Shelley Widhalm

My (Writing) Contest Problem

In 52: A Writer's Life, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Contests on December 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

I think I have a contest problem.

My problem is not the kind where I enter so many contests to the point where I’m a contest-aholic, gambling away my money in entry fees.

It’s a matter of my attitude toward winning and losing.

I enter the occasional writing contest, hoping to get the big prize (money, an all-expense trip to a writer’s conference or a meeting with agents and editors). I enter to seek recognition for my writing through publication in a magazine or journal.

When I was a young writer, I expected to win every time I entered after receiving high praise from my secondary and college teachers for my academic writing – a least for the first two to three entries.

It didn’t take me long to realize contests are a matter of the publication’s style, the editors’ personal taste and competition among a multitude of talented writers, so that losing a few isn’t a reflection of writing quality and originality.

When I don’t win a contest and have the opportunity to read the winning submission, I don’t read the work fairly. I don’t allow myself to get lost in the story but immediately start evaluating style, use of language and voice. Oh no, I think, the writer used a cliché here, or wasn’t creative in expressing an idea or action there. Why did that writer get picked and not my wonderful short story or poem?

Earlier this year, I entered two nonfiction pieces in the Chicken Soup contests and thought, Oh, most certainly I have to win, because some of the entries are from non-writers who have amazing life experiences. But I’m a writer, and my life has had some interesting moments, so what I enter will have to wow the editors. The opposite happened. I didn’t get selected, so I asked, How come? How come!

I don’t intend to have a big ego – I actually don’t from getting lots of rejection slips – but I do try to protect my ego by putting down other writing. Of course, this is all in my head and never something expressed out loud. Does that make me a bitter writer? Or wishful? Or protective? I still want to think of myself as the nice girl. Hmm …

(See next week’s blog on tips for entering writing contests.)

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  1. Interesting problem, and I don’t know if there’s a solution. I’ll bet many writers have the same feelings you have (the resentment, the bitterness, etc.)

    I have the opposite problem – I placed in the top 10 on the very first contest I entered, received an honorable mention. So much time had passed between when I entered and when I learned of my placement, that I’d forgotten about it. So I was shocked to learn I’d done so well. I’ve not entered any contests since then, because I’m afraid I had some beginners luck and I won’t be able to match those results. Might have been easier if I’d had some rejections first, and then a placement, but who knows.

  2. I bet you would win if you entered again. I have a writer friend who won honorable mention on her first entry, too, and has entered a few times since and got published in an anthology (I was a tad jealous). I also have the problem of many written stories that I sit on and don’t enter. I tell myself I’m too busy, but it’s just an excuse. I need to make it one of my 2014 goals. 🙂

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