Let’s talk about human nature, and how we let it boss us around.
Last year I entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, my first try. There are three rounds of competition with a final prize of $5,000 for the winner and still-significant cash for the top ten.
I won my heat in the first round, with a story I love.
I got second place in my heat in the second round, making it into the final 75 — out of thousands of entrants — for the final round.
And then I tanked in the final round, turning in a story I knew was insufficient but just couldn’t fix by deadline. No placement. It was frustrating because I wasn’t just beaten by an excellent story (although I’m sure it was!), which I would have been fine with, but because I didn’t produce a competitive story, and I knew it even as I turned it in.
Worse: I shirked on a big project with friends to do round three. So by not doing work I could be proud of, I felt I’d shorted them for no good reason.
I’ve been faintly grumpy at myself for the failure since (and even blogged about it before), but I didn’t realize how much so until I got the email today with this year’s contest registration, and I didn’t even want to open it. Ignored it for hours.
LAURA. GET OVER YOUR OWN SELF. You made it into the final round. You got past thousands of other entries. You really should be appreciating what you did do instead of whining that you didn’t take the whole cake. ON YOUR FIRST TRY.
And that’s probably the creative mind and human nature in a nutshell, focusing on the very worst of outcomes.
Lately I’ve had quite a few conversations, in real life and online, about struggling to create when we don’t feel like we’re succeeding. I was such a hypocrite, encouraging others to keep going and then avoiding an email just because it reminded me of failure.
I’m getting over myself.
So I went to look at the 2019 contest, and now, sadly, I’m not sure if I’ll compete — only because the three story windows are over three terrible conflicts in my calendar (opposite a major conference where I teach multiple sessions and sleep little, opposite an international trip, opposite another convention where I present and have little free time). I need to sit down and decide whether I can even possibly eke out writing time, or if I should be a responsible adult and make good decisions about my resources.
But if you are up for a challenge, I encourage you to go for it. Each story you submit will get feedback (good feedback!) from multiple judges, and you can post it on the forums to get more from other contestants. And it’s a great way to practice writing to prompts and genres you might never have tried otherwise.
We are creators. Let’s be brave!
Thatâs awesome though! I loved the first story I submitted to them but it didnât place. In round two I was defeated by the genre. But it definitely got the adrenaline going!
I think the genre assignments are the most adrenaline-inducing! :D It’s definitely a challenge if it’s not your usual territory.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh, author yeah I wrote a mystery in an aquarium and it was terrrrriiiible
I love everything about this post, Laura. Thank you for being honest, and in doing so, sharing encouragement we all need! And thanks for the link to a cool contest!
I’m proud of you for recognizing your counter-productive response, opening the email and thinking it through critically instead of responding emotionally <3
Choosing not to pursue a goal due to rational, realistic time concerns and incompatible prior commitments is a completely different type of decision from a knee-jerk avoidance based on last year's frustrations.
Thanks for sharing your struggles. We all need to get over ourselves sometimes, and it helps to know Iâm not the only one!