Monday, February 15, 2016

A Reading and Writing Gift, Courtesy of Contests Not Won and Journals Finally Opened

You don't enter a lot of writing contests, because you're frugal (okay, cheap) and entry fees deplete your meager annual marketing budget, and because you're not competitive by nature. (Perhaps you are convinced you used up your competitive mojo inside the horse show arena years ago, and that once winning a television and later a bicycle was the limit of your blind luck.)

When you do enter a writing contest, you're usually enticed by a theme you're already interested in writing something about (or have already started), or by the allure of publication in a journal or by a press you like. You try not to even consider the prize money (see above, re: not competitive/all luck expired).

Results from the recent Rose Metal Press CNF Chapbook Contest
Still, over the years (okay, decades), you've managed to rack up a few finishes in the tops three, and in competitions that whittle the field down first, occasionally been on finalist lists (most recently, in the Rose Metal Press Creative Nonfiction Chapbook contest). You've always tried, when awaiting contest results, to think of it as no more or less meaningful than a regular submission (okay, you lie to myself).

One of the "consolation prizes" of not winning a contest with an entry fee run by a print journal is often a complimentary subscription. So, you get rejected one way or another (alas, even a finalist finish is still a rejection...), and then at some point later on, an issue of the journal lands in your mailbox with a thud.

Do you read it immediately, eager to delve into the stories and poems and essays by writers who weren't as unlucky as you? Or do you let it sit on your desk or coffee table for days or weeks or months, avoiding the words of others who were luckier (okay, more skilled) than you?

You do both. Depending on mood, available reading time, the phase of the moon, the artwork on the journal cover. 

Then, on a blistering cold winter Sunday, when you really should be working upstairs in your home office, instead you build a roaring fire in the living room (okay, your husband builds it for you; it's Valentine's Day after all and he wants you to be comfy so he can sneak off to watch sports on TV), make yourself a big mug of coffee, cuddle under a quilt, and see what there is to read on the coffee table.

There is the winter issue of The Missouri Review. You open it, scan the table of contents for nonfiction pieces, find two, and read them, at first grudgingly, then with building interest, then hungrily. They are both so good. 

First, the one that intricately and seamlessly (and incongruously, but ingeniously) combines mistakes made in bird watching and the fallibility of eye witness testimony in criminal cases. 

Then, the one about the lousy family dog that keeps eating the children's pets, which seems like it would be a lousy idea for a piece of narrative nonfiction, but paragraph by paragraph convinces you once again that any subject, in the hands of a skilled and honest and witty writer, can become an excellent essay.

You finish your coffee, put the kettle on for tea, grab some cookies, stoke the fire and add more wood. Your husband is still in the family room watching a rerun of his beloved Giants winning the 2008 Super Bowl, but you interrupt, and wave your teenage son over and read them a terrifically funny line from the essay about the horrid dog, and the three of you laugh together.

Then you take your tea back to the living room and read the one about the bad dog all over again, and notice things, so many things. Then you read the one about birding and witnessing again and notice more things. And even though these are not the exact pieces that won the contest you entered many months ago, and instead of feeling as if these other writers are luckier than you, you simply are grateful for the chance to have read them.

And then you find one of those writers on Twitter, and tell her how much you enjoyed the one about her awful dog, and soon, the two of you are tweeting back and forth, and later she says that your praise of her writing has made her week. And suddently your day is made too.

Soon, you feel as if you didn't get a consolation prize at all (okay, maybe a little.) But you eventually go back upstairs to your office and for a brief moment you wish you had a horrible, no good, very bad dog to write about, but then you smile and pull out something you've been working on. And it all starts again. 


Andrea said...

This is great!

Theta said...

Very nice post. I enjoyed reading about a regular day in the life of a writer and the way we struggle but also joyfully give in and read the work of others too.