Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Benefits of Failure

Last summer, I became pretty much obsessed with entering the weekly contests on Inkpop.com. If you haven't checked out Inkpop yet and you're interested in writing YA stuff, GO. NOW. It's an incredible website where you give and get revisions from an online community of aspiring writers. Here, I'll make it easy for you:


There. Click above. If you don't trust me, take the long way around and type it into Google, but it's definitely worth a look.

Inkpop hosts weekly contests that ask writers to submit a short work based on the given prompt. Sometimes the contest prompt is derived from the work of guest author (yes, a LEGIT author) who will judge that contest. A lot of the time, though, one of the administrators comes up with the idea and judges these. The prize is a set of books from Harper Teen.

I wasn't exaggerating when I said I was "pretty much obsessed." I sacrificed a lot of sleep getting those stories posted by the deadline, during which time Pandora Radio became my best friend, and I often had to ninja around my dark house in order to not wake the dog who would, in turn, wake up the rest of my sleeping family. I wasn't always successful at being a ninja, but in my mind, it was worth it. They say you have to read YA to write YA and, well, I really, really wanted those books.

I had entered one of these contests a while ago, probably some time in 2010, with a short poem. Last summer alone, I entered 9 more.

I lost every single one of them.

There were always a decent number of entries and they only pick two people's stories per contest (except one time when only one girl won because she entered two stories for one contest and both stories were independently chosen as winners). Still, I thought my chances were pretty good. I never turned in something I wasn't proud of. I proof-read everything. I always thought my ideas were original and engaging (because if you don't have original and engaging ideas, then you sure as heck better have an original and engaging way of telling a rather ordinary story). When I received feedback, especially on the short stories, it was almost universally positive. So when I consistently lost, I couldn't figure out why. Sure, they were usually upwards of ten pages long, sure the story about the jawless ghosts was a little weird, sure the one about the organs could read more like a prologue-- but odder entries have won. And when I'd look at the winners, some of them were really excellent, but others had grammar errors all over the first page. Were the judges even reading all the entries? Did I just create and become attached to these characters as dawn threatened on the horizon just to post something no one will ever see? The song "Falling For You" by Seabird still reminds me of Daphne's desperact act to prove her theory by using Cole, even if it meant--

Like I said, I became attached.

I hope none of this comes across as bragging or spiteful lashing out. I'm just saying I worked really, really hard on these, maybe as a way with coping with not having any sort of job or internship that summer.

TANGENT: One of my biggest pet peeves is No Response. If I submit an application for a volunteer position, I'd at least like to know they got it.

*ahem* Where were we? Oh yeah. The point of the story. Somewhere along the line, I realized something a little disconcerting: I was glad I wrote every single one of my stories, but had I won a contest, I wouldn't have written the subsequent ones. If I won my books from Harper Teen, I wouldn't have felt such a need to enter. I know, I know, you should write because you love writing, not for glory. And I do write because I love writing- that's what my main WIP is for. Still, I might have been afraid of winning twice and robbing some kid of four free books when I already got what I wanted.

If my story about a boy raised by robots had won, that story about the jawless ghosts or the organ society wouldn't exist, and I like those-- not as something others should read necessarily, but something for me. So, all those times I failed, all those contests I never won pushed me to write more. And in addition to the couple of poems I submitted, I actually finished half a dozen short stories! I rarely finished writing short stories before.

Life is bittersweet. In some things, I'm glad we don't have a say.

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