This week TV will not be a temptation because I will be occupied judging two national writing contests: The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and the Tampa Area Romance Authors Contest. I am a first-round judge in these contests and a category coordinator for one. Writing contests help hone an aspiring author’s skills and provide bragging rights to winners. It’s been a long week of great reading and no TV.
Writing is such a solitary endeavor that writers crave feedback. For the most successful authors the feedback comes in long lines of readers seeking autographs at conferences and in big fat royalty checks. Feedback also comes through Goodreads reviews, Amazon reviews, newspaper and magazine reviews, and the joy of seeing a stranger carrying one of your books to the beach or through an airport. I suppose a similar joy would be for a musician to hear her song on the radio. Sometimes feedback will come from out of the blue.
After my airplane had repairs done on the radio system, a mechanic wiped off his hands and handed me the key with a bit of advice–he told me my novel had a typo in the second chapter. It took me a moment to process what he was talking about, because my book had just been published a week earlier. Even my mother hadn’t read it yet. I resisted the urge to hug him, but thanked him for buying my book.
Next, I dashed home, made the correction and uploaded the eBook again to Amazon. The majority of the feedback new writers receive comes from the critiques of family, friends, and colleagues. These can be harrowing, confusing critiques because while readers know what they like and don’t like, they often cannot articulate the specifics. One relative will say there is too much dialogue, another will say it needs more. Whereas a reader might say, “the ending ran too long.” Another writer is more likely to pinpoint that a scene is misplaced and would work better before the climax of the story. So contests serve that rarely-met need to get objective, detailed critiques with comments inside the body of the story.
And yes, contests also provide huge validation and bragging rights for finalists and winners. Beta readers, critique partners and agents provide feedback as well. In the case of critiques it is far easier to give than to receive. We can so easily spot the blunders, gaffs, and typos in someone else’s story, yet we struggle to see our own. A totally honest critique from one adult to another is worth years of wasted effort editing and rewriting. It takes courage and honesty to take a critique. That first time on that first big project any critique might feel like someone is calling your newborn ugly.
After deep breaths, a serious writer learns to listen, take notes, and consider how to use that critique to improve the story. Writers groups offer critique groups, but sadly, not all groups are created equal. Dare I say there are writers groups filled with hobbyist writers, dabblers, avid readers who don’t write, and folks who are exploring the idea of being a writer. You can generally spot them when they say they don’t read much, but they want to write a novel over the weekend. Others corner published authors with offers like, “I have this amazing story idea. How about if you write it and we split the royalties?” To such “writers” I explain the purpose and fees of ghostwriters.
Finding a group of serious career-minded writers usually entails joining a national organization. For a list of the largest ones, click on WRITER’S ORGANIZATIONS. Writer’s conferences can hone a writer’s skills through workshops and lectures and networking, and remind writers that there are others out there at the same skill level. Team up! The buddy system helps us slog through the hard times. So to writers, I say keep creating. To readers I say, thank you for turning off your TV once in a while. Thank you for supporting writers by buying books in any format. And thank you for your feedback, your reviews, and your encouragement.