Writing Contests: The Joy, the Pain

A writing contest is a little like passing in an assignment at school, hoping that you get an A.

Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. And that’s okay most of the time.

But to intentionally enter a writing contest, to pay a fee to compete with others for the top prize is a little more nerve-wracking and personal.

I have experienced both the joy and pain of the competition this spring.

In 2011, I had over 50 articles published, most of them news stories, but also book reviews, business profiles, personal essays, and this blog. They weren’t all great; sometimes the constraints of research to deadline made for unforeseen challenges and not necessarily exemplary writing. Sometimes the stories were slightly dull to begin with, and I was hard-pressed to breathe some life into them. But I also produced some good articles, and had good feedback from my editors and readers.

I want to grow as a writer, and for 2012 I resolved to enter my work in  a writing contest. So I did. I entered seven different articles in seven different categories in the Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.  I paid the money. I waited.

A few weeks later, I was thrilled to learn that I have been shortlisted in the Blog category, for my posts “Mudalicious” and “Quilt Therapy”.

I was so thrilled, I forgot that in this contest, writers get feedback for their submissions.

And so a few more weeks passed.

Then I got an email with 6 attachments, all individual comments from judges for each article that didn’t get shortlisted. There was more pain than joy here.

Some of the reviews of my articles were strongly worded- maybe the judge was tired of reading crappy entries and mine was one of them. With some I barely made a passing grade. Ouch. These articles had all been published, and I had been paid for them, and now I was told that they are crummy. That’s hard to hear. It stings.

Thankfully, a few of the critiques I received were very positive, very encouraging and motivating. Phew! They are the wind behind me, gently pushing me forward.

Now that I have had more time to read the articles, judges’ comments, and ponder what I could have improved on, I can see their points. Some of them I even agree with. In fact, I think I can say that I agree with all of the critiques except one of them, which I could have a good debate about.

I also received good advice like “Take a grammar course”, which I definitely know I need.

So if you want to ramp up your writing to the next level, try getting a critique. Even better, enter a contest. Listen to the judges, but listen to your heart too, because it is still YOUR writing after all! Even if you don’t get an A or you don’t become a finalist, you will have learned something that will help improve your writing.

Congratulations to all my fellow finalists in the Canadian Christian Writing Awards!


6 thoughts on “Writing Contests: The Joy, the Pain

  1. Hi Brenda:
    I meant to comment earlier, but had technical difficulties with my internet. Thank you for sharing your experience. I enjoyed your post and remember…a lot of our writing is subjective and we can’t please everyone. I enjoy your writing. You go girl.


  2. Not sure how I missed this entry. I didn’t realize you’d entered so many competitions.

    Being a musician and having dealt with the auditioning process more than once, I can tell you that you should at least be grateful you received comments from judges. Though criticism is sometimes hard to swallow, being told “Thanks” and never getting any other feedback (positive or negative) is crazy-making.

    I’ve read of both writers and composers who’ve finally “made it” in their chosen fields and genres. They all seem to agree that winning a competition often has as much to do with luck as talent. Chances are, nearly everyone who competes in these sorts of contests have exceptional talent. The winners are typically just lucky enough to have picked the right topic, chosen a judge’s favorite theme or method, etc.

    I’m glad it sounds as though you’re taking the encouragement and the criticism in stride as you continue to do the work you enjoy.


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