In all seriousness, I never expected to move into the second round of judging, let alone the finals. I entered with the desire to obtain judges' feedback. Of course I was honest with my family, friends, critique partners, and myself--it would be kinda nice to go far, or even win. Still, that night I faced the dreaded invasion of one particular thought: What if my work is crap?
Any writer/author who just read that last sentence is either nodding sagely, or laughing their butt off. Maybe even both. That's because you know. You've been there ... more than once. And you know you'll be there again. As a whole, writers are not known for their consistent off-the-charts self-confidence. Inside each of us is that nerdy high schooler who wants nothing more than to push up her glasses and burying her nose in her book.
I went to bed that night not crushed or sad, but resigned. The following morning I busied myself with mom tasks, relegating my disappointment to some deep, dark dungeon in my mind. By the time I got home from Costco, I was rebuilding my future as a writer, with an eye toward what I would do next.
That's when I found an email in my spam folder titled 'Molly Contest'. Well, this was it for sure--the bad news. I opened it and read: "Heart of Denver Romance Writers The Molly - Congratulations - Your entry has moved to the FINALS." (Yes, all caps!) I had to read the dang thing five times before it sunk in. And then I screamed. And my kids groaned. (Mostly because I get that excited when I hear back from contests.) My eldest son said, "Let me guess ... you did move on."
The second round judges' comments were amazing. I love these women. That they are all women is an assumption on my part, of course. At least one of them is because she included her name, and I promptly checked her out and ended up purchasing one of her books. What can I say? I'm always looking for authors whose work inspires me to become a better writer.
Over the next thirty-six hours, I did a lot of thinking what these judges did for me--a little unknown, unpublished writer who lives half a country away from them. All of their comments played a critical role to the reshaping of my MS. Judge, #1 and Judge #3 dig sci-fi romance. Judge 2 made some out-of-this-world catches, and I think she became a convert to sci-fi romance.
Judge 4 taught me something completely different than any of the other judges. She taught me humility. She reminded me that I'm not in the game to make everybody happy 100% of the time. Now please don't think that she raked me over the coals ... she didn't. She did have some encouraging things to say, but she was also brutally honest about her confusion--and given the pre-revised piece of crap she was working with, I can't blame her. I think she'd enjoy the revised version a whole lot more. But the final and most important thing she said was: "Keep writing!"
I could just hug this woman.
As writers, we never know where or when inspiration will hit. Judge 4's two words summed up not only my entire contest experience--she reminded me, and every other writer reading this, to keep writing no matter what. You may think your work is crap, or doubt anyone will like your stories, but keep writing.
Keep learning, keep growing and keep writing.