Failing to Win: My First Short Story Competition 

In June of 2017, I entered my first short story competition. I submitted Brother Thomas to The Masters Review Short Story Award For New Writers. I didn’t even make the short list.

I have mixed feelings about competitions. Prizes are great, but I care more about what placing could tell me about my writing. If I am placed on the short list or win, then I have some evidence that I may be a good writer. If I’m not placed on the short list, does that mean I suck? I default to a yes, but I would be doing theater if I had not received some positive reinforcement about my writing.

Failing to win did not give me much information about whether I suck a lot, a little, or not at all. There are several possible scenarios. For example, the judge read my first sentence and vomited all over his desk. In a more positive scenario, the judge had trouble deciding between my story and another for inclusion in the short list.  My story may have been in the middle of a mediocre set of submissions, and the winners may have been the only good stories they got. Or my story may have been in the middle of the best set they have ever received, and the winners were only a reflection of the judge’s preferences. 

I did enjoy several things about entering the competition. I enjoyed submitting a piece others thought was good enough to win. I enjoyed having something to look forward to and the hopes I had as I waited. Anything was possible until the short list was announced. These are things I can enjoy every time I enter a competition regardless of the outcome.

2 thoughts on “Failing to Win: My First Short Story Competition 

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve recently entered two short story contests, without much success. I think I need to find a contest that offers feedback. Like you, I wondered where I fell short, and what I could do to improve my writing. Is not winning is sending me a message, or if it didn’t catch a particular judge’s fancy, for whatever reason? I’ll still enter contests, because they force me to get out of my comfort zone, and give me a deadline. And I agree with you: there is something exciting about waiting for a reply.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, J Rusolo. I hope you keep trying and wish you success. It would be nice if they had a system like Olympic judges [0.5 off for not showing, but telling!] Human judging will always have bias, but it will give writers something to work with.


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