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Writing Contest Rant

I recently entered a short story writing contest–one of these where you write 1500 words to a prompt.* I had no expectation to win; I was just having a good time.

The winner was announced today, and I read it to see what a winning short story was like. It was terrible. I couldn’t follow the plot. Poorly drawn characters. Key elements not explained. Bad word choices. It was like a low-quality kids’ story. And they didn’t even write to the prompt. I’m guessing it was written by somebody for whom English was not their first language.

I considered leaving a comment like this in the Comments. But the other comments were glowing, so I decided I couldn’t rain on that parade. Thus I’m dumping on you folks.

It made me angry, and also sad. I just had to get this off my chest.

Here’s my question. What should you do with bad feedback like this? I know the Oreo game, but I had nothing good to say about it. No redeeming features.

*The prompt was “happily ever after” and my story was about a couple who discovered that this meant forever and ever–and they got tired of each other.

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8 thoughts on “Writing Contest Rant

  1. I have not read the “wining” story or your entry. I recognize your pain. Feel it myself often enough. This is the “you-showed-up-so-you-get-a-trophy” society. There are so-o-o many poor writers out there. Someone who should know better encourages these “writers” to write, when they should be forthright in telling them to find another pastime. Instead, out of some screwball sense of recognizing minority, “judges” look to recognize poor craft for reasons focused more on minority, the underrepresented, or false “originality” instead of craftsmanship.

    A second problem is that often (don’t know in this instance) contest “judges” are other entrants. Many other entrants being no better at the craft than the “winners,” they do flock and thus reward something less than mediocre for just showing-up.

    ESL? Maybe, but I rather doubt it. I have seen many ESL authors who do smashing work in English.

    Over two years ago, I left a “writers’ site” because they allowed this pandering to ignorance. Write, as you say for the challenge, accomplishment, and pure enjoyment. The contests we see, by and large, are shams.

    So. You’ve vented. I’ve vented. Now, you, back to work.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. victoracquista says:

    De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum is one response I can offer but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Poor writing is not worthy of accolades and many people offering their opinions don’t fully appreciate what makes good writing good and poor writing poor. Ever read a best selling novel with many awards and ask yourself why does anyone think this is good? The best I can say is subjective is highly subjective.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    I’ve won a few prizes in writing contests, and I have lost out at times when I thought my story was better than the winner. Knowing the interests of the judges makes for a better chance, but often we don’t even know who the judges are. In a similar vein, I had what I considered a fine story rejected by a literary journal, and in a fit of pique I sent them a story I dashed off in an hour a poor imitation of something that appeared in the journal, and my imitation was accepted.

    I have options. I can get to know the interests of the judges and editors, write to their preferences, and tell them I know where they live. Or I can write what I want and care less whether one contest or journal likes my story. Or I can start editing my own journal and let everyone else try to figure out what interests me.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I find it difficult to believe anyone judging other people’s writing would deliberately choose a poorly written piece as the winner of a contest in the spirit of recognizing minority. It seems more likely to me that the judges, like so many people — I resist saying “most” — are indiscriminate readers. Maybe they simply can’t tell good writing from bad. Maybe they think good writing sounds pretentious or show-offy.

    It would be helpful if authors set up a writing contest ranking site. Individual contests would be identified by name and judged by authors’ perceptions of their judges’ fairness and competence. A fitting title for the site might be Turnabout.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I long ago gave up ever trying to win a contest … I use them to force me to practice my short word count game. To another point, I just received a book from Goodreads to review. It was book three in a series, so I got the first book … figured reading the entire series would help. Nope, Nope, Nope. The first book was hopeless trash. I could not stomach a quarter of the book. No way I’m going to get to the third one. That just made me want to take a bath and write even better. Thanks for your view on contests.

    Liked by 3 people

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