I entered a writing contest last week. It sounds simple enough but there was a lot of behind the scenes issues from the initial idea to the final submission. The contest entry had to be an original piece; it could not have been previously published. Would you believe it, they consider a blog a publication. Who knew? I am glad that I asked.
The sponsor of the essay is a nationally published magazine. First prize is $3000.00 (who couldn’t use that?!), a trip for two to New York City, lunch with the magazine editors and two tickets to a Broadway play. I read somewhere that entering contests helps to make you a better writer so I decided I should give this a try. I read all the rules and started writing.
The topic was “I never thought I’d…” and they suggested that you did not start your essay with that sentence. They also suggested that many entries would be on marriage, children, divorces, losing weight and if you wanted to stand out from the crowd, go in a different direction. That made sense to me so that is what I did.
I actually wrote two different essays. The first one was on courage. Then my sister thought I should write about tossing clothes out of the car windows. I was surprised she mentioned that but decided to go ahead and write that one too. I sent both essays to my sister and also to a girlfriend so that I could get two different opinions. My girlfriend liked the naked one best because it got the biggest reaction out of her; but she thought I should leave out the drinking part. My sister thought that I absolutely must leave in the alcohol parts because she wouldn’t want anyone to think that I would undress in a parking lot sober. I don’t think she liked the naked essay because she said she was embarrassed for me. I can be kind of slow sometimes but I think my instincts are on target.
There was growth for me in this simple little contest. I had to ask others for help, listen to varying opinions, allow myself to be critiqued, and follow advice given. Asking for help is not easy for most of us and I am no exception. Walking that fine line not taking critiques personal and following advice given is hard. These little essays are very personal. Listening to criticism and being true to my heart feels uncomfortable. I automatically hear “this is no good” and I have to focus on the actual words spoken, not what I hear. Then I have to make choices. Honesty is more important to me than what other people think so I kept that as my priority.
I also had to let go because I gave up all rights to the essay. This was clear in the rules. I cannot post it on my blog. It belongs to them. I decided that the experience of the contest was worth the rights. I may regret that later but I doubt it.
I submitted the essay on courage. I decided that the naked one (as I fondly call it) was better for my blog than a national magazine. Now I have to let go of the results. I have to be realistic and know that I probably won’t win. Last year’s contest had over 7000 entries. So why would I do all this when my chances are slim? I wanted to try something different; to become a better writer. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose; I win and lose something every day. Back to basics, I tried. That is what life is all about.