In 2008, I won the Touched by Love contest, finaled in the Golden Gateway and the Summer Sizzle contests, and judged contests as well.
But when contest score sheets arrive in the mail, my stomach flips more times than a world-class gymnast performing a floor routine. I’ve received wonderful feedback that praised my work or told me how I could improve. Every compliment is read over and over, savored like melt-in-your-mouth chocolate.
Then, there are those other comments. Negative feedback hurts; and sometimes, I’ve had to put it aside until my skin feels thick enough to withstand the pain. But I’ve found that the critical comments were the most useful ones. Those I can learn from. After all, if I wanted only positive feedback, I’d give my manuscript to my mother and save the money spent on entry fees.
When I can be objective—usually after a long, bubble bath and ice cream straight from the carton—I study my manuscript. Was the judge right? Is my heroine shallow? Have I failed to show instead of tell? Does my chapter lack description? (Probably yes to the last one, though I’ve really tried to work on that.)
I imagine each judge as a potential reader—she is, isn’t she? If she loves my submission, wonderful! I have a new fan. But if she doesn’t, is there something I can change—while staying true to my story and my voice—yet win her over? Then, I'll have more satisfied readers.
Some comments are best ignored. But first, really try to see if the criticism has merit. In one contest, the judge scored me low score for conflict, then wrote: “Most of the conflict is because of the heroine’s poor choices.” Hello? Hasn’t she heard of Moby Dick? I know my story is rife with conflict. What about the other judge who thought my heroine was unsympathetic? Ouch. My character has abandoned her children. If I haven’t provided proper motivation for this heinous act, then I needed to heed this judge’s criticism and create a more sympathetic heroine. I was glad for the opportunity to rewrite the story now, before submitting it to an editor.
The best way to look at contest feedback is the way a writing partner offers her critique: “Use what you can, and lose the rest.”
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