Writing Contests: How Do You Decipher Judges’ Feedback?

Writing Contests Deciphering Judges Notes low-resReposted from May 25, 2014:

The subject of writing contests came up in a writers’ group that I belong to.

One of the writers in the group was bemused because she was given feedback by the judges that doesn’t square with the feedback she’s gotten everywhere else, even from professional editors.

How can this happen?

The explanation is simple: unless you have judges that are experienced with your genre, they will give you feedback according to what they know is expected in their writing genres and from their target audience as opposed to what is expected and accepted in your genre and from your target audience.

It is also possible to receive a range of feedback from judges (on the same writing), from “I hated it. Your book belongs on the compost heap (not that you’re likely to have a judge be this rude or unreasonable),” to “I loved it! You need to publish this tomorrow!” Some of the criteria involved in judging submissions of writing can be very subjective.

An author’s voice can be instinctively loved or hated even when their writing is technically perfect.

Maybe the judge is a stickler for grammatically correct dialogue or hates contractions, or thinks that every sentence should end with a period, exclamation point, or a period. None of those em dashes or ellipses, please!

Or–here’s a common biggie: they seriously dislike first person point of view, and can’t get into your story because you used it.

Maybe they hate head-hopping, or they only want to read deep POV, but your style is more literary.

Whatever their reason for not liking your writing, if your passion for writing clearly comes through your story, and your characters and their dialog are authentic, if your setting is true to your story, then it’s probable that even though a judge didn’t like your writing, your story still has worth.

Why I don’t submit to writing contests is also simple: I have deep reservations about paying for this kind of feedback. I’ve done it only once, and then I decided never again, because I didn’t like that resulting feeling of extreme perplexity. I’d rather pay a professional editor 4 times as much or more, not that I have that kind of money right now, or swap edits with other published authors than pay to enter a writing contest.

But that’s just who I am.

What about you? Do you enter writing contests? Why or why not?

How do you decipher judges’ feedback, and decide whether or not the judge gave you excellent advice that you need to take to heart and make changes based upon?

Introverts And The Art of Friendship

Be A Friend copyReposted from September 16, 2013:

A little background: The post was inspired by one of Matt Walsh’s blog posts: I’m An Introvert and I Don’t Need To Come Out of My Shell.

Matt raised a lot of good points. The readers who commented on his blog raised even more. I started to respond, but the response grew to where I realized I should really post it on my blog instead of his! So…this:

How does an introvert make friends?

How does anyone, for that matter, make friends?

Do introverts do it differently from extroverts?

Do introverts really need friends?

Few of us are 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. We consist, in varying proportions, of a mix of traits that are considered to be one or the other.

I consider myself an introvert, but some days I really need to see people. Not large, noisy groups of people, but a few very good, one-on-one interactions.

I can be (some days) that stranger who says hi and attempts small chitchat with other people. I’m not looking to irritate you–I’m looking for a way to connect. I see so few people now because of my physical limitations due to chemical sensitivities. I can’t go where there are crowds or do hardly anything that involves a crowd, and rarely am I sufficiently well enough to even risk attending church.

I’m perfectly happy to listen if you want to take the conversation down a deep philosophical road and discuss the nature of …ants or trees, or snow! I might even have something worthwhile to say.

I’m not usually lonely, but–there are those days when I just need a little face-time, and if I can’t see those people I consider my friends, I’m perfectly happy to try to make a new one.

Some days, I’ve been exposed to chemicals in my environment that rob me of significant higher brain function, and all I can come up with are the dumbest things to say–and I know they’re dumb, but I need to connect, so I say them anyway in the hope that the other person on the receiving end will be understanding of the good intent behind them, and will find a way to conduct a conversation with me anyway. Some days are horribly humiliating that way!

But I’ve met and known plenty of people who make small talk, too, who couldn’t be bothered to listen to anything the other person (including me) had to say. They make it clear that what I say say totally bores them, and they can’t wait to interrupt me or be distracted by anything or anyone else.

This is not a personality trait associated with either introversion or extroversion: this is bad manners and rudeness. And that is a person who has never had their nearest and dearest sit them down and pointedly explain (in love, of course) that a conversation requires give and take; that to properly hold a conversation, it is not only necessary to talk, it is also necessary to give the other person time to talk as well, and to really listen to what they are and are not saying. It’s a shame really, and not a reflection on who I am as a person–or who you are–when we run into them, and they treat us with disrespect. It’s a reflection on them and their lousy upbringing.

I have had nationals from other countries complain to me at length that this is a common American failing: that we are so convinced that we’re the only ones with anything worthwhile to say that we can’t be bothered to hear what anyone else might have to tell us, even if it means the difference between life and death. They chalk it up to arrogance, or being in too much of a hurry, or not having a good upbringing. Sometimes they’re right on all counts!

