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 his or her soul. Please don’t destroy it.