by Roxanne Rustand
Way back at the beginning of my writing journey, I’d been a lifelong, avid reader, but I knew nothing about writing fiction. I started my first story just for fun, not imagining it ever becoming a book length manuscript–not dreaming of ever sending it to a publisher. I loved going to booksignings and meeting Real Authors, but those experiences blew me away, because I knew they were blessed with talent worlds beyond anything an ordinary mom like me could possibly possess.
But soon, writing became a passion. Curious to see if I was even marginally close to other aspiring writers–who were all surely as far beyond me as those who were published, I entered a contest. In my naiveté, I figured this one contest would show me if my new, tentative dreams of becoming a writer were futile.
A little wiser now, I know I shouldn’t have given a single contest such power over my future (and neither should you!) But fortunately, the contest proved encouraging. And as I entered more of them, I learned to use my judges’ feedback to improve my writing.
Almost every contest helped me immeasurably. Of course, the skill and tact of judges varies, and I didn’t blindly agree with every comment made, but I always found some nugget of truth–something that helped–if only I was able to keep an open heart. Did I ever have a lot to learn! And ultimately, contact with an editor serving as a final round judge led to my first sale.
I owe so much to the contest process. It proved to be an excellent source of unbiased, fresh readers who gave me encouragement and specific lessons on where I needed to improve. It helped me develop a thick skin and an open mind toward the editing process–both helpful once I sold and then began truly serious revisions and line edits. And it made me want to help other fledgeling writers who are now walking the path I started back in 1995.
I’ve lost count of the contests that I’ve helped judge since then. For years I agreed to do so whenever asked, feeling driven to give back some of rich blessings I’d been given by the judges who had provided so much helpful criticism to me. Now, I limit myself to four or five contests a year because of time limitations, and this spring some heavy commitments meant I couldn’t do all I hoped. But I still find it so rewarding to try to provide tactful but helpful comments that might help someone else on their own journey…and I have certainly seen the gamut of writers over the years.
Entrants can write thank you notes to their judges via the contest coordinator, as judges are anonymous. I’ve received a few over the years from writers who were clearly hard-hearted and miffed because they thought their “baby” was already perfect…but I’ve received many more from equally talented writers who were grateful for comments and suggestions. Which type of writer is the most likely to succeed in this business? The one with an open, learner’s heart, or the one who believes her every word is perfect?
Whether you are published or not, you can volunteer to be a contest judge, and I hope you will consider this opportunity to give back to your local chapter or organization. It’s important to help out the hardworking folks who spend so much of their own time on making a contest run well, and it’s a chance to offer a kind hand and blessings to others who are on the same writing journey you are on.
Best wishes to you all.
Roxanne Rustand is the author of thirty traditionally published novels. She has self-published two titles this past winter: Comeback Cowboy and Summer at Briar Lake. Her third, A Montana Legacy, will be out in May.