There is an art to getting to know strangers: it usually (but not always) begins with inconsequential chitchat, with looking for safe common ground on subjects where they’re unlikely to have feelings invested before moving on to more iffy subjects. Talking about the weather might lead to talking about that person’s garden or lawn, or upcoming game of golf or some other sport they participate in. I could care less about sports, but I do care about the people who enjoy them, so I’ll listen to sports-talk and (try to) ask intelligent questions. Sports-talk, if you both have children playing the sport, might lead to a discussion of family, and to discovering other areas of commonality–maybe even a discussion of spiritual matters as church attendance (or lack thereof) is brought up.

It might even lead to a philosophical discussion on ants or cracks in the sidewalk, or any other number of matters that might be of mutual interest to a pair of introverts.

If a conversation goes well, you’ve made an acquaintance that you might encounter again with mutually agreeable results. If multiple conversations down the road, you find yourself seeking out this person on a regular basis and vice versa, then you’ve made a friend.

If you’re talking to someone from Africa or the Middle East, you can skip the talk about the weather and sports, and go straight to asking about family. It is even considered bad manners not to ask about family first.

If you’re talking to someone from America, discussing movies or books is an alternative to sports, depending on who you’re talking to.

If you’re Greek, and you meet another Greek (I’m not, but I have observed this), it is expected that you will spend at least fifteen minutes trying to establish which city or province the other person’s family came from, and if you have relatives in common, who you know in common here, etc. I’ve known people who can keep this kind of fact-sharing going for hours. This also holds true for other countries in Europe, and can even be applied to Mennonites (a lot of them in my family).

But most people can’t and don’t go from zero knowledge of the other person to a friendship that allows discussion of deep matters, and the kind of non-judgmental listening that allows a person to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of rejection. Most people try to test out the waters first with small talk.

Did you know that you can make a friend, though, without ever being able to speak their language? I did this repeatedly when I was a child, when I lived among people who spoke languages that were all different from mine. It’s amazing how far you can go with a friendly gesture and a smile. Before very long, at least one party to the transaction is learning the other party’s language–if they’re motivated enough, and I was–

But we grow up and become self-conscious and afraid to connect, and we tend to lose that willingness to reach out and be vulnerable…

What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you make friends?

Just Call Him Yee Haw! He’ll Understand

Yee Haw copyReposted from September 9, 2013:

I got into a theological discussion (two years ago now) with a friend. (and some of you are saying, “Uh oh!)

It was a friendly discussion! Really!

She wanted to know why some people write God’s name as G_d.

I don’t know for sure. I have some ideas on it though…

My first thought on this was that someone somewhere went to Bible College or seminary, and discovered that those who copied the Old Testament scrolls had such a respect for God that they took the vowels out of His name along with the accent marks so that no one could pronounce His name, thereby helping those who read the scrolls to avoid “taking God’s name in vain.”

Since not taking God’s name in vain was one of the Ten Commandments, this was very important to the Israelites, especially when the people involved in this activity were Scribes or Pharisees.

Jesus had a LOT to say about the Scribes and the Pharisees in the Gospels when He had to deal with them in person. Mostly all of it was very negative! He came up with the most colorful descriptions of their dysfunctional efforts at making everyone BUT themselves righteous, too: having logs in their eyes (vs. everyone else’s “splinters”); and camels trying to fit through needles! At every turn He rebuked them for the unreasonable burdens they placed on other people while trying to hide their own hypocrisy.

Helping other people to avoid sinning in so many cases requires us to sin ourselves via legalism. We can hedge our conduct around with so many rules and regulations that we find ourselves barred from doing what is right and just by what others have said we MUST or MUST NOT do.

Jesus cited many examples of exactly this kind of activity in the Gospels, although He never specifically discussed the effort to obscure God’s name.

Obscuring the name of God may have kept people from taking it in vain in that form–it certainly didn’t take them long to come up with other names to call Him instead, and also to abuse those instead–but I have to wonder: did this also discourage people from calling on God when they needed Him?

Did hiding the pronunciation of God’s name contribute to setting God’s people at such a remove from Him that He seemed unnecessary or irrelevant in their daily lives, a great impersonal being who was too important to be approached by anyone who truly needed Him? Was this one of the things that men did, desiring to be holy, yet by their actions, discouraging others who reacted by embracing all-out-rebellion because they felt rejected and ignored by God?

Is this veil that prevents us from truly knowing something we might otherwise have known about God greater than the actual, physical veil hanging floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall in the temple; the veil that no one but the High Priest could pass to make atonement for sins? The veil that tore in two when Christ died on the Cross for our sins so that it would no longer separate us from God?

When I think about that, and how some Christians, not content with being unable to pronounce the Hebrew name for God, are trying to render the English name for God unpronounceable too, I’m grateful that God doesn’t expect us to follow their example!

But I do have to wonder–if they got their way, if they would be happier to hear the rest of us mispronouncing God’s name instead?

And as for YWHW or YHWH–however you’re spelling it or misspelling it– Some people say that name, Yahweh or Jehovah; but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is in your heart, and having a right relationship with Jesus, because that’s what HE came to do: save us and to tear the veil separating us from God so that we could have a personal relationship with Him!

