Since I officially started my two year journey for writing on January 1st (2021), I had been looking out for writing contests to enter so as to have some goals, get some feedback, and see how my writing compared to the winning entries. I feel good about my writing skills, but not disillusioned to think I would win starting out. I am not well read for literary writing to know what qualifies high calibre writing outside of the classics. To use an analogy, I have no idea what times are good for a recreational 10 km race or a marathon, say, only what are good for national, world, or Olympic races. I’m sure the time gap isn’t huge, if any, for recreational races that are big enough, but what about the local or regional ones, or ones that didn’t include participants who have had acclaim and/or won big prize money. What’s “good” then? A question even harder to answer with something artistic as writing rather than something quite directly measurable as race time.
Having writing contests as goals, to be worked on as assignment, was also a great idea for me because it gave me some constraints with which to work. I had genre, word limits, and deadlines for constraint, within which my creativity could manifest itself like looking for stories I’d be excited about to write, editing to make it fit the criteria and deadlines. Oh, yes, deadlines! Like some artists with paintings, I could write, rewrite, edit, and re-edit, a story “forever”. Without those deadlines, I’d drive myself crazy to constantly try to improve a story over time! It was theory at first, but after finding out I didn’t qualify for a few initial contests in January because my self-published book of my life quotes last year, Stars I Put in my Sky to Live By, had disqualified me, it is truth now! I have spent a ridiculous time wordsmithing and re-wordsmithing a couple of stories that I am about to drive myself crazy with them! Fortunately, the time finally came for me today to let them go into a few contests with entry deadlines looming.
It is with great joy and relief that I share news of my first prose writing contest entries today! I had entered a few poetry contests two and three decades back, when classically formatted poetry still had some merit, and still have a perfect record for winning prizes in them, being 2 or 2. The first was my first ever poem, a sonnet about Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, that led to me winning the Beethoven figure shown in the Ode to Toy Instagram account below that was inspired by it.
Interestingly enough, the second was also another sonnet, the acrostic Sonnet V, for which I got a fourth prize medallion from the Poetry Institute of Canada, and publication in their anthology in 1999. That was the interesting part back then, but the more recent interesting part is that by virtue of it having been published in an independently edited anthology, it qualified me to put in manuscript in a few weeks’ time for potential mentorship. That’s my karma at work for you. Disqualified for having published in one, qualified by having been published in another.
Despite my “success” with those early poetry contest entries, I am under no disillusion I will get the same results with my initial prose contest entries. I am just glad to be able to finally let go of the few stories I had been writing and editing to death for the past month or so as these next contest deadlines approach. The stories I had were ready a month ago, and I like to tell myself they are notably better now from all that editing and rewriting, but as diminishing returns go, that diminished to very little improvement per session long ago! The improvements might only be “notable” from the volume of these sessions combined, not that any yielded anything spectacular. I’ll have to learn from this experience to let go of future pieces sooner, or not get back into them until I had revelations of some threshold amount worth making it worthwhile to go back in, or edit only once a week if the deadlines were that far out. Fortunately for me on this front, I’ve been able to collect a practical number of contest deadlines to be able to work hard on new pieces, and editing them only moderately before I will have to let them go. A couple of contests a month, basically, which will also be manageable financially, especially considering I will be spending the same amount on lottery tickets as contest entry fees from this crazy deduction about opportunity costs of these entry fees.
With my writing contest schedule for the next few months identified now, I feel like I’m back in school to some extent, with writing assignments due on those dates. I am a student in this writing journey, just not a formal one. The state of mind is also great for work ethic, to have homework like the almost daily posts I make on this blog. It’s one of those reframing of mindsets I often do, but one that is looking like it will work out well!
I’ll see how I’ll do in those writing contests, and publish those stories if they don’t win and if I don’t act upon feedback to improve them for other contests. In the meanwhile, just breathe a sigh of relief, smile, and click that Submit button on the entry form before taking on the next “assignment”. This is a whole manuscript of editing and buffering before submission, of a novelette I wrote in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest in 2019, which I hope to turn into a real nonfiction travelogue sort of novel with some mentorship. This I can kill myself over volume, not iterations like my two, 2000 word stories in the past month, so at least that will be a different kind of torture for the next little while. 🙂
1000 words [well, isn’t that a nice round number]