Monday, March 10, 2014

My fingernails are suffering tonight

I heard about a writing contest last week, and it struck me as something that might be good for me to do. You know, willingly participate in something where a complete stranger reads your writing and judges it and some people win and most people lose. The idea of it made me simultaneously excited and nauseated, so I went ahead and entered.

This one is a little weird, in that it is very specific: you send in the first 125 words of your book, and if the judge likes it, you get the green light to send in the next 200 words of the same book. Every time the judge likes what she sees, you can send in another page. If the judge at any point decides they don't like the book so far, you get sent back to square one and can begin submitting a new work. This goes on until somebody - actually, eight somebodies - submits eight pages or has sent in their whole book (picture books have a lot fewer words than other categories).

The theory is that those first eight pages are what most editors and agents (or their assistants) use to decide which manuscripts they want to read, and which are headed for the incinerator. So if you have a great first chapter, you're more likely to get a deeper read when you submit your work, and are therefore more likely to sell that work. Sure, the rest of the manuscript is important, too, but this format gives the judge the chance to slog through a much larger pool of entrants than she would be able to handle if we all sent in thousands and thousands of words.

I entered the second wave of the contest yesterday, and I received my code number today at the same time the first of this round's results came out. And the verdict is ... That the chart only goes up to entries numbered 10 less than my number, so I have to wait until tomorrow to see whether I get a red light or a green light. I can't decide whether to be grumpy (I really want to know how I did!) or relieved (Now I don't have to try to sleep after a rejection!). Mostly, I think, I'm just excited to have gotten involved in the process at all. I feel like I'm joining a group, a cohort of other aspiring writers who share my hopes and processes. We'll see if I feel so comradely once I actually get judged ...

In the interest of full disclosure, here's the 125 words I submitted for the first round. They come from the first manuscript I ever finished, and it will be interesting to see what other people think of them:

August, 1985

             “You better run faster, Bobby, or that turtle’s gonna bite your toes off!” I yelled.  Bobby dodged and weaved, trying to capture the snapping turtle without putting his fingers in danger.  But his bare feet slid on the dried-up grass, making it hard for him to circle around behind the surprisingly fast animal.

            “Shut up, Susannah, and scoot over!”  Bobby tried to climb on top of the picnic table where his sister and I were watching the show.  The turtle lunged forward, jaws snapping a whisper away from his toes.  “Aiee!” he yelled as Barbie pushed him off the table.

            “It serves you right for taunting that poor thing!  Sheesh!  You didn’t have to keep poking at it with sticks.” Barbie said.

            I, too, was rooting for the turtle.  


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