October 29, 2009

Contest Joys and Woes

We just published the winners of our Annual Contest yesterday and I read some of them for the first time. But you will notice we did not publish second place. This is because I got tired of waiting for Kendall Pope to get back to me. He seemed really excited to win second place, but hasn't sent me his contest winner agreement form yet or returned my emails or calls. I hope he's okay. It's totally bizarre. His story was good. I read it and there was one part in it involving cruelty to a turtle that made me cringe and want to look away, but I couldn't. You know. Like roller derby, or speedracing. You may say you don't really want to see girls get clobbered or some hayseed fried alive, but secretly you do. Hopefully Kendall will turn up. If not, I'll have to split his money among the other winners. I'm sure they won't complain.

I have gotten out of judging myself because it is darn too hard. And then there's the problem of what to do with all these stories after it's all over. I feel sort of awful just recycling them because I know these are people's lives. Some of them opened a vein to write these stories.

Also, I know that even though our judges are professionals, personal tastes vary widely. One year I asked for the top ten from 4 different people and none of us had the same ten. Ultimately, when it comes down to selecting the winners from the top 25 or so, it's personal taste. That's why we try to change up the judging every year.

If you are wondering what process your pieces are put through when you submit them to a writing contest I'll tell you how it works here. We do a first read of all the stories. Who makes is past the first read? If your first page is well written and makes us want to turn the page, it makes it into the reread pile. Usually about 50-75 stories make it to the reread pile. So if you know that you tend to have false starts in your writing, this might be what's keeping you back. We'd love to read every word of each story, but we can't. The second read is much more selective. We're looking for good writing and a good story. I can't tell you how many times I find one and not the other--a great story poorly executed or an impressive writer with no story that I can find. After this read we usually have about 12-15 and then is the hardest part. I usually go for what moves me the most, whether it is to laugh out loud or cry or think about it for days after. But again, this is really subjective.

I usually let the finalists know that they were finalists, because I'm nice, and because I know it can be frustrating to submit to contests with no response at all. But everyone who submitted to our contest should know that just by submitting, you have become more of a writer. This genre is, in my opinion, has the bravest souls and has the greatest capacity for healing ourselves and inspiring and influencing others. So keep writing.