I don't have a lot of experience with writing contests. Generally, I avoid them because, well, the book, it ain't done (yet. Always yet.). This is kind of a sticking point since by entering a contest, I run the beautiful risk of having some ask for a full submission when I am yet without a full to submit. But really, at the crux of it all is the same fear that lies at the base of all my inertia – what if it really is total crap? At least by not entering, I could live in cotton-lined ignorance.
Last year, at the very last minute I entered the NJRW Put Your Heart in a Book contest, staying up till 4 in the morning on a schoo – er, work night to chop what I wanted to submit down into 25 pages plus a 5 page synopsis. Let no one tell you otherwise, those synopses are killers. I did not final, I did not want to final, but I did get some great comments and one excellent and one good score. Best of all, people liked it.
Since then, I've kept my eye out for contests that might be beneficial for me, always weighing entry costs against the benefits of final judges and exposure even though running the contest gauntlet is not yet at the top of my writing goals. Nonetheless, I entered the Beacon Unpublished Contest back in October. It had things that suited me namely, no synopsis or query letter required, 30 pages submission limit, and very good industry insiders as final judges.
My scores arrived over Thanksgiving weekend, and while I didn't finish (what is UP with these judges?) I did get what I consider to be really good scores. Judge #1 gave me 40 out of 45 points while Judge #2 came up with 38 out of 45. Better than points, ("it's an honor just to be nominated") were the fantastic comments and constructive criticism they both gave me such as:
"Watch the cursing"
"Your first sentence didn't start with a bang"
"I really like your heroine and her courage. Very good as romantic suspense."
"Tension lessened by all the thoughts and descriptions. Take some out. Use shorter sentences." (Clearly, this judge has never read my blog.)
"The story is compelling."
"I would recommend it."
"I thoroughly enjoyed your story and I feel it will not be too long before you sell"
"Your tension in chapter 3 was very well done. I felt nervous for her."
"Overall, I think your writing is excellent. You have great description and you place us in the scene very well. Your dialogue is very well done and so are your characters"
I know, right?! Pretty fan-damn-tastic. I can dine out on that stuff for at least a week. What's particularly heartening is that the strongest comments were about the things I worry most about – characters and dialogue, making sure each is authentic so that they don't all sound the same. The hook I can easily fix – I'd already been churning that in my head. The cursing, well, that's the second reader to bring that up, so I'll bend a closer eye on that as I move on. The point is there's little here that's not fixable or flushable as I decide.
Of course, of course, I've barely been able to write a word since. In addition to exhaustion and work tension and business and Mom stuff and life, that pesky self-sabotage thing has been working overtime. Lethargy is a bitch. I've been sitting at the laptop and tweeting or on Facebook, or even reading eBooks, simply unable for whatever reasons to follow through. This past Saturday was another total wash out. By Sunday, despite not feeling up to par, I'd had enough and finally was able to force myself back to it around 2pm.
Somewhere around 8pm I wrote this: "Adore? That was an odd word for him. He wasn't usually in the market for adore. Possess, sure. Claim, absolutely. Need, more and more every minute that passed. But adore? He wasn't really an adoring kind of guy."
I reread it and thought, eh. I even tagged it with the comment "this needs work; emotions are hard" because I'm having a hard time softening my hero enough to admit his feelings for my heroine. This comes more from my own angst than the characters but I figure that's all part of the process.
Then around 10:15, 5 pages later, on the cusp of the post rescue clinch, my fingers typed this: "She ran towards him and launched herself into his arms. He pulled her close, squeezing her tightly against him, and knew that adore was exactly the right word."
I didn't plan that full circle of emotion for my guy. I didn't know it would wind itself around at that moment. It really did just happen. That makes it all the sweeter.
Look, I'm pretty much spinning by the seat of my pants in this whole writing game. I know what I like and I try to write it as best as I can. It's no hyperbole to say that I agonize over every word. I do it to get to these gorgeous moments. They may not seem to be much to an outsider, but for me they're seismic.
The contest judges' comments are important and essential feedback for improvement along with those from my CPs, but they can only take me so far. I want more of them, I pathetically need constant reaffirmation, but it has to start with me. That happens in these little epiphanies born from a confluence of work and inspiration and talent and support and grit and nearly 6 hours work and a 2 liter bottle of Coke. It may be a smaller, softer beat of my story, but it takes me ever so closer to writing that Holy Grail moment – The End. And there's no one better to be the judge of that.