We come now to the time of year I think of as “contest time,” meaning the time of year when chapters of Romance Writers of America are holding writing contests for aspiring authors. Some of these competitions are fierce, with as many as 300 entries in a single category, and all of them take tremendous effort to coordinate.
I am published in part because of these chapter contests, for two reasons. First, when my prospective editor asked, ‘What ammunition can you give me to set you apart from all the other unpublished Regency authors?’ I could point to a fistful of contest wins and finals. I had no idea they were significant, but they got me the all important boost out of the slush pile.
Second, many contests are judged by published authors, and friends and neighbors, I am telling you, when a published author sets out to ‘splain what you’re doing wrong, she’s usually accurate, articulate, and ferociously determined to get her message across.
I got comments along the lines of, “I’m being so hard on you because I believe in your voice.” That after, three pages of solid, relentless critique. Another author told me I was going to end up in the missed-it-by-that-much category if I didn’t tend to the things she pointed out, and that would be TRAGIC, given the potential in my writing.
Yikes! I paid attention. I buffed the goods and now it’s my turn to judge a few contests.
I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the wonderful creativity awaiting publication, I enjoy knowing I might be able to sand off a few rough edges on somebody’s writing, and give them the boost so generously given to me. The world can never have enough well written love stories, after all.
And that would be motivation enough to accept the judging packet, but a funny thing happens when I get into judging mode: My writing improves.
When I’m beavering away at a Work In Progress, I’m usually struggling to get the story on the page, struggling to figure out what the story is, so I can get it on the page. I lose sight of the old chestnuts:
1) Avoid starting a sentence with ‘there are,’ or ‘it is’
2) Cut the words, ‘just,’ ‘very,’ and ‘that’ whenever you can
3) Establish the setting with sensory details that are either symbolic or have significance to the Point of View character only
The list of shoulds and oughts is long, and as Voltaire observed, when it comes to writing, the list cannot be learned quickly no matter how talented or dedicated the student. I’m reminded though, of the efficacy of the one room school house approach to education.
Once upon a time, somebody took a bunch of students from a public school setting, and instead of having each grade taught by a separate teacher, they went back to the older method, of having the students in each grade teach the students below them in one-to-one or nearly one-to-one sessions. The result was an improvement in everybody’s performance, and with much less effort on the teacher’s part (though I assume the process took more time, at least).
So I get to help out some aspiring writers, but I benefit as much as anybody else. Pretty cool.
Has a generous impulse ever yielded an unexpected bonus for you? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of “Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight,” or, if you’re an aspiring author, I’ll critique three scenes of your fiction writing–let me know in the comments if that’s your preference.