I Entered a Contest

I’ve been a little busy this week.

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I started writing when I was about eight years old. At first, it was just a school project, and then some stories to amuse myself and my friends, though I think I imagined publishing a book one day even then. By the time I was sixteen, I decided it was what I wanted to do with my life.  When I dropped out of college and nineteen, I said that writing was the only career I saw for myself and if I had to work entry level positions until I made that happen (I was a little naive at the time and didn’t realize that writers often need day jobs even after they’re published), so be it.

At that time, I gave myself a goal: have something published, even if it’s just a short story, by the time I’m twenty-five.  I’ll be twenty-six in a month, but I’m nowhere near that goal. In fact, in all the time I’ve been writing, the only time I’ve submitted a story for any kind of judgment was to apply for the Governor’s School for the Arts, to which I was rejected. I usually either don’t stick with projects long enough or I feel they’re not ready, or they’re not what I had in my head. Well, there’s that, and then there’s me. Sharing my stories with even family and close friends makes me feel sick to my stomach. Workshops? Unbiased betas? It’s painful to even think about it.

It’s a stumbling block I know I need to overcome, so this year, I made a New Year’s Resolution to enter more contests and submit to magazine’s. And NYC Midnight‘s annual short story challenge seemed like the perfect place to start. You all know that I’m a long time participant in NaNoWriMo, and that my favorite thing about it is the “healthy dose of panic” it induces. One of my NaNo friends told me, when I explained this challenge to her, “That sounds exactly like something a NaNoWriMo writer would do.” It works like this: each writer is placed in a random heat and given a genre, a topic, and a character to work with. For the first round, they receive assignments at midnight and have eight days to write. The writers of the top five stories of each heat will then go on to the second round, placed in new heats, and given three days to write. The four best of each heat then go on to the final round, in which they have one day to write.

With over 3,000 participants, I don’t expect to get past the first round, but that’s not really the point. At each stage, participants receive feedback from judges who are writing professionals themselves. Just in participating, I’ve sort of accomplished my goal. I finally put myself out there. And I freaked out the whole way. I stayed up too late worrying. I woke with my stomach in knots. I anxiety-vomited all over social media almost every day to tell everyone how nerve-wracking this was. I’ve been a little obnoxious, but this whole experience has been, though rewarding, a little uncomfortable. Knowing Sam was also in the contest and going through the same thing helped a bit.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what scares me about my story being judged. This story, a thriller of all things, was not really within my strong suit, but there are parts of the story of which I’m actually very proud. I have a complex, interesting protagonist.  I used clever twist of an ending. I really liked some of the quotes. I don’t think it’s the best story, but I don’t think it’s bad. I’m terrified the judges will think it is, though. That’s the worst thing that could happen, in my mind. They’ll tell me that it’s boring or that the characters aren’t compelling. I know that I’m probably just doubting myself because I’m too close to the story to see it objectively; but I also might not be able to tell if it’s bad work because I’m too close to it. It is possible that they won’t like it.

When I tell my friends about my fears, they like to tell me, “Oh, no, they’ll love it” or “they won’t say that, it’s not as bad as you think.” And yes, there’s probably something to that. If nothing else, these judges probably know how to give more constructive feedback than, “This sucks, don’t quit your day job.”  But if they do think my story is bad…I need to let that happen.  If this is a bad story, or if there’s an element to it that’s very weak, I need to know. How can I ever expect to improve if I won’t let anyone tell me what’s wrong? How can I develop a thick skin to rejection if I don’t let myself be rejected in the first place? It will hurt, of course, if the feedback is mostly negative. I’ll probably be crushed, and just thinking about it is sure to keep me an anxious mess through the first half of next week. But I need honest feedback from people who don’t love me if I’m going to be the best writer I can be. I really hope the feedback is positive, but negative feedback might be just what I need right now.

After editing and reading through the story, just shy of 2,000 words, until I was sick of it, I sent it in late last night. Now there’s just the agonizing process of waiting.

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