And yes, if you want to call him Yee Haw, I don’t think He’ll mind, as long as your heart is right.

Some of His children probably will mind–but hey, siblings are going to always find things to pick on each other about. Don’t let them get to you!

God’s the best thing that ever happened to the human race, and if anyone or anything is worth a YEE HAW, then God definitely is! And I’m pretty sure He’ll understand if you want to tell Him so.

How Do You Define Trust?

TrustReposted from August 21, 2013:

Trust is a delicate thing, and yet it makes the world go round.

We can’t live without trust.

Our economy is built on trust.

Relationships live or die on trust.

Marriage, peace treaties, and trade agreements all are made possible by trust that the parties involved will honor their agreements.

We desire to be trusted, and to trust.

“You fool me once, shame on you. You fool me twice, shame on me,” is a saying about trust.

We say a person is gullible if they are easy to fool or make a habit of trusting someone who is untrustworthy.

We say a person has been gulled or fooled if their trust has been abused.

We have to be careful of where we place our trust. Just because you trust someone, doesn’t mean that they’re trustworthy.

Just because you “feel” something should be true, doesn’t mean it’s true. Emotions can lie and facts can be deceiving. We should never trust our emotions, and we should, whenever possible, double-check our facts with an independent source.

When you’re a writer, trust is important in holding a reader’s interest. A reader of fiction trusts the author to weave a story with believable elements, no matter how outlandish the setting. Break that trust, and you lose your reader.

A reader of non-fiction trusts the writer to stick to the facts and not twist the truth for their own ends.

It takes consistent effort to establish trust, but only one lapse to break it.

Distrust is contagious. This is why the stock market reacts so negatively to bad news, and why there were runs on the banks at the start of the Great Depression.

We say that someone who is trustworthy is also reliable.

We call someone who doesn’t trust easily cynical.

A person who makes a habit of doubting everyone and everything is called a cynic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately…

I used to be very trusting of those whom I knew well, who were closest to me. People usually are until someone they trust abuses that trust, and forces them to realize that not all people can be trusted.

Due to life circumstances, I have been forced to redefine what trust meant for me. I used to mentally view people as trustworthy or untrustworthy. Either I knew them and could trust them, or I did not, and could not. Now, I don’t do that. I have had to redefine trust in terms of what I can expect from each person I know, and what I know or don’t know about that person which might introduce unexpected complexities into our relationship.

I can trust certain people close to me for many things, but I have learned that there are situations in which I might not be able to rely on them at all. There are others I can reliably trust to disappoint me every time. This is still a form of trust, although it is more commonly understood as distrust. I now trust people in varying degrees based on the consistency with which they have shown themselves to be reliable or unreliable.

One last thought on trust:

Here in America, we print on our money, “In God We Trust,” but as a nation, that is becoming less and less true. The irony is that, the more I have seen of life, the more I have come to understand that God really is the only one we can absolutely trust!

What role does trust play in your life? Have you ever trusted someone you should not? How do you define trust?

What Brings You Happiness?

Headshot at Gilletts Low-res

I’m happy to be alive!

Reposted from June 20, 2013:

A friend, Diane Graham, took objection to a slideshow someone else made of things that make women happy. While I understand her objection; many of the items pictured and discussed were very shallow; I can also understand how simple things can be an uncomplicated source of happiness. And I thought–why not create my own list of things that bring me happiness as a woman?


Waterlilies are a great source of happiness! Waterlily paintings are even more fantastic!

Here’s my list:

  • a big smile on my son’s or daughter’s face
  • Mom’s cooking
  • my sis-in-law’s creative desserts
  • a beautiful flower
  • a lovely butterfly
  • soft fluffy snow
  • a frisky squirrel
  • that mischievous smile on Dad’s face right before he tells a good joke in that quiet voice that gives nothing away;
  • a purring kitty snuggling up to my back when he *thinks* I’m asleep (he’s so funny)
    the way my other kitty always finds my lap and purrs madly when she’s hungry or I’ve just come out of shower
  • the way my brother teases my niece; that “look” on my niece’s face when he teases her
  • the way my nephew always throws his arms around me and gives me a big hug when I see him, and before he heads for home;
  • knowing I’ve created a beautiful work of art–even if no one else notices–however if someone notices, I’m over the moon!
  • writing a chapter of a new novel, getting inspired, and then writing three more
  • being clean
  • having a good/more attractive haircut
  • finding another great nugget of spiritual truth in the Bible that I’d never really seen/understood before, especially when it’s something that encourages me to keep on keeping on–
  • I’m sure there is more that I could list here, such as having two arms and two legs in working order, and no major aches worth mentioning; good health, a great place to live, family to love me, friends I enjoy–

But mostly, I’m just happy to be alive. 🙂 God is the true source of my happiness.

What about you? What are some of the things that make you happy?