By Rachel Dylan
When I first started writing I entered numerous writing contests for unpublished authors. I was excited to enter and see what others thought about these crazy stories that had developed inside my head. These contests were a great way to get feedback and have someone who didn’t know me read my manuscript. I jumped in and started submitting my manuscripts to various contests, but I was vastly unprepared to handle what happened next.
I’m still a big proponent of writing contests, and I personally LOVE judging unpublished contests and providing comments. I take it seriously because I remember what it was like to be on the other side. For those of you who are unpublished and still on the unpublished contest circuit, I want to share a couple of personal stories that will hopefully encourage you and might even give you a good chuckle.
Picture this—The finalists of the contest were announced, and I definitely was not one of them. But then I get the email that says the judges’ comments are attached. I’m filled with enthusiasm as I eagerly download the documents that contain the feedback I’m craving. When I open one of the documents, my eyes start scanning down the page. All the way to the bottom line. A line that held a big fat zero. Yes, you read that right. Zero! How could have that been? Could my writing have been so bad as to deserve a zero? I was thoroughly crushed.
My other story involves my all time favorite comment I received in an unpublished contest. I’m still a practicing attorney and at the time of the contest entry, I had been practicing law for a number of years. The comment from the judge said, and I quote, “A lawyer would never talk like this.” Now this comment made me both laugh and become indignant. Of course a lawyer would talk like that. I was a lawyer and I wrote it!
Now that years have gone by I can look back on these two events with more perspective. I still don’t understand why I got the zero, but that score only motivated me to try harder and push forward with my writing. And while I still laugh about the lawyer comment, I was able to see it with fresh eyes and not be personally hurt by it.
So here’s a few words of advice regarding writing contests and how to handle the feedback.
- Realize it’s only one person’s opinion. But then consider their opinion carefully.
- Don’t take comments personally. The judge doesn’t even know who you are.
- Take what you can from the comments. You don’t have to agree with everything the judge said to be able to take the comments and learn from them.
- Keep an open mind and don’t put up your guard.
- Don’t get overly emotional (I’m so guilty of this). You have poured everything into the story, but it’s not worth stewing over.
- If you do get worked up about any comments, channel that angst into your writing. Commit to improve your craft and work as hard as you can.
- Don’t let positive feedback go to your head. Even the most seasoned author can improve.
Rachel Dylan writes Christian fiction including legal romantic suspense. Rachel has practiced law for over a decade including being a litigator at one of the nation’s top law firms. She enjoys weaving together legal and suspenseful stories with a romantic twist. A southerner at heart, she now lives in Michigan with her husband and five furkids—two dogs and three cats. Rachel loves to connect with readers. You can find Rachel at www.RachelDylan.com.