I spent some time today looking at comments I received on stories I entered in romance contests earlier this year. Two things struck me as I read, lessons I’ll share with you here.
The first lesson is that it will probably always be a little nerve-wracking to open a file and start reading some stranger’s opinions about one of my babies. Even though I was very happy with how I did in the contests (I finaled in all five contests I entered, which made me pretty giddy at the time), I still held my breath.
However awkward it might feel, though, it is an important step to take. The judges who read my stories had some insightful comments for me. Two of the stories I entered were still drafts, and I knew they weren’t quite right, but hadn’t sorted out yet where they went wrong. These judges pointed out things which never occurred to me. I guess the stories are always so clear in my head, yet I still don’t always get it all down on the page for readers to see it just as clearly. People who haven’t sweated and bled the story with us can give us an objective opinion on what it needs. Let’s just say, I had a couple of “ah-ha!” moments this morning.
This leads me to my second observation as I read the contest results. God bless contest judges! Whether judging historical, contemporary, paranormal, or any other category – they all deserve gold stars. I have judged writing contests in the past, and I know how much time it takes to provide good comments. There is a delicate balance between providing enough useful (but not hurtful) information to help the entrant improve their story – and bludgeoning them with too much of our own opinions. Sharing suggestions in a way which is constructive without sounding overbearing (or without rewriting the story) takes time and tact.
So I am very, very grateful to the unnamed people who took the time to judge my stories and to provide me with their expertise. Thank you for taking the additional time to not only write helpful comments on the scoresheets, but to also point out examples within the entry. For me, the time you spent was well worth it. I am using your critiques to improve my stories – which hopefully will be apparent in future contest results.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.