Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Don’t Do Writing Contests

I feel like this blog sometimes becomes an endless list of what I don’t do as a writer. As strange as it sounds, I think the learning process is like that. There are a dozen do-not rules I’ve come to understand for every do.

One thing I tend to love is a good contest. I’m competitive and I’ve always been proud of my writing skills. I like the deadline to work towards and often the specific things I have to include in the story. It’s a challenge to make something work. The problem is I also have a tendency to focus on these contests to the exclusion of all else.

In the beginning I told myself it was okay because it was something to put in queries to interest agents. After all, I have a sum total of nothing interesting to put in the ‘me’ paragraph on queries right now. But really, these were probably just justifications. Unlike writing a novel most contests want short stories. These are stories that take a couple weeks to write and another week or two to polish. I’d usually hear back in a month about whether or not I was accepted. I’ve been writing novels for over a decade and I still don’t have an agent or a published work under my belt. A couple of months to hear back sounds great.

But those were months that I didn’t write. It took several bad contest experiences in a row for me to realize that I was wasting time that should be spent on novels. It’s not that any of those contests were bad, but for most of those stories it’s time I can never get back.

So I’ve sworn off instant gratification and I’m working on my novels for the long haul. How about you?

**Oh, and because now I can say it was good for SOMETHING here’s the last thing I ever wrote for a contest. It’s a piece of flash fiction I wrote for the Machine of Death anthology. It wasn’t accepted but I had a great time writing it!**
           Elizabeth sat in the food court at the bustling LA mall, smelling the distinctly Hollywood scent of a mixture of tanning lotion and tacos. 
            "What now?" Elizabeth cut across Erik in his story telling mode, going on again about his shoot in the tropics.  It was long enough ago that his tan had faded, leaving his chiseled abs the same pasty white they’d always been.  Sandra wasn’t any help.  She was still pouting about having lost out on the part of an Arab princess to a girl named Candy with a inch long brown roots and an obscene boob job.
            "We could go tanning," Janelle suggested.  She was playing with yet another new hair style complete with waist length extensions and thick bangs that made it so she couldn't see.  The way she twisted it around her fingers was begging for people to notice it.
            "If you tan any more your skin is going to turn into plaster," Eric said. He was more beautiful than the others, and might even have been talented. That gave him rights that the other couldn't even aspire to.
            "Fine," Janelle said. "You come up with something."
            Eric didn't rise to the bait. Either he didn't want to put in the effort or he couldn't think of anything. It was Sandra who spoke up.
            "Why don't we tell fortunes?" Sandra had gotten really into the part of the Arab princess. The character was supposed to be a brilliant astrologist unable to reveal her brilliance due to her sex, but Sandra had confused astrology and astronomy. The stars control over her life had resonated so deeply in her she'd gotten her new tattoo, a giant Capricorn. She'd meant to be a symbol of her new found conviction, but most people thought it was Cam the Ram from Colorado State and shouted the team motto whenever they could make out the tufted head peaking over the low top of her shirt.
            "Why bother with that?" Janelle asked, still with her panties in a twist over the remark about her skin. "They have that new machine that can tell you how you're going to die."
            "It's not how we die that matter," Sandra said, “but how we live."
            "I've never used the Death Machine," Elizabeth said.  She was feeling different today, almost like something horrible was coming.  She was beginning to suspect her chances of becoming famous would only become a positive number with plastic surgery and a great script.
            "Me neither," Sandra admitted.
            "Chicken," Erik said. This was just up his ally. "It'll change your life. Mine told me that I would die of a drug overdose."
            "I’m going to die in a car wreck," Janelle said, then added defensivly.  “It could be exciting!”
            Eric looked at her pityingly.  “Maybe.”
            "It could be worse," Janelle said. "I could have to get old and gray and settle down with kids and stuff!"
            "How can you be so calm if you know you're going to die from drugs?" Elizabeth asked curiously.  “You do them all the time.”
            "He's accepted his fate," Sandra said.
            "That's right," Erik said. "I always meant to live my life to the fullest.  Besides, they always come true.  Why try to avoid it?”
            "I'll do it with you," Sandra said spontaneously and tried so hard to look noble, but she was too excited to carry it off.
            "Alright," Elizabeth said, feeling nervous butterflies in the pit of her stomach. What if it was something really bad?
            She was led almost unwillingly to the booth. MACHINE OF DEATH was printed in scary looking letters on the outside of a booth that was the identical twin of the one next to the Gap that sold cheap pictures.  She wondered if her manager would care if when she died.  Probably not. 
            "I'll go first," Sandra was even speaking up, losing the breathy voice she thought of as her trademark. She slid into the seat. "Now what?"
            "You place your hand in the machine," Janelle said briskly, every line implying that no breathy voice could hide the fact that Sandra had less brain power then most spoons. Sandra nervously put her hand in.
            “Ow!” she yelped.  “It bit me!”
            Erik rolled his eyes.  “It’s just taking your blood.  That’s how it gets the reading.”  "How long does it take?" Sandra asked, just as the machine spit out a small card. The small piece of paper read Hollywood.
            "Oh wow," Sandra said, her eyes wide.  “How perfectly in tune that is!  Hollywood, the sum of my life and death.”
            Elizabeth grabbed Sandra’s hand.  “You could run!”  Fear for her friend made her lose her carefully crafted sexy slouch.
            "No I can’t," Sandra said. Tears still glittered in her eyes, but she raised her chin bravely. “I'd rather live my dreams then live forever and never experience life!" The three of them all seemed to glow with the brilliance of the young, beautiful, and tragic.
            "My turn," Elizabeth said, now kind of excited.
            Elizabeth couldn’t help wondered what kinds of germs were on the needle. Was is ever cleaned? She was probably going to get an STD.  The machine made a little noise, and spit out her card. She couldn't make herself grab it. It felt too much like talking about her intestinal issues in public to read her own death prediction. Before she could even think of taking it back to her apartment to read in private Janelle snatched it away and flipped it over.
            "Old Age," Janelle read.
            "You’ll be one of those withered old ladies with humps," Erik said in shock.
            "I just read about this actress from the 70's that died of old age," Sandra said. "She was found a year later. She's mummified! Can you imagine, mummifying in a house in California, with your neighbors not even knowing your dead?"
            "That won't happen to you," Janelle said. "You can get cats.”
            “Yeah, that might work,” Erik said.  “When your cats start eating you people will probably figure it out."
            "Oh my gosh," Elizabeth said, trying not to vomit. "Please stop."
            "Too bad," Janelle said. "There's no room for old people in Hollywood."
            With that she was already out of the group. Doomed to live a long, full life unaccepted by her glamorous peers. The others drifted away, leaving Elizabeth alone.  She  hugged herself closely, trying not to cry.  Why, oh why did she have to have such a bright future?

1 comment:

  1. I don't typically do writing contests either. I did WRiTE CLUB because it was one of my friends who started it, and I did Pitch Wars simply because I wanted a chance to work with a mentor. I don't anticipate doing any more in the near future.

    Love the idea of a death machine :)