Writing Contests: My Reluctance
I am notoriously reluctant to submit my writing to contests. Though winning a contest is often the best way to gain exposure for short fiction especially, something about it has always if not stopped me in my tracks, than at least muddied the road and slowed my progress.
Part of the problem is that they are an instant judgement call. The moment you hit “send” or whatever, the process of someone peeling about the layers of my story with a fine tooth comb begins. True, plain readers do that often when they read fiction, but that’s different. A reader’s acceptance or, the horror, rejection of my work is an organic pill that is far easier for me the swallow. I offer something, people choose to take it or no. The lack of sales or reads can be frustrating, but not exactly nerve wracking.
In a contest though, I am making a conscious choice to be judged. Literally. There’s no passive quality to a contest. No discovery. One flat out says, “okay, here. Tell me if in your assessment this creation of mine is better than everyone else in the world who gave your their stuff.”
A less dramatic but no less palpable reason I shy away from contests is the subtle alteration it makes to my process. If I see a contest is coming up and I set off to create something specifically for same, it feels like I am “writing to the contest” instead of writing what feels best to me. It was easier to do with flash fiction, and in fact I was a finalist over at Writer’s Digest for one of their flash fiction contests. Yet the longer the submission, the more tricky it seems it would be to compose in the same manner I do when I am writing for the sake of telling a story. It could just be me, but there you go.
It’s a bit easier when an existing contest is shaped to accept a piece I already have written. If I go through the contest rules and think, “that sounds like my Story A,” I am far more likely to submit. Indeed, I am doing so next month; a piece I wrote last year is only 100 or so words above the contest’s limit, and is in the correct genre. Plus it’s a story I amparticularly proud of. So I’ll pull out those 100 words. That’s worth it to me to make a try at a contest, as in the end the story still exists in its own right, and not because of the contest. It’s free, after all.
Which is another thing; I’m not wild about paying reading fees for contests. I’m trying to decide lately if there is ever a time when paying a fee for a contest is worth it. I haven’t come to a conclusion about that yet. Your thoughts on same are appreciated.
Anyway I look at it though, I should be looking at more contests for my shorter stuff, and I know it. Not because someone said so, or because all the cool kids are doing it. (I don’t remember the last time i did something because the cool kids are doing it.) Rather, I’ve decided recently that contests are a legitimate part of today’s author’s life. I can control the degree to which I use that component, and I still plan to do so less than many of my contemporaries. Yet after consideration I’ve determined that despite my reservations it’s time for me to try the contest route for more often than I have in the past.
Do you do contests? Which ones? Any suggestions?