Are You a Perfect Writer?

Have you ever noticed the thing we want often shows up at just the right time?

 

While I was thinking about writing a blog post I literally stumbled across the quote by John Updike—Perfection is the enemy of creation. And there I had it, an idea to blog about. Thanks Universe, you’re one cool dude!

 

Many of us admit to being perfectionists in some area of our lives if not all. While I hardly consider myself a perfectionist, I can be quite nitpicky when it comes to writing. I often spend outrageous amounts of time writing and rewriting paragraphs, waltzing around with an armful of words without ever making it off the dance floor. Sometimes the changes I make are so slight it probably makes no difference to anyone but me. I like to fiddle with words, and move sentences around. It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s a delight!

 

I really don’t know if that means I’m a perfectionist or that I’m a little on the anal side when it comes to writing. So sue me. What I do know is, there’s no better way to stifle creative endeavours, no better way to stop a story in mid scene, than constantly striving for that perfect flow of words the first time through. In fact, that’s kind of where I am with one of my stories at the moment, and I’ve got to stop it. Okay, so I am anal—there I’ve admitted it. Are you happy now?

 

While it would be easy to become envious of those writers who can simply let their creativity take over as they write that first draft, I stand back in awe with hopes that one day my creativity will lead me to write a first draft without the need for me to look over my shoulder even once. I truly think that writers who are able to write, write, write are far more productive than those of us who write, revise, edit, write, and inch our way to the end. Getting that first draft down and THEN diving into revisions just seems to make more sense. Unfortunately, the things we do in life don’t always make sense.

 

To top all that off we have the word perfection to contend with. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but this perfectionism some of us strive for is only a figment of our imaginations. For some reason we think that we should be the judge of what is perfect and what is not, when we all have our own standards as to what we judge as perfect. Why do we assume that our opinion is the only one that counts? Will we ever find that perfect we’re looking for? Maybe, if perfect was something we could pick up and hold in our arms, maybe cuddle close to, something that any dang idiot could look at and recognize like a tree or a flower or a rock. But perfect isn’t any of these things. Perfect is a notion that we carry around in our heads. And unlike a rock or tree, my perfect is going to look a lot different from yours. So who gets to decide whose perfect is the right one? Danged if I know.

 

What I do know is this; eventually, we have to let go of our work if we ever plan to see it published. No matter how we want to polish our words, making them bright and shiny, eventually we’ll be left with nothing but a dull shine as we rub, rub, rub away that original brilliance. Will it ever be perfect? I guess we’re the only ones who can judge that.

 

Are you a perfectionist? Do you agree with John Updike that Perfection is the enemy of creation?

Writing Contests—Are They Worth Entering?

An email from a literary journal, announcing an extension on their fiction contest made me wonder how many of you have entered such contests over the years. I’m referring to contests for unpublished manuscripts. To my knowledge, publishing companies submit books for awards on the author’s behalf–that was certainly the case with my book.

I know many people have thoughts on writing contests. While some people think they aren’t worth the entry fee, many think that these contests can help your career along. (Of course, this would only true if you win or final in one.)

Truthfully, I have entered very few contests over the years. I often questioned the judging process not to mention that every contest requires an entrance fee. This fee could be anywhere from $25 -$40, maybe even more. This is often the subscription price of literary magazines and you also end up with a year’s subscription. If you’re planning on subscribing to a particular magazine, then entering a contest might be well worth the money.  Years ago when I was first getting my work out there, I often didn’t have the money to spend on entry fees. My kids were small and we were a one-income household. We had a mortgage. I could go on. The few contests I entered were those with very modest entry fees.

While I know some people argue the point that these contests are worth your time and money to enter, I seriously wonder how true this is. I’ve known people who have won such contests, but still had problems finding a publisher for longer works. It seems to me that publishers make their decision to publish by evaluating the submission that is before them. While having won a writing contest might look good on your bio, is a publisher going to publish your book because of some contest you won five years ago?

Here are some of my thoughts:

When we submit our work to a literary magazine it is already being judged against hundreds of other stories. I’ve had literary magazines tell me they receive 1200 + submissions in a year and publish about 30 so when one of my stories made it in their publication I felt like a winner. Whoopee! Best of all, it didn’t cost me a cent. Being in the top 30 out of over 1200 submissions wouldn’t mean I’d have won first place had it been a contest. It wouldn’t even mean I’d place. I also found that as my work improved, I’d receive valuable feedback from editors who made suggestions or told me a particular story almost made it. Let me tell you those comments were like gold.

For every contest there are winners and losers. Had I only submitted to contests, and never placed, I might have come to the conclusion that my writing was no good. I might have given up. So while entering contests may be something you love to do, I would caution you not to become discouraged if you don’t final. Failing to final doesn’t mean your story sucked.

Occasionally a contest will offer feedback on your work. This is something that could prove to be quite valuable. Let’s be honest, feedback from our friends isn’t always helpful since our friend’s judgement could be clouded. (I’m sure my mom would love every bit of drivel I wrote, regardless of how bad it might be.) If you’re looking for feedback, and a particular contests offers this, then it may be worth entering. Truthfully, the contests I entered over the years didn’t offer any feedback. So make sure you understand if feedback is being offered if that’s what you want.

What are your thoughts on writing contests, are they a good idea or a waste of time and money? Do you regularly enter them? Have you entered them in the past?

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