Contests Create Losers

  • Posted on: 7 July 2014
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

I got my first publication credit in 1986. Three years prior to that, my friends and I obsessively poured our souls into a roleplaying game called “Terra-3” -- kind of a train smash of Star Wars, Star Trek and several literary franchises (a dash of Dune; a sprinkle of Heinlein; etc.). It would have been fun, but it never saw the light of day in finished form. We had endless drafts and evolutions. By the time we stopped, it was a nifty little system. >>NERD ALERT<< Games in the day were on a “3d6” system (what would be latter considered the “d20” system) or a percentile system (0 is lousy; 100 is awesome). By the time our invention was done, we had a base-50 system. The average human scored 25 in his stats. That system shook hands with the metric system. If some stats were added together, you had weights (in kg), baseline heights (in cm), etc.. Great system, but it never came out. I discovered several years ago, that I became the unofficial keeper of all that excellent junk when I found it buried in one of my old boxes.

I popped my cherry on writing through Terra-3. I liked the idea of winding stories., At the start, Terra-3 was page after page of stats. 1983 was the spreadsheet Dark Ages. What we sweated over for hours, could have been done in 15 minutes. Eventually, the prose came. In the meantime, I did a lot of game rules writing and really got into that. I thought the idea of submitting stuff for publication was an unassailable thing. Instead, it was easy. I would write a pitch letter and send it through. The magazine or game company would come back with their response. Sometimes, it was a “no thanks” but often I got the thumbs up.

Flushed with my gaming success, I tried to break into fiction. That was a great wall of sadness. I actually collected a big dresser drawer full of rejection slips. I should have tossed them, but instead I held onto them for years. They were a good reminder: if I succeed, it’s because I took so many swings before I got it right. Looking back at those rejection slips, I realized why my work was not accepted. It was bad. It was very bad.

Eventually, I got busy-- too busy to write. No fiction. Very little non-fiction. All of my time went into labourous emails and documentation. More recently, it has gone into Facebook screeds. I would actually like that to taper off. After I am done my 90 days of blogging, I will keep in the practice of writing, but I blog much less and turn my attention to my other projects (helping to get an excellent candidate elected mayor; how-to ebooks; how-to articles; and that Neanderthal novel).

When I got back into writing more last year, I wanted to turn out creative stuff as well as the how-tos and think pieces. I took a safe bet. I started to consider contests. Writing contests are the Old Dutch potato chips of submissions. You shouldn’t. You will regret it and still, you do it. I like Places For Writers But when I should be zooming over to the “Calls” section, I went to the “Contests.” I look back to when I was younger. I didn’t consider contests. I only considered places to pitch. Each year’s Writers Market was my Bible for 365 days. I would pitch articles and get them accepted. More recently, I would pitch via email and get accepted. Why, oh, why would I consider contests? I think because it’s safe and I am timid, now, in my old age. There is prestige from winning something high profile. What I think is more high profile, is the affluence that comes with writing a lot and earning a lot. (Call me silly). My quest has always been to turn my work into money. Instead, I considered spending money to get a preferred seat. Something that felt like a safe bet. The entry fee doesn’t buy me a better chance. Anything but. As a man who has had to fill magazines with submissions, sometimes there is not enough to go to print. When you make a general submission, you may find your suitable work filling a niche. I swear that disaffection with the print medium has pushed a lot of people (irony alert) into blogging and self-publishing instead of submitting their work for publication.

I am going to turn back to professional writing as a sideline in a few weeks. When I do, I am going to stick to my personal commitment: “No contests.”

Last updated date

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 10:43