Last week calls went out to a few dozen special romance writers – finalists in the RITA and Golden Heart contests, put on every year by the Romance Writers of America.
I didn’t get a call.
Rejection is always difficult to accept. When a creative project you’ve spent months – or years – working on is rejected, it’s agonizing.
I love the day the RITA and Golden Heart calls go out. For a romance writer, it’s the most exciting day of the year, even more so than the night when the winners are announced. Everyone starts the day full of excitement, and there are massive amounts of congratulations across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
But as the day goes on, people begin to lose heart. At least, that’s how I feel. I see my category filling up with finalists, and I check my phone for missed calls. I cheer for my friends and for complete strangers, but inside I die a little.
So how do you deal with contest disappointment? Here’s what I do.
1. Remind yourself that the contest isn’t your actual goal.
The Golden Heart is amazing. Thrilling. And it can be really tempting to think it’s the ultimate goal since it’s so much fun. But my goal is to be published. The Golden Heart would be one step on that path, but it’s not the only way to get there. And it’s not my end goal.
2. See how you can improve.
What makes the Golden Heart particularly hard is the fact that you don’t get feedback – other than some scores from anonymous judges – so it’s difficult to know what you can improve.
With other contests, it’s important to read through the feedback and decide what makes sense to you. I’ve had some amazingly helpful critiques by contest judges who helped me see problems I didn’t realize existed in my stories. This kind of feedback is invaluable.
3. Don’t settle for cliches.
This will piss some people off. I’m sorry.
Before calls even went out, there were lots of people trying to console those who wouldn’t final. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
But there are a few cliches that really bug me as a professional writer who’s working hard to make a career as a novelist, especially this one: “You should be proud that you even finished writing a novel.”
Okay, yes. That’s something to be proud of. But I think it’s dangerous to console yourself with this if your goal is to become published. If you want to be a published novelist, finishing a novel is the very least you should expect of yourself. When I see this cliche, it makes me feel like someone’s actually saying, “Hey, you didn’t finish the marathon, but you put your running shorts on and that’s what really counts.”
4. Get on with your work.
In order to distract myself from the fact my phone wasn’t ringing, I set to editing one of my novels. I had a tough section of the book to work on, so it took a lot of concentration.
In between shouting out to friends who’d heard good news and checking my phone, I managed to edit around 50 pages. By the end of the day, my disappointment in not being a finalist was tempered with pride and satisfaction that I’d done so much.
How do you deal with disappointment in your career, or in writing contests?