Writing contests aren’t for winning or for losing, they’re for learning. I’ve entered a few writing contests in my life, but none that felt like they had more significance than the ones I’ve entered in the past two months. At first they felt significant because I wanted to win. Pitch Wars? I wanted that mentor. Pit Mad? I wanted an agent to “favorite” my tweet. Pitch Slam? I wanted to go before the Jedi Council and ROCK IT. I wanted the validation that came with having someone notice me. I wanted to stop writing blind and have someone tell me the words I have worked so hard to produce are not rubbish. I want to feel like I might, someday, see my beautiful book baby in print.
But now? All those things would be nice, terrific, f-bombing fantastic, in fact. But they are no longer my greatest aspirations. Why? Because writing contests like these are more like writing conventions—bringing together like-minded individuals with common hopes, dreams, and goals, to support and encourage, to teach and learn, to invigorate and inspire. How many times has a writer heard the words, find your tribe? Ten times? A hundred times? More? Listen. No instructions, advice, or wisdom you hear will be more important. Your mom thinks you’re a great writer. Your spouse is cheering you on. Your best friend is super proud of you. Yes. Of course. Sure. But who knows how hard it is to sit down and write? Who knows the epic struggle when the words won’t come? Who knows the utter exhilaration when everything comes together just right? Who knows the bitter sting of rejection?
Another writer, that’s who.
When writing contests allow you to jump into the trenches with others who do as you do, something beautiful happens. Newbies become more confident. Struggling writers encourage one another. Agented and published writers share their hard-won knowledge. Everyone shows off their battle scars. These contests are hard. The work is real and the deadlines are real and the self-doubt is very, very real. But these contests are so valuable, too. Because if I can coalesce my 90K+ manuscript into a 140-character Twitter pitch or a 35-word pitch or make an agent want to go to war for my pages after reading just one query or my first 250 words, well, I can do just about anything, right?
Starting can be daunting. I thought I could never write a 35-word pitch. I thought I could never pitch my story in 140 characters (minus the required hashtags, for goodness sake!). But over the course of several days I have written more than 50 different 35-word pitches. Okay, sometimes they were 41 words and sometimes they were 33 words, but I did it. I’ve backspaced over words, letter by letter, in my Twitter text box trying to reach the Holy Grail of that beautiful zero until my fingers ached. I traded this word for that word, relentlessly hunted down and hacked adverbs and made sure I SHOWED rather than TOLD until my eyes crossed.
What am I left with? Confidence. Pride. Gratitude. And friends. Lots and lots of friends who will tweet me some encouragement. Laugh with me. Send virtual hugs. Tell me my pitch makes no sense. Share the hard truth that my 250 is weak. Or high-five me because, darn it, my 250 is awesome. We do all these things and we are better for it. And for those mentors and judges and agents and volunteers behind the scenes who take time from their lives, their families, their manuscripts and their own hopes and dreams to give others a hand up, I am so grateful. Contests build communities. That is their true value. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s simply that you play the game. Write on, my friends. Write on!