I like contests. I enter them because I love to win, but I also love to compete, as long as I have my head on straight.
If you’re a writer, and you enter contests, you are going to lose. This is a given. Nobody wins all the time. Stephen King could enter some of the contests I know of and he’d get murdered. Metaphorically speaking. So much of the contest is the judges, what they like and don’t like, that it’s impossible for anyone to win very often, and very difficult to win at all. I know this first hand. I won some contests (well, took second and third) when I was at BYU – this is a thing which at the time I did not appreciate – but nothing since. I’m 0-for-everything since I became a serious writer last spring.
The terrific writing organization My Writer’s Circle held a competition called the OlympInks over the last two weeks. It’s a very interesting mix of competitions, from poetry to fiction to nonfiction, across many genres and with lots of different themes and lengths. I learned a tremendous amount from having participated, and I can tell that it has made me a better writer.
And I won! Well, I won three of the nine events I entered, and took silver in three more. I won the Torch Relay, which was a nonfiction travel review, and the Steeplechase, which was a flash fiction contest (no more than 750 words) writing in a genre outside your normal (I wrote a sci-fi comedy). And then I won the Dialogue Sprint – 250 word story, dialogue only. No narration, not even “he said”. That was the one I really wanted. I do dialogue. I think I’m good at it. I told my wife I was going to win that one, and I did.
I came silver in the Poetry Triathlon (very fun, and VERY hard for me) and the Short Story Marathon (up to 2500 words), where I was the popular vote winner but lost in the judging. I’m told I was silver in the 100-word Dash as well, with stories no longer than 100 words. I wrote three of those, and submitted the last of the three. In retrospect, I should have sent in a different one. But you can tell me in the comments which one is your fave.
I didn’t do so well in the Bullseye (25 words!), the Spectator Sport (nonfiction novel review), or the Slalom (anagrams. I got trussed up like a Christmas ham). But all of the events sharpened parts of my game. I have to give credit here to Dean Wesley Smith‘s workshop on Idea into Story that I took over December and January. I’ve always had trouble making stories out of ideas. I have ideas in plenty, but I have struggled to make tales out of them. He showed me how to do that, and it was a good thing for this contest, because on some of these all we got was an idea, or even just a word, and we had to go from there. For instance, the Poetry Triathlon was about “time”. That was the theme. The Dialogue Sprint was “two people meet in a bar.” The 100-word Dash was “hold”. That’s what you get, then you write a story from it. Well, Dean showed me how. One of those workshop stories was The Green Knight, the popular vote winner in the Marathon. His stuff works. And I did it. And I won.
More importantly, I won because I tried and because I learned how to be better. I’m grateful for the wins and the losses. All of the stories were so, so valuable to me.
Looking forward to the next one.