I had determined to put writing out of my mind this week. I had other things to do, and I’ve accomplished them–mostly. I now have 12 quarts of applesauce in my cupboard, and I’ve hemmed in my unruly garden by weeding and pulling up the stray carrots that had planted themselves, from last year’s seeds, in between my rows. I’ve cleaned my house. I’ve done the shopping and banking and cleaned out my in-box and paid the bills. And in the middle of it all, the letter arrived informing me that I was a winner in the SWW writing contest. I was elated!
And then, just as quickly, I was deflated. When I looked for more info on the contest website, I discovered that I was one of three winners in a category that had only three entries. Of course, the other categories had more competitors–the SWW contest has always had a fair amount of competition, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of thousands. Obviously, the number of entrants has gone down over the years, leaving me in the position of wishing I could feel satisfied about something–satisfied because of all my hard work. Instead, I find myself imagining that I’m third, the lowest of the low. I won’t actually find out until after the 19th of Sept., the day of the award ceremony, which would actually be worth attending if I thought I was a real winner–not simply a winner by default. Run with the money, I keep telling myself. Because only three people entered, I will automatically get a check, plus a free critique. In case you’re wondering, only winners get free critiques from the judges; everybody else has to pay for them.
So much has changed over the years in the SWW organization. Gone are the days of the critique-included-with-fee contest; gone are the days when the contest was associated with the yearly writers’ conference, and the judges were the agents and editors invited for pitching and hobnobbing in conference sessions. About eight years ago, I entered and won in a short story category (yes, there was actually competition, many more than three entrants, thank you very much), and I found myself sitting next to the editor for Harper’s magazine at the award ceremony. He had picked my story, you see. I sigh at the memory–I really thought my writing career was about to take off, back then. I wasn’t ready, though, and even I knew it, deep inside somewhere. That’s why, when the editor of Harper’s suggested maybe doing a serial based on my story, I didn’t pursue it, nor did I send in my book to the mystery editor whom I had a pitch session with. She asked for it, as all editors do, but I wasn’t ready, and it would have surely been rejected.
If I could only sit at the award ceremony with my judge this time around, I would fork up the cash and go. Honestly, I only entered because the judge happened to be the one agent that I would love to work with. I had only recently finished my book, and I had to rush through intense revisions on the first twenty pages just to send it in on time. Ha, ha ha! I laugh now. This is what happened: I’d given my book to a few test readers in its original form. All of them, when they read the revised beginning, said something akin to what was wrong with the original beginning and I liked it better before. So I reverted to the original and had my husband do some last-minute line editing. Oh, well–such are the predicaments of the writing life. I may have destroyed my chances with the coveted agent by sending in a wretched beginning, but we shall see. I do have her critique to look forward to.