Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Working with Your Contest Results...


Its easy to focus on the numbers of contest results. Did you final or didn't you final?

Behind these numbers is a golden teaching experience. Take advantage of it. Here's how I personally processed my contest results, maybe you'll find an idea that works for you.
After you read your results, PUT IT AWAY. How long? That depends on you. Maybe a few hours, maybe a day or more.

Pick up those results again when you're in the right frame of mind. I sat down with a cup of hot tea and my laptop in my most comfortable chair, my sweet hubby only a few feet away in case I needed a tissue or hug.

Read the results slowly. I planned on spending a full evening looking over my results.

Plan on a reward for after you finish. Once I went over my results I rewarded myself with watching an episode of Downton Abbey. Helped me to keep on track and be willing to deal with the negative emotions that cropped up as I went over my results to know I had something fun to look forward to later that night.

Do you need to work on your expectations? I didn't expect to final in my first ever contest, but there was still a sting. Once I looked past the comparison game, I was able to see that I had performed my best. And THEN I was able to put all the comments to good use.

Find a way to organize those comments. I wanted to see how all the comments "fit" together. I copied and pasted all the comments into a Word document, then reread them as one cohesive whole.

Categorize "like" comments. I decided to use an Excel spreadsheet to mark the comments, putting similar comments next to each other. I made a column for strengths and one for weaknesses.

Spend a moment or two smiling about your "strengths." If you're anything like me, you spend MUCH more time focusing on the weaknesses. Spend a moment praising God for the changes he has brought in your writing. Reading my entry and the comments was encouraging because an area that had previously been labeled by critiquers as a weakness had now become considered a strength by two of the judges. That means I must have grown. And YOU have, too. Ask God to show you where you have grown when you need that encouragement. He will.

What are the most common areas of weakness mentioned? Pick a few and make these your writing resolutions for the year. My areas are showing character emotion and increasing conflict. These are based on the comments I received and you know what? They are RIGHT IN LINE with what God had used other people to show me. Ask God which areas he would have you focus on.

Hit the library. In the New Year I am planning to read Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell, Creating Character Emotion by Ann Hood and looking through The Emotion Thesaurus. Amazon is a simple search engine to use to find books on the specific topic you are attempting to learn.

Ask your critique partners to be on the special lookout for your areas of weakness. They have read more of your writing so will be aware of specific spots where you could improve.

Look for online courses. I have been looking over one of Margie Lawson's course packets and plan to go through her syllabus on deepening character emotions. There are many online courses available and there is most likely one in the area you struggle.

Thank the Lord for using contest judges as your teachers. He gives us the judges we need to help us to grow in our writing. He knows when we need advice, when we need encouragement, and gives us exactly what we need in exactly the right season.

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also is a reviewer for Library Journal, Title Trakk and Christian Library Journal.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Julia. You bring out some great ways to evaluate our feedback from contests. Call me anal, but I like to create a spreadsheet that has the categories, my scores from each judge (where applicable) and the comments, when they were given. It's helped me to identify strengths and weaknesses like you mentioned. :)

I also have a trusted friend I talk to when I'm having a hard time figuring out score discrepancies and when I need a fresh perspective.

Well written, Julia!

Lindsay Harrel said...

Great advice, Julia! I definitely find I need to put the results away after an initial look-through to ward off any "I'm horrible" blues. :) A bowl of ice cream usually does the trick.

I agree...it can be difficult sometimes to interpret results. You've given some great advice here!

Julia M. Reffner said...


I love your spreasheet idea. Sounds like it would make it much easier to digest. Congratulations, you've had some great contest finals lately!


Yes, definitely. I think that's why there are so many chocolate lovers here on the Alley :). Thanks for coming by!

Joanne Sher said...

What WONDERFUL advice, Julia - and that Margie Course/Packet is AMAZING. EVERY one of her classes is :)

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thank you. I'm looking forward to the Margie course/packet, so many of you recommend them so highly.

Susan Anne Mason said...


This is one of the best posts on contests I've read! Great perspective.

You definitely need to be in a good frame of mind when you read the comments! Then go back a few days later with more detachment and process it anew.

Some judges are a little too harsh, but most are just trying to help you become a better writer. I try to keep that in mind!


Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks. I definitely agree that keeping the fact that they are trying to help makes it easier...and takes the sting out at least a bit.