Don’t Build Me Up, Buttercup–Give Me the Shred
Posted by monicamynk
Just for Funzies…My first contest entry, on LegendFire.com. The prompt was “key” and it was the fantasy genre. I was so proud…
Micah gently untangled the necklace from his sister’s gaunt fingers. Forgive me, he pleaded silently, scanning her torpid body for signs of life.
Creeping into the shadows, he clutched the gold chain so tightly that the tiny charm dug into his malnourished hands. He stumbled through the cemetery, pausing before an onyx headstone. Half-kneeling, half-collapsing, he fell to the stone and kissed the bronze plaque.
“I…I…miss you…father,” he whispered, panting. He lifted the plaque and set it aside, revealing a tiny keyhole.
Even in dim moonlight, the necklace sparkled, momentarily distracting from the task at hand. Micah forced himself to concentrate; pressing the charm firmly into the hole, twisting until it clicked. The rusty door creaked open, exposing a small vial and a worn page. Shuddering at the sound, he quickly grabbed them and replaced the plaque.
Heart pounding, he drank the contents of the vial he had found within. The restorative power pulsed in his veins, making him feel alive again. The brittle page—the recipe—he folded carefully and tucked it away in his pocket. He slipped the gold chain around his neck, and kissed the headstone once more before disappearing into the night.
And then I read all this:
“The setting is skipped over, so it’s hard to tell what time period this is supposed to be.”
“I wonder about torpid. It seems another word would be better.”
“Sorry to say, but there is just too much mystery and nearly no character here.”
“I don’t feel very compelled to read on.”
“Had this been a book, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
“Some of the sentences are pretty clunky.”
“Your main character doesn’t seem very memorable.”
“I think it would be stronger after a few rounds of editing and rewriting.”
“Cryptic for the sake of being cryptic annoys the reader. Hurry up and let me in on the secret, or I’ll pass on this one.”
Ouch, right? Once the voting started, I was mortified. Comments like this hurt, for one, and two, everyone was going to know this was my piece. They’d all know I was a terrible writer! What to do? What to do?
Every time I enter a contest with public voting like this, some of the entrants withdraw. Others get mad and start lashing out in their votes for others. But after I got over my pride, I learned a few valuable lessons from this contest, once I answered a few questions.
1. Was I posting/entering for the wrong reasons? After a while, I realized I wasn’t in this to learn, as I’d claimed–I was in it to be read and appreciated. Look at me! Look at me! I’ve written this fabulous entry and you should all bow down and give me a high score. Seriously? I mean, the contest was even CALLED the shredder contest. So, I changed my attitude and started sifting through the feedback to find something to add to my writer’s toolbox.
2. Could I use this (embarrassing) critique to find my bad habits? There were a few comments that highlighted the same mistakes. No setting or character development. Poor word choice. Sentences that have too many things going on. Some voters marked things inline and gave me a bit of explanation as to why a particular phrase didn’t work. After the contest, I researched each of them and my writing vastly improved.
3. Did all this mean I was a bad writer? Should I stop trying? It was hard to see them at the time, but buried under all this criticism were quite a few lovely comments. So no. I wasn’t a bad writer. Just a good writer making a lot of mistakes. I kept going, and eventually started placing in contests. Haven’t won yet, but I’m hoping that’s just around the corner.
So, here’s the deal. No sugar coating…
If you are in this to get a pat on the back or become famous, GET ANOTHER HOBBY!
Don’t go out there and write dribble, then self-publish it and wait for the readers to pour in. As I’ve said before, your first writing samples will be terrible. You’ll revise them, and they’ll still be terrible. You’ll revise them again, and guess what?…still terrible. The only way to learn is to accept the shreds.
These days, I’m hungry for the shred. I want critiquers to rip my work to pieces, point out every minute error, and be brutally honest. Cut me no slack. Help me learn. The traditional publishing world is brutal and only the best survive. I want to get there. One day, I will 🙂