Not Winning a Contest Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is No Good

By Maeve Maddox

The votes are in and the winners announced for the Second DWT Short Story Competition. Congratulations to winner Violet Toler and runner-up Easton Miller. Your stories pleased many readers.

Contests are rough on writers. If we enter and don’t win, it’s very hard to shake the feeling that our writing isn’t any good.

Possibly it isn’t.

But another possibility is that it just didn’t appeal to the judges–in this case, 667 DWT readers from every walk of life and from many different countries and cultures.

Hey, you can’t please everybody!

I didn’t read all 97 entries, but I did read the eleven that made the final cut. And I read the tabulation of the votes with interest. The two entries I liked best came nowhere near the top in the voting.

My picks were “Crazy Fay” by Sherry Roth and “2 AM and Counting” by Katrina Mohr.

Crazy Fay by Sherry Roth
In this story, set during a Florida hurricane, a middle-class woman glimpses a homeless woman in a coffee shop. The images are striking and the language fresh. I especially like the detail of the raindrop earrings:

Several people stood in line ahead of me, including one woman who had matted, wet salt-and-pepper hair, with rainwater droplets bizarrely hanging from her earlobes like a poor excuse for earrings. I tried not to stare, but those little droplets had me mesmerized. For her part, she didn’t seem to notice them.

Roth’s descriptions and the inner dialogue of the narrator work together towards a poignant climax in which the narrator’s good intentions, belatedly conceived, come to nothing. Now that’s true to life.

2 AM and Counting by Katrina Mohr
I can’t say I “liked” Katrina Mohr’s story about the drug addict, but I certainly admire her skill in taking me inside the head of a junkie waiting to rob a liquor store. From the first sentence I know that he’s a man who thinks about consequences and contingencies:

The car window was crank-powered, not electric, but he preferred it that way. He never warmed up to the idea of being entombed in his car should it refuse to start.

The author chooses words and descriptions to appeal to all the senses:

the silver Zippo hissed…

he watched the smoke rise with his breath in the cold air

The ashtray was full, spilling butts and gray-white powder…

Bruises along the underside of his arm throbbed impatiently and he felt like he was about to puke again.

Congratulations to Daniel for generating so much participation in his second DWT writing competition. I look forward to the next one.

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3 Responses to “Not Winning a Contest Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is No Good”

  • Deborah H

    Congratulations and best wishes to Violet Toler and Easton Miller!

    Maeve, the title on today’s DWT reminds me of a question that I have wanted to ask for a long time: How do I choose between “no” and “not?”

    You wrote, “Not Winning a Contest Doesn’t Mean Your Writing is No Good.” I would have written “not good.” Is there a rule for using “no” and “not?”

  • sherry roth

    Thank you, maeve. Except for the fact that I sort of felt obligated to vote for my own story, Katrina’s was my favorite. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and people who read Herman Wouk might not enjoy JK Rowling, and vice versa. As you said, you can’t please everyone.
    Matthew Miller mentioned (in a previous post) that he likes to see an “arc” in a story. If my story has no arc, it’s because sometimes life is like that; there are loose ends and unfinished business, unrequited love, dead ends, frustration and incomplete sentences. Could my “story” have been written differently? Sure. I could have given it a different ending, or the focus could have been different. Remember the movie “Vantage Point”? Same event, several different points of view (all shown in excruciating detail, over and over, I might add, but that’s what made the movie).
    I wrote my story for myself, to document the event. It was almost a writing exercise. I wanted to capture the moment like an impressionist: what I saw, what I felt, what I thought, and convey that to the readers, to make them feel as if they too had seen this woman (and truthfully, have we not all seen people like this?)
    I had a vague intention of submitting this story if a second DWT contest came around, and to that end, I shortened it to under 500 words (because the first contest had that limitation). I was happy to get to the finals, but I knew I would not win, and am not disappointed. The WhiteSmoke software would have been wasted on me; I do not write for a living.
    On a practical note, the voting here is far from scientific, and can be thrown, as you know. This is not sour grapes; it’s just an observation. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other, and I’m neither surprised nor disappointed by the outcome. I’m not an authority on writing, so I won’t go into what I look for in a piece of writing, nor will I comment on the other stories submitted here.
    I appreciate your “vote of confidence,” and if even a few people were touched, in some way, by my story, that is reward enough.

  • Farah

    If you’re just starting out in competitions, if you’re old enough to enter them I mean, then should you just take the judge’s statements as helpful criticism? Is it okay to enter the same piece in another competition? To get another opinion, or something of the sort.
    What kind of competitions can a person who just turned fourteen enter in?

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