I entered a big writing contest this year. I hit send and decided to spend the months before I would find out if I’d made it past the first round busying myself with the bustle of the semester. I told myself that when school let out, finally I’d know.
Junior year finished. I did well in my classes, and I had learned a lot about writing. I felt excited. Not quite confident—I wouldn’t go that far. But… capable. Yes, capable.
Then the week before dawned. Cue depressing music. Suddenly I found myself without much to occupy my time. Homework no longer beckoned; my uni friends had all gone home; it wasn’t yet warm enough for the beach.
So I tried to write, but the words? They came slowly. My hands shook. I repeated to myself all the encouragement I’d received from friends.
Then the day came. The list was released; my name wasn’t on it. I hadn’t made the cut.
I sat on my stairstep that Monday night (a long day at work had kept me away from the Internet, so I didn’t see the list until nearly midnight). The silent house and my scattered thoughts ricocheted right through me.
And I did what I said I’d never do.
I considered quitting.
The one who likes to call herself the daring girl can be so very un-daring.
But I made a decision that Monday night. A decision I never thought I’d have to make. I decided to keep going.
So if you ever find yourself at that crossroads, reeling from a contest (or a query) that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, and if you consider hiding away your wordcrafting forever, take the advice of someone who’s been there:
- Don’t quit. May you be braver than I. May you never be tempted to toss it all away. But maybe, just maybe, you will consider throwing away the dream, like I did. Don’t listen to that voice. Respect the dream you’ve chosen for yourself and that has, in a way only dreams can, chosen you. Have some chocolate, go for a run, cry on your best friend’s shoulder, but, whatever you do, do not give up.
- Shout to the world that you won’t quit. Tell someone. We’re writers, after all. Words matter to us. So put it down on paper. Journal your thoughts. Text your two best friends (like I did). Or blog about it (I decided to write this very post about an hour after I saw I hadn’t made it).
- Chart your next course. It’s not enough to tell yourself this is your thing and you ain’t giving up on it. It wasn’t enough for me to square my shoulders and make that decision that Monday night. I woke up Tuesday morning and made a plan. If I had made the cut in the contest, my next course of action would have been to start querying. So, at 7 a.m., I took my query letter and ripped it to shreds. I highlighted the words I liked, nixed the others, slammed the paragraphs together in a new order, tried starting it with the other main character’s dilemma first, didn’t like that, switched it back, rewrote, revised, and proofread. Then I emailed it to my two best friends for feedback.
- And chart the next one. If I had stopped at crafting my query letter until I had it just right, I would never have gotten any farther. I had to send it out! So I acknowledged my own potential for cowardice and decided to take the next plunge: I made a list of agents. Make a game plan—a long one. Brainstorm potential scenarios. And, for if those don’t pan out, brainstorm more.
- Encourage others not to quit. I had one friend’s name land on that contest’s list. I messaged her a Congratulations (then I quickly logged off of social media before I tortured myself further with all the contest-results-congratulations clogging my feed). Reach out to the other writers you know and pat them on the back. In the process, you’ll remember this is both an individual and a team sport.
So this is me, saying I went for it. I entered a big contest, and I learned a lot from it even though I didn’t even make it past the first round.
The most important thing I learned? It won’t be the not-making-it that I remember years from now; instead, I’ll remember the “You’ll rock it!” Stephanie gave me that still makes me grin and feel just a smidge invincible. I’ll remember the texts my two best friends sent me that agonizing week-before-I-knew (and the-night-I-found-out). I’ll remember my dad’s hand on my shoulder when I told him and the way he looked at me and asked, “Did you look really hard?” because he had been sure I’d make it.
This writing life is full of jumping-up-in-excitement and sitting-down-on-your-staircase-at-almost-midnight-because-you’re-so-disappointed-you-can’t-see-straight.
But… whatever you do… don’t quit.
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