My name is Masha and I’m a contest stalker. Instead of night vision goggles and restraining orders, I use RWA as my match.com. I peruse the “personals” looking for those three magical words: no synopsis needed. Or better yet: low entries. Actually, that’s my favorite one. Somehow, it makes me think, erroneously, no doubt, that I have a better chance of winning. Fat chance.
So why do I enter them? Contest for me are like that elusive mirage. Just within my grasp, but oh so far out of reach. I look at the list of agents and editors and think, what if? And so I go, where so many others go with me. Scouring the rules, making sure my name isn’t anywhere on the pages. Filling out the forms. Sending in my money. And why? For the chance to get my stuff out there for that agent who is going to change my life. But as usual, reality is a different beast.
I’ve entered a number of contests and so far, my experience has been mixed. A number of years back, in one contest, three judges had three different opinions. One said my work was fabulous and I was going to be published in the next year. The second one said what I submitted was garbage (her exact words. she must not have taken her Prozac that day). And the third one was somewhere in between. Confused, I stared at their comments, unsure how I felt or what it meant. I wanted, really wanted, to believe the fairy godmother who said I should already be published. I desperately wished I could boo and hiss at the one who trashed my work. But then, there was that middle one. The one who didn’t make any promises nor take a weedwacker to my confidence, was the one I didn’t pay attention to.. and the one I should have. The judge was a published writer and took great pains to point out issues with my work. There were a few congratulatory comments, but most was a critique. At the time, I wanted to ignore her suggestions because to be honest, of course what I really wanted was my work to be editor-ready and for that editor to be handed to me on a silver platter. Or better yet. Two editors, fighting over my manuscript. But alas, that was not to be. Back then, my work really needed a lot of work. I know that now. I didn’t know that then. When I look at the state of my manuscript, I realize I have come a long way baby. But I’m not there yet. I wonder if any writer ever gets “there.” I think writers become more proficient with greater experience, but the quest to improve the craft should always be there.
And that’s why now, when I enter a contest, or two, I don’t see it as my end-all be-all. Sure, it would be great to win. But that doesn’t mean I’ve arrived. At least as my work is concerned. I realize others are different and I have been a judge once where I saw firsthand, the difference between good and outstanding. That’s where I want to be. Outstanding. But for me, that won’t come naturally. I will need to keep working on it. And maybe one day soon, that editor will be handed to me on a silver platter.