I work well under pressure. In fact, I find pressure very motivating. I wrote the first chapter to my first novel because of a contest. It’s a contest I never expected to win, and it and it involved no critique (neither public nor private). It was just submit and then see who won, so the stakes were very low. But committing to enter the contest forced me to do two things: tell the people in my life (a few close friends and the hubs) that I wanted to write a book AND actually sit down and see what I could make of 5,000 words in three weeks.
I was right. I didn’t win that contest, but I did receive a nice form email thanking me for submitting. However, I did accomplish writing the first couple of chapters of what is now a completed and revised young adult novel. How did I get from first chapters to completion and query letter? From jumping for joy after having written my first novel to completing and writing my query for novel number two? Competition.
Before I entered any other contests aside from the one that jump started my first novel, I found another source to channel my competitive juices into writing motivation–my critique partner.
I’ve known my critique partner (Let’s just call her Jen…because that’s her name) for twelve years. We used to teach together, and when she moved across the country a few years ago (sniff sniff), we kept in touch through Facebook. What neither of us knew, though, was that the other wanted to write/was writing young adult fiction. We talked books, as far as what we were reading, all the time and realized we had very similar tastes. Only by chance did I notice Jen enter a give away by a blog we both follow, Pub(lishing) Crawl, for a book on novel writing. What??? I was writing, and she was writing, and all this time we were talking books, we never knew! So, I messaged her and said, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” She did, and I did, and she was about 10,000 words ahead of me, and that’s all it took. We decided to trade our WIPs every other week, to commit to being CPs and to finishing our books. That biweekly deadline and the drive to match her in word count kept me going, sometimes WAY past a healthy bed time, but it was SO worth it because the day she finished her book, I was not only so immensely proud of her, but I was hell-bent on crossing the finish line too, which I did, a few days later. Go Jen. And Go me.
Throughout writing my first draft, I was also doing my research on the publishing industry. I found agents on Twitter. I bought the current edition of Writer’s Market. I joined QueryTracker. What I didn’t realize, though, was that writing and revising was the (relatively) easy part compared to writing a query. This, my friends, is where a more daunting type of writing competition comes into play–the pitch contest.
I’m new to the contest circuit. My first attempt was back in February when Cupid’s Literary Connection hosted Blind Speed Dating. Entering was the easy part. The hard part was putting my query and first 250 on a public blog for comments, hoping beyond hope that I would make it through to the agent round. I even entered Cupid’s side contest, a kissing scene contest, to try to win a free pass to the agent round of Blind Speed Dating. You can read my kissing scene (and participant and judge comments) HERE.
I did NOT make it to the agent round, but guess what? I found a community of writers, all in the same place in their careers as me, who gave me fantastic feedback on my query, my first 250, and my kissing scene. Judges for the kissing scene, who were agented writers, gave me amazing feedback and wonderful compliments on my ability to write a swoon-worthy scene. And I got to read other writers’ kissing scenes and queries and first pages, oh my! I LEARNED SO MUCH!!! I saw queries that did make it through to the agent round (Congrats, writers!). I used reader comments to revise and improve my query. Most of all, I found the added motivation to keep moving forward. My confidence was boosted when I worked up enough nerve to read the blog comments on my contest pieces and found that no one yelled at me or told me that I was insane for thinking I could write a book. Other writers, folks, ARE SO SUPPORTIVE of one another. I was able to branch out from the safe haven of my relationship with my CP (who I still love and consider my parabatai/identical hand twin), and I didn’t spontaneously combust. I didn’t win, but I came out of that contest with tools to improve my writing and new writerly friends to follow/interact with/support in the twitterverse.
So, I wrote another book. And another query. And I still think that writing a query is damn hard. But I’m getting better, and more confident, and entering more contests because each time I put my writing out there, I benefit from feedback, from support, from requests to see partials or fulls. I don’t enter every contest I hear about. I do my research, find out if agents who participate are generally interested in the type of work I write. Right now, I’m actually fortunate enough to have made it into the first round of a really exciting contest called Query Kombat (organized and hosted by the amazing @Michelle4Laughs, @RavenousRushing, and @SC_Author). I’m actually in a bracket where my query and first 250 will compete against another query and first 250 to see who makes it to the next round. It’s exciting and competitive, but again, all the writers involved are super supportive of one another. If nothing else, this contest has provided the 64 of us with a new community of people who are in the query trenches, fighting the good fight to one day make it to publication.
There’s less intense contests out there too. Some competitions, like the upcoming JuNoWriMo, are just to push myself against my own self-imposed limits, to hit daily word count goals that go beyond what I’ve been hitting lately. The stakes don’t always have to be high, but I love the pressure of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
If you are looking for contests, Twitter is the place to be. Like I said, I’m really new to writing contests, but here are some great people to follow (if you don’t already) who often run contests on their blogs and/or Twitter pitch opportunities. If, like me, you write YA or NA, check these folks out. And remember, even if you aren’t THE winner, just getting your work out there, getting feedback from new readers, it’s so worth it! And if you have names to add, please comment and let me know. I’ll add them to the list!
@brendadrake @CupidsLC @NAAlleyBlog @MartinaABoone @JuNoWriMo @SavvyAuthors @Michelle4Laughs @RavenousRushing @SC_Author @AuthoressAnon
Not every contest is for every writer, and for some, contests may not be your thing at all. For me, so far, they’ve been a fabulous learning experience. How about you, writers? Do you compete? If so, how? If not, why? What motivates you to go beyond your level of comfort?
Don’t forget, #querykombat round one begins tomorrow. Come check out the 64 match-ups. Though that competition is closed to those who are already in it, tomorrow is also #pitmad, a Twitter pitch party for anyone who has a completed manuscript to pitch!
As always, #amwriting.