken down to or treated like a loser. That’s far from constructive. And whether it was intentional or not, this one anonymous judge used this contest as a venue to do just that.

I doubt I was the only one scorned. Perhaps she was having a bad day or was simply PMSing. Or maybe it’s part of some strange anger management course. Or perhaps that’s simply her style and she, somehow, thinks she’s being helpful. Or maybe she’s one of those folks who haze because she was hazed. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know much about her at all, not even a name. The only credential she listed was that she was a published author. But for someone who claims to have walked a mile or more in my shoes, she was particularly harsh.

If my skin hadn’t already been toughened by this uphill battle, I would have been hurt. I might’ve even shed a tear (or 200). If I was just starting out and less confident in my creative craft, I might have been weakened by this judge’s poor choice of words, even enough to consider giving up. Probably not though since I want this so badly. Maybe this judge somehow forgot what that feels like.

I’d like to think this judge didn’t start out this way. I want to believe she signed up to judge contests with the intention of helping other writers but somehow strayed from that mission and got carried away with the red pen. She must’ve forgotten what it feels like to be vulnerable. Or maybe she hasn’t figured out that it’s possible to be constructively critical without being a complete asshole.

Whatever you’re passionate about, don’t let anyone’s opinion kill that passion. Do whatever it takes to get better. And when people are mean to you, use that energy to grow and get stronger. For me that means writing every spare second of every day. It includes work shopping and researching and getting feedback and keeping an open mind. It means being rejected time and time again while continuing to believe in myself. And, yes, it includes entering contests, while knowing my chances of winning are slim to none.

As writers, we know the power of words. Hell! As people, we know that words can sometimes hurt. It’s OK to be critical, even to err on the side of “tough love.” But negativity breeds more negativity and an epidemic of negativity is the last thing anyone needs.

Above all else, please remember that you are dealing with real people with real emotions and real dreams.

The next time you find yourself judging someone’s work, remember that you are also judging┬áhis or her┬ásoul. Please don’t destroy it.

