Writing Thursday: Contest Results and Writing Advice

Hi, everyone!

Yeah, I know.  I haven’t blogged about writing in a while.  Frankly, while I’ve still been writing, I haven’t had a lot going on that I considered blog-worthy.

This week, that changed.

A couple of months ago, I decided to enter the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ “Colorado Gold” contest, and this week I received my feedback from my two judges.

It’s the first time I’ve entered a contest at this level, but I think it’s been a good experience for me.  Before I entered, I tried my best to make sure my expectations were realistic, and it turns out they were–I didn’t make the finals, but I did get some encouraging feedback, and some respectable scores.  Both of my judges marked me well on craft and format, and one pointed out that the story in general, and the beginning of it in particular, could use more tension.  Which I kinda suspected, but having outside confirmation feels good.  And the other judge paid me the compliment of telling me that if she was an agent, she’d definitely ask to see more pages.  That felt really good.

This week, they also published their list of finalists, and I was pleased to see a friend of mine on it.  (Terry Kroenung, for “Paragon of the Eccentric.”  He read a scene from the story at MileHiCon and it was hysterical.)  Good luck, Terry!

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In other news, a friend of mine has decided to try her hand at writing fiction, and asked me for advice.

The first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “First drafts always suck.”

And really, that’s arguably the best advice anyone can give a new writer.  For people who have never actually sat down in front of a computer screen or a blank piece of paper and tried to compose a work of fiction, the revelation that perfect prose does not fall freely and automatically from one’s fingertips often comes as a shock.  I’ve heard many people talk about how discouraged they became when they discovered that editing might consist of more than just cleaning up spelling and punctuation errors.  Even worse, they might have to go back and edit the same piece…more than once! {gasp!}

Well, yeah.  The reality of it is that even though you might have gotten all As in your high school English classes, and you know how to compose sentences and even paragraphs that are grammatically correct…you’ve probably never learned how to go about writing a piece of fiction.  Oh, you might’ve gone over the basics of a story arc in your eighth grade composition class.  You might have gotten lucky and had a semester of creative writing.  You might even be a competent and experienced non-fiction writer.  But none of those things will teach you everything you need to know to become a writer.

So, yeah.  The chances are very, very good that your first draft won’t be very good, especially when you’re just starting out.  (Even later on, when you’ve learned more about the process–and practiced it more–your first drafts will still suck.  They’ll just suck in different ways.)  Things like pacing and character development are hard to gauge while you’re in the thick of writing.  And whether you’re a pantser[1] or a plotter, you’ll sometimes still find your plot or characters taking unanticipated turns, ones that need to be smoothed out later.

The point of all of this is to say that it’s okay if your first draft isn’t quite Pulitzer-worthy.  It’s even okay if your second, third, and fourth ones aren’t.  The key is not to get discouraged.  Keep plugging away at it.  Trim a few excess words here.  Beef up a conflict there.  Slay a few darlings[2].  Skim off those excess dialogue tags.  Polish that rough diamond until it sparkles.

But in the meantime…give yourself permission to let that first draft suck.

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[1] someone who approaches a writing project without a real plan or outline; someone who writes by the seat of his/her pants.

[2] bits of writing that you really, really adore…but which don’t do anything to further the plot or develop the characters.

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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6 Responses to Writing Thursday: Contest Results and Writing Advice

  1. I’m thrilled to see you blogging about writing again. I’ve missed your posts!

    And congratulations on entering a contest and getting such great feedback.

    I’m in the middle of editing my first draft right now. It should be ready for you to look at before too much longer. :)

  2. So … are we going to get to read a snippet of your submission sometime?

  3. Kathy Matzen says:

    Congratulations! Entering a contest is such a scary thing to do. It’s worth it, though. I can’t wait to tell everyone I knew you before you became famous. :-)

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