And the Winner is…”

On a great episode of The Andy Griffith Show (Season 2), a poor fella named Henry Bennett had been tagged with the reputation of being a jinx. Henry decided the only way to get on with his life was to leave Mayberry. In an attempt prove Henry wasn’t the cause of bad luck, Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to have a fixed raffle which was “guaranteed” to have only one outcome: the fella known as the Jinx would win the television set. It would prove his luck was changing.

Everyone would pull a number out of a hat–and all the slips of paper would have the same number–and when the “winning” number was called no one would answer, giving the Jinx the only opportunity to be the winner. But when the winning number was announced the Jinx didn’t respond. When asked if he had the winning number, he said, “No.” And he didn’t. His number was something like 4 7/8…he’d pulled out the tag that had the hat size!

Ever entered a writing contest and ended up feeling like you were left holding the tag with the hat size? It may leave you asking, “Why did I enter in the first place?” or “What’s the point of contests anyway?”

Good questions.

Contests should be seen as opportunities to grow as a writer. And if approached with the right mindset, they can be worth your time. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • For the most part, contest results don’t make you a writer. They aren’t meant to create writers, they’re meant to critique writing. If you take the results as an attack on you and your worth as a person, you’ve missed the point.
  • Sometimes the best way to win a contest is to have had lost it in the past. Sounds goofy, I know, but I really believe it. Many of us are more comfortable and confident entering a contest we’ve entered before. And–like the GENESIS contest sponsored by American Christian Fiction Writers–if the contest includes feedback from judges, that returned feedback can be priceless in helping you prepare for next go around. But, more importantly, you are learning as you go.
  • Contest results only have the power you decide to give them. It’s up to you to make the experience positive or negative (for you and others). How you respond to the outcome of a contest may reveal as much about you as it does about the quality of your writing. And I’m told that agents and editors notice stuff like that.
  • And lastly (mostly because I wanted to use the word “lastly” :)), contests were never meant to be ends in themselves. Our desire should be the grow as faithful–skillful–stewards of story. To the extent that participating in contests help us head in that direction, they are useful. But if all a writer ever does is become a professional contest enterer, then a great calling has been wasted.

There are other benefits, but since I’ve used the word “lastly” I’ll just ask you to share your opinions and experiences. How do you feel about contests? Have you learned to be a better writer because of a contest experience?


Filed under Christian Fiction, Christian Growth, Christian Life, editing, Larry W. Timm, Uncategorized, Writing

5 responses to “And the Winner is…”

  1. Great stuff here, Tim! And I love me some Andy Griffith. I haven’t had much luck with contests.. though I don’t have much experience with them to garner a general consensus. My writing is a bit edgy and it tends to push some limits, so I suppose I wasn’t surprised when I got drastically mixed reviews. I think getting consistent feedback from judges would be a great tool to identify weaknesses in your story. I, however, was one of those who would get exemplary and low marks for the same thing from different judges. Such is the subjective nature of judging. As long as we keep that in mind, we can use what we think is helpful and pitch the rest.

    • Amy,
      Who is Tim? 🙂 And you are right about the wild variance in judges scores…in one contest I had a 51 point difference! But, as you said, I tried to learn what I could from the comments. Thanks for the input.

      Larry 🙂

  2. heatherdaygilbert

    Larry, you’re so right. Just like ANY feedback (from crits, on queries, etc.), contests can give us that feedback we need. I also strongly recommend critique groups in your genre or at least critique PARTNERS, who can help us grow with their honest crits. I just judged a contest and definitely tried to encourage the writers, as well as giving “constructive criticism” (I dreaded those words as a newbie writer!).

    • Excellent advice, Heather. Thank you! By the way, are you a Minnesota Vikings fan?

      • heatherdaygilbert

        Ha–nope, just a REAL LIVE Scandinavian Viking fan. I know nothing about football except some guy named Clay Matthews, who was an excellent visual for Leif Eiriksson (in my novel) on my Pinterest board.

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