The Importance…or Not…of Winning
Posted by JoAnn Durgin on March 30, 2011
Ever get tired of hearing the old adage, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?” Yeah, sure. Tell that to the kid who just lost the game because he missed a fly ball over his head. Tell that to the NBA star who misses the last opportunity for the three-pointer to win the championship, the NFL player who fumbles the ball in the Super Bowl or the MLB player who watches in horror as the ball rolls between his legs while the opposing team scores the winning run in the World Series. Everyone loves a winner. Reporters and fans swarm around the actor holding the gleaming Oscar in his or her hand while the other four nominees huddle together commiserating or drowning their sorrows. But ask most people a few months later, and they’ll probably scratch their heads trying to remember who won. Another adage: fame is fleeting. So is winning. But if you can reach the winner’s circle for even a moment, it’s nice. Real nice. But it’s not the most important thing. Read on, my friends.
Have you ever won anything, no matter how big or small? Remember as a kid, the thrill of inserting a coin in a gumball machine and getting a cheap, plastic ring or maybe a toy if you could get that claw thing positioned just right? Have you ever glimpsed the unmistakable pride on a man’s face (young or old) who bested some arcade game at a local or state fair and won an overstuffed, absolutely humongous, garish purple or pink bear – but more importantly, the admiration and affection of the woman hanging on his arm? Yep, ask that guy about winning. It’s the best thing going.
When we first moved to Boston, on our first trip to the local grocery store, we signed up to win Celtics tickets. Why not? Barely in Beantown a week, and we got a call telling us we’d won. Along with about 50 other families in the grocery chain’s family section in the nosebleed section of the Fleet Center. But we didn’t care. Hey, we were big winners! So, off we went, plunking down our hard-earned $30 to park in downtown Boston for a few hours one evening (we wised up after that and always took the train into the city). But we didn’t care and had an absolute blast!
On a whim, a few years ago, my two teenage daughters convinced me to enter a contest with a major, weekly tabloid magazine. Sure, why not? What were the odds we’d actually win? I never gamble (for one thing, I wouldn’t know how), and my husband and I were probably among the few who spent a March Madness weekend in Las Vegas and never gambled a penny. But can you guess what happened? I was so skeptical of the e-mail telling me I’d won the contest that I called the main office number of the magazine’s publisher to confirm it. Then I asked one of the attorneys I worked with at the time to please go over the release with a magnifying glass for the smallest of the fine print to make sure I wasn’t signing away my firstborn. Never pays to be too careful with these things.
Of course, you don’t think about having to pay taxes on winnings, but that prize box was supposedly worth over $1,600. Wow. We were initially lured to the contest with the promise of expensive sunglasses, a Bluetooth headset and all kinds of fabulous items. But even though we got none of what was promised in that “Tony Awards” prize (the same items supposedly given to the Tony Awards nominees and presenters that year), I was absolutely delighted when I discovered a very nifty laptop computer case nestled inside that huge gift box (didn’t matter that I didn’t personally own a laptop at the time). Quickly claiming that particular prize as mine (the girls took all the sweaters, jeans, purses, perfumes, jewelry and assorted oddities), I was puzzled when I pulled out a black, fur-lined pouch. I assumed it was for housing the laptop since the outer, wildly-patterned orange bag was much larger. Hmm… Well, when we searched for this genuine, Italian-made item online, imagine my surprise to discover it was, in reality, a designer diaper bag worth $600. That pouch? Well, turns out it could be untied and was actually a changing pad. Well, okay then. Julia Roberts carried an identical one, you know. So, off I went to work for at least three months with a huge grin and that diaper bag proudly strapped over my shoulder. No one but me knew what it really was. It still looked really cool, and I’d won it!
Okay, it’s time to talk about writers’ contests, and the importance…or not…of winning. Or the next best thing – being named a finalist. Ask former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson about being a finalist. Not such a bad deal. Until I joined the ACFW and a few other writers’ groups, I’d never entered a writing contest in my life. How important are they to a writer’s career? What do you win? Of course, they vary as to prizes. Most are for the prestige of it all. This blog isn’t about all the different contests available because I’m sure most of you can tell me more about them than I can. Many writers post opportunities and contests on their blogs, and that’s a great service to other published and unpublished writers. I would encourage you to enter as many writing contests as you want because it’s a terrific way to get good, constructive feedback and critiques, perhaps make new writer friends and earn that all-important name recognition.
What I can do best is relay my personal experience with writing contests. First, I entered a Flash Fiction contest. I won third place. That spurred me on to enter a second one. I won first place. Two contests later, I’d placed twice again. Maybe I’m done with Flash Fiction – not that I’ve mastered it. I figure four-out-of-four’s not bad and maybe it’s time to hang up those particular shoes. But it was fun and challenging. Why? Because I’m brevity-challenged (go figure), and forcing me to write a story, complete with all five senses, in 300 words or less is a definite challenge. It’s a great exercise – try it.
I entered the ACFW Genesis contest last year for the first time. Oh, the horror stories I’d heard about the harsh judging (you usually get one high, one middle and one low, I’d been warned). It was scary, but I did it, and I’m glad I did. Sure, it’s humbling to get the scoresheets back. I don’t drink, either, but one of them severely tempted me. But you take a deep breath, pray about it, deal with it and get on with it. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give aspiring writers is to remember that what you write is subjective. And, perhaps most importantly, it prepares you for what’s to come in the so-called “real” world of publishing. Some people are going to love what you write, others not so much. But you need to write the stories the Lord gives you, make it the best it can be, and put it out there. You’ll never know unless you try. In my case, I made a dear friend of one of the judges in the Genesis contest last year, who later became one of my roommates at the ACFW conference in Indy. The way I look at it, the Lord blessed me through the Genesis, but not in the way I hoped or expected. In a much better, more long-term and ultimately rewarding way.
The same story that didn’t final in Genesis earned me a place in the finals of the Romance Writers of America/Faith Hope and Love contest, another very well-respected contest. How important was this contest final to my writing career? Honestly, I’m not sure. In a wonderful development, I received my first book contract on the first of May last year. By the time I went to the FHL awards in Orlando in July, I was already knee-deep in edits for Awakening. But I made some great new friends and enjoyed it immensely. I know the contest final looks very nice on the writing resume, and my RWA final is listed on the back cover of Awakening. But I still don’t have an agent. I’m biding on my time on that one. I know the Lord has the “right” one for me, in His timing.
Shortly before its release, I was thrilled to win the Clash of the Titles (COTT) Best Back Cover Copy Blurb contest for Awakening. I encourage you to enter this contest since there are challenges for unpublished and published as well as self-published authors. It’s another way to gain that all-important visibility from Christian authors, readers and industry insiders. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’ve entered my book in only one other contest this year. I’m trying not to have high hopes, and you never know what’ll happen because it’s all subjective. And there’s reportedly a record number of entries. But you know how it is. You send everything in, you hope, and you pray. And then you wait. Get used to it since waiting is in large part what publishing is about. Move on to something else. Try to do something every day related to furthering your writing career…no matter how big or small. And then maybe, just maybe, you’ll get that wonderful call, e-mail or communication telling you that you’re a finalist! But even if you’re not, please take heart. The Lord has a plan, a purpose, a reason, and you will most definitely be blessed…one way or another. And that, my friends, is what’s so exciting about this journey. Just wait to see what will happen!!
I Corinthians 9:24: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
Blessings until next time!
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