Sunday, May 17, 2015

Any Contest Score Can be a Winner No Matter How Low It Is

By Pamela, S. Meyers


A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love, and Love Will Find a Way, contemporary romantic mysteries, and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other midwestern spots for new story ideas.




Last week, as head coordinator for ACFW's 2015 Genesis Writing contest, I returned the first round judged entries that were not semi-finalists. Since then, I’ve heard some entrants express disappointment in their scores. Of course, we’ve all heard again and again how subjective these contests are  It’s the same with most everything from books, to movies, to food and fashion. Not everything appeals to everyone the same way. And it's that way with our writing. It's all subjective. But does that mean if we don't place in a contest all is lost? Of course not!


Some years ago, before I became involved in Genesis as the head coordinator, I decided to convert a third person POV manuscript into a first person POV. A daunting task, as anyone who has done this knows. I eagerly rubbed my hands together, anxious to let the process begin and was pleased with the results.

My crit partners had seen the story from its inception and I needed fresh eyes for feedback. What better place to find that than the ACFW Genesis Contest? I told myself it most likely wasn’t going to place, and that was okay. The judge feedback was what I was after. Meanwhile, I continued to work on the manuscript, and by the time the semi-finalists were announced, I’d changed the beginning at least three times.

Even though I’d said I wasn’t looking to move on to Round 2, when my name wasn’t on the semi-finalist list, I felt a strong tinge of disappointment, but I tucked it away. Late one evening, a couple weeks later, the judged entries arrived in my email. I knew better than to open them then since judges’ comments were likely the last thing I wanted in my head just before sleep. That notion lasted about five minutes. I opened them.

Bad mistake.

The scores were much lower than any I’d ever received in a contest. After I scraped myself up off the floor, I moved past the numerical scores and skimmed the judges’ comments, reading some and ignoring others, then licked my wounds and shut off the computer. I did fall right to sleep, but an hour later, my eyes popped open. My judged entries immediately materialized in my mind’s eye, and soon, the voices in my head began their taunts.

“You can’t write.”
“What were you thinking?”
“Time to give it up.”

On and on they went, until a Greater Voice broke through the clamour.  I sensed God was telling me it was time to get off the pity pot and focus on someone else. I began praying for a friend’s sister who was gravely ill. Within moments I fell back to sleep.

The next morning, I spent time in one of my favorite passages, Hebrews 10: 35-36:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  

I’ve never doubted my call to write, and knew from Galatians 6:9 that God had promised me that at the proper time I would reap a harvest if I didn't give up. I camped on those verses for a length of time, meditating and praying, then called a crit partner.

She helped me realize that by switching genres I also needed to change how to begin my story. We brainstormed and soon, fresh ideas for new opening chapters flew between us faster than we could say them. She showed me that the judges’ comments were spot on because they pinpointed issues others had missed. That made entering the contest all the more worthwhile. I hung up with a renewed and energized spirit, grateful for all I had learned in a one-hour phone call and from some of the lowest contest scores I’d ever received.

Rarely have I regretted entering a writing contest, even if I didn’t place. And this experience was no different. No matter how low your scores on a contest entry are, remember there is always a nugget or two in the comments to help point you in the right direction. You just need to keep your eyes open so you don’t miss the prize.

What have you learned from your judged contest entries or from judging writing contests yourself?





3 comments:

Terri Wangard said...

I've had an entry that has been a finalist, cellar dweller, and semi-finalist. After every contest, I think that will be my last, but then I decide to enter something as a trial run. Some comments are very helpful and I've made adjustments accordingly. Others, well, it's best to remember you can't please everyone all the time.

Elaine Stock said...

Pamela, I really appreciated your candid words. They made me laugh alongside you, and made me grow misty-eyed in understanding support.

And I agree with Terri… can't say it any better.

Carrie Lynn Lewis said...

Pamela,

I've only entered one contest in my writing life. I didn't expect to win and I didn't, but that was okay. That manuscript didn't deserve to win.

But as you say, the judges' comments were well worth the cost of entry, both in encouraging me to keep after it and in pointing out areas I needed to improve.

The real value in writing contests isn't in winning. How many readers care about that, after all?

Readers do care about good storytelling and contests with honest and compassionate judges are the best way to improve storytelling abilities.

Thank you for sharing your experiences as a judge and as an entrant.

Best wishes,

Carrie