Ahh, 2020. There’s not much left to be said, is there?
Several months ago, I heard a radio host commenting on the idea that “2020” will be the new byword for terrible experiences. While that might prove to be an accurate prediction, 2020 wasn’t an altogether awful year for me.
It was a year filled with uncertainty, but it’s also the year that I finally accomplished three goals I set for myself after graduation:
- Join a writing contest.
- Finish the first draft of one of my novels.
- Gather feedback on my writing from someone outside of my immediate family.
Now, several years after graduation, I’ve finally done it.
The Fear Holding Me Back
I’ve wanted to enter a writing contest for YEARS, but I always managed to talk myself out of it. There was a multitude of reasons I would tell myself before I let the opportunities pass me by. Among them was the following list of excuses:
- It’s not the “right” time.
- I’m not ready.
- I need more practice/time to figure out my writing style.
- I don’t write short stories.
- Short stories aren’t my thing.
In reality, it all boiled down to one fear: what if I’m not good enough to be a writer?
Why I Entered a Writing Contest
A few years ago, I stumbled across a website called The Write Practice. I enjoyed reading their articles and was intrigued by the idea of their online writing community. So, in true me fashion, I signed up for their newsletter and kept lurking, holding out on joining their program as I felt that I wasn’t ready for the commitment.
Three to four times every year, they joined with Short Fiction Break to create writing contests based on specific themes, and every time, I would read all the guidelines before deciding to wait yet again.
Last August, I received an email notifying me that their fall contest’s sign-up window was closing in a few hours. I read all the entry guidelines yet again, but this time, I didn’t just discard the email with momentary regret before carrying on with my day. I realized that if I kept ignoring every opportunity to improve myself, I would never become an author.
My mom gave me the extra push I needed, and I paid the entry fee before I could talk myself out of it. Despite the nerves and the fear that I wasn’t good enough, I realized three things:
- I wanted to validate my writing with someone outside of my family.
- I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone to improve my writing.
- If I didn’t do it now, I would never become a writer as I’d always be waiting for the “perfect” moment.
I was right, and I’m so grateful that I finally made the leap!
What I Learned from My First Writing Contest
There are so many aspects of the writing contest that I loved, and it helped me grow a lot as a writer. Perhaps the main thing I learned from the experience was that feedback is an essential part of writing. My novels, short stories, and poetry are never going to be published if I never bring myself to let people read them. Unfortunately, rejection will always be part of every writer’s journey to becoming a published author, but accepting that fact has left me feeling somehow more free and confidant about my writing than I ever was before.
One of the writing contest requirements was that all contestants had to workshop their stories in the community group before submitting their final draft to the judges. I’m not going to lie; I was so nervous when I posted my first draft in the writers’ workshop, but I did it anyway – despite the millions of butterflies that tried to create a tornado in my insides.
The Write Practice has the workshop set up so that you have to critique three other stories to “unlock” the critiques people write on your own. At first, the idea of critiquing other writers in the community made me uncomfortable. I mean, who am I to critique authors?
Eventually, I started to enjoy every aspect of the workshop, posting my story, critiquing other stories, and reading my stories’ critiques. The sense of camaraderie that pervaded the writing community there was truly inspiring and helpful. It proved to be the piece of my puzzle that I didn’t realize I was missing until I found it.
I learned so much from being a part of that community, but here are some of my main takeaways:
- Perfection is the enemy of progress and growth.
- Never self-critique/edit during the first draft.
- Accept that the first draft is the “poop phase,” aka “word vomit.”
- Always finish the first draft of a short story in one sitting – this helps prevent perfectionism, procrastination, and writer’s block.
- Feedback is crucial for your second draft (and every draft after that)
I didn’t win the Readers’ Choice Award or make it into the winners’ circle. Still, I walked away with something infinitely more precious: experience, confidence, and a fantastic community of fellow writers. 🙂
If you’re interested in reading my short story, it’s published here (click, and it will take you to Short Fiction Break, where my story is published).
If you’d like to know more about me and my blog, click here and here.