CT Fiction Fest

Leave a comment
I flew back east this weekend for a very short trip to attend a writing conference to which I’d previously signed up on a whim. The conference, at the time I signed up long before we knew we’d be moving, would have been a cheap, simple day trip from NY to CT. But since my family and I relocated to Iowa a week ago, suddenly I was faced with having to buy a round trip ticket, rent a car, stay in a hotel (in addition to the one I’m currently living in with my family). It went from a $100 investment to more than we could afford quite quickly. I almost canceled. But I’m so glad I didn’t.
Something was telling me to do it. I can’t explain it, but for some reason I decided to put my body, mind and bank account through the unnecessary torture of planning a last-minute solo weekend trip right in the middle of our crazy move. So just 5 days after driving from New York to Iowa with my husband and our toddler and while still living out of suitcases and duffel bags, I packed another small duffel and traveled solo to Connecticut for the conference not knowing what to expect.
To save money (and to sneak in a few hours with family), I flew into Philadelphia, borrowed my dad’s car (ah, to be 16 again) and drove the 4 hours through NJ, NY and CT to the conference which was being held in North Haven, CT in (of all places) another Holiday Inn (maybe that was a sign!). To save more, I opted to stay at a cheap (and somewhat sleazy) motel 4 miles away, (after checking for bed bugs) slept a total of 4 hours, woke up and consumed enough coffee to caffeinate a volcano and then attended the all day conference.
It was wonderful.
Not only did I get the AMAZING opportunity to pitch 2 of my novels face-to-face with agents and editors (By the way, every single one requested to read my manuscripts!!!!! 3 agents and 1 editor!! I couldn’t believe it myself until it happened to me. Seriously, I’m walking on sunshine – – Whoa-Oh!), but I also met and became friends with dozens of other writers and aspiring novelists. Like me, they know they have found their calling in life and are doing whatever it takes to make their dreams come true. There were also many highly successful published authors in attendance, all willing to chat about their struggles and successes, offer words of wisdom and advice and help in any way possible. At several points during the day, I cried from all the inspiration. It may have also been partially due to the sleep deprivation, but still. I cried real tears of joy and I’m (obviously) not afraid to admit it.
There were breakout sessions and workshops held throughout the day covering too may topics to list here. I learned so much about so many aspects of the publishing industry and the road I’ve chosen to take. The information and wisdom shared was worth far more than the price of admission! I’d highly recommend the conference to anyone.
Above all else, I was reminded time and time again that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing and that nothing and no one can stop me from achieving this dream. The only person who can stop me is me. And, well, I’m sure as hell not going to get in my way!!! It’s far too important. Of course, we all doubt ourselves. I was going through a period of self-doubt leading into this weekend. I was feeling down and allowing myself to go to that place we should never ever go. You know the place, right? The sad, dark, depressing, spider-ridden, whoa is me place? The one that makes us forget our accomplishments, successes and talents. The one that makes us think our butt looks too big in these jeans and that our hair is too big for this decade?? The one that makes us set aside how far we’ve come and forget all the good stuff. We’ve all been there. That place sucks but somehow we keep going there. Can we all agree to boycott that place from here on out?
One of the speakers at the conference said, “If you came all this way to attend this conference, then you are a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Although she was speaking to everyone and speaking quite literally about each person’s individual travels, I felt her words profoundly and received them more figuratively.
If I came all this way… Wow, I truly have come a long way. Not only had I flown from Iowa and driven from Philly, but I’ve written and rewritten 2 novels endless times over the course of almost 4 years. I have 2 complete manuscripts to show for it, which I’m constantly revising so, in fact, they are never truly complete. But with all the drafts and revisions, if I have 2 novels I have 500. Plus, I have 3 more which I’m working on now. I’ve fully immersed myself in being a writer and becoming a novelist. I’ve grown so much in this passion and as a person. This is not my hobby. This is my life. It is who I am and who I will always be.
If I came all this way… It can be fun and fulfilling to take a moment and briefly look back and acknowledge how far we’ve come. But don’t look back too long. We must stay focused and continue looking and moving forward. Reaching for a dream is a journey. It’s a journey of self discovery, commitment, hard work, perseverance. It’s the struggle to overcome our own fears and self-worth issues, as well as the fears and doubts which others impose on us.
Someone at the conference said, “If you simply write a page a day you will have a novel in a year.” So true. But I say, why stop at one page? If you write 4 pages per day, you’ll have a novel in a season. Then you can spend the other 3 seasons revising and tweaking it and end up in a better place come Christmas.
The writing is the easy part. It’s believing in myself, even when it seems that all hope is lost, that is so much harder. It’s hanging in there – NO MATTER WHAT. It’s saying “Fuck You” to the naysayers because you know what? They talk shit and creep into your head and make you doubt the one thing you were certain about, when in fact they have absolutely no power over you or your ability to accomplish your dreams. They should spend more time concentrating on their own dreams than in trying to sabotage yours. But that’s their problem. Not yours and not mine. So fuck ’em if they want to waste their energy and time trying to rain on your parade instead of marching and twirling a baton in their own.
When I finally made it back home (my home is wherever Jason and Lyla are), I got off the plane and walked faster than I’d ever walked before toward the area of the airport where I knew my family would be standing, waiting for me. My husband Jason had the biggest happy-to-see-me smile on his face and our daughter Lyla ran to me, yelling, “mommy! mommy!” I couldn’t wait to see them, hold, hug and kiss them and tell them all about the conference. It would all have been nothing without them. As I got into the car, my husband told me how proud he was of me without having to say a single word. He said all he needed to say and all I needed to hear by placing one silly little item on the car seat so I’d see it the moment I opened the door. Not flowers. Not a Hallmark card. Nope. It was a black beer can koozie he had made while I was away. In simple white writing, it read “My Wife Is a Novelist.”
I have learned so much about myself throughout this journey. But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned (so far) is that I can do whatever I put my mind, body and soul to. I already knew that (my mom and dad told me so time and time again growing up). But, suddenly, I know that it’s true. It sometimes takes a while to truly absorb some of the best advice we are given and the truths we are told.
If I came all this way… I wonder, how far I will go?
How far have you come? I bet you have a dream too. What is it and how far are you willing to go to make it come true?
Whatever it says on your beer can koozie, let’s support each other’s dreams. Let’s not let anyone or anything stand in our way. Let’s believe together that we can accomplish anything and everything we set out to do. I believe it’s true. Do you?