WRITING: I won. Even if I didn’t win the contest

reviewer commentsWhen the email with my writing contest score sheets came recently, I closed it, put my phone down and sat perfectly still.

This was the first time I had entered a writing contest. So, I worried: How bad was it?

I waited half a day to read what the three judges had to say. I fortified myself with chocolate. And then I read, slowly and carefully.

It was bad. But it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it could have been a whole lot worse.

One judge didn’t like my work at all. She (I assumed it was a she.) didn’t like my dialogue, or my attempts to have my characters sound rural. She was confused. She found my MC a complete bore. Uninteresting conflict. POV issues. She even questioned my spelling and punctuation. (Commas can be so personal.) And yet in the end, she thought the story had a little promise.

Two other judges liked my character, the setting and the conflict. One even pointed out her/his favorite details.

And then there was this one priceless comment : “There are some great details that come right from the author and aren’t seen in other stories of this era. Trust yourself. Write it the way YOU think it should be!” How encouraging is that? With that single bit of advice, I felt like a winner.

The three judges offered some pretty serious criticism. Did it sting? No, I’m a big girl.  Yes, of course it did.

But all three offered wise words that I will take to heart as I plow into a new revision of my story.

  1. Less telling. More showing.
  2. Speed up the pacing. Make something happen.
  3. Punch up the dialogue; reduce the narration. (See No. 1.)
  4. Less backstory. It’s a real stop sign to the reader.
  5. Cut the number of characters. This advice was really eye-opening. All three judges said my story had too many people to keep track of.

I was a judge in the same contest, though for a different genre. So I know how much time it took to read and comment on my submission. The judges’ comments were thoughtful, reasonable and as nice as they could be. If you hate something, you just have to say so. I appreciate that.

As I sat down and opened that email to read their comments, I kept thinking….If it’s really bad, maybe I should take up a new creative pursuit.

But I don’t think it was bad after all. In fact, I’m thrilled with what all three said. They read my story and considered my characters and offered thoughts about how to make it all better.

So I’m not abandoning my career as a novelist just yet. I’m getting back to work to give my characters the best I can give them.

Thanks, judges. For everything.

ⓒ Text Mary K. Tilghman

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