Friday, April 8, 2016

Forget Contests - Writing Itself as a Competition

Forget Contests – Writing Itself as a Competition by Debra H. Goldstein

Joel can’t understand my addiction to cooking shows like Chopped and Top Chef – especially with my well-documented aversion to the kitchen. He is even more confused at the hours of TV watching I do when I acknowledge that I could care less what pan, spice or heat any of the chefs use. I’m impressed with how these cooks take bizarre ingredients and repurpose them into something enticing.

I acknowledge their plates aren’t always perfectly composed or that sometimes the meat is underdone or the ingredients mixed together into something lumpy and unattractive. That doesn’t matter. What counts, as I repeatedly explain to Joel, is the imagination and skills the chefs rely on preparing their dishes.

What I don’t share with Joel is that these shows keep my attention, but not enough that I can’t multi-task while watching them. I also don’t admit that if it was just one chef demonstrating what could be made from a mixture of ingredients, I would change the channel. I love the competitive aspects of Chopped and Top Chef. To win, not only must the cook personally stretch using ingredients that even a professional has never seen before, but they have to produce a project that is better than that of their competitors. Being told to “Please Pack your knives and go” or “You’ve been Chopped,” means the final plate lacked innovation, style, or contained a fatal flaw.

In a way, these shows are like the process of writing. A writer can enter contests or respond to open
submission calls, but the reality is that the writing itself is a competition. Writers, especially in series writing, won’t succeed if the plotlines or characters are just called in. Readers will not come back if the word choices are poor, the spelling and punctuation lacking, or there are gaps in the storyline. Creativity and dedication revision are necessary for a work in progress to take the championship.

This is not a world for those who are unwilling to work. Even the best wordsmiths toil at the craft. But that is the fun of the competitive edge of writing – trying to produce a work that not only is a personal best, but one that stands just a bit ahead of comparable works.    
SHOULD HAVE PLAYED POKER: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery releases on April 20, but win a chance to win a copy - Goodreads Giveaway now until April 28


  1. So true! I feel I am always in competition with my last work, and striving to be better and better with my storytelling and craft skills. It has its own rewards, in that I absolutely love the writing process, but when others read my work and enjoy it, I feel a real sense of accomplishment and joy.

    1. Another competitive aspect of writing is the desire to impress others. I wish it weren't true, that I could write only for me, but I'm always writing with someone else in mind. I want the reader to be entertained, and I want the reader to think I'm a good writer. It's why I didn't keep a diary as a kid. I thought, why write something if no one is going to read it. Sorry if I'm rambling. I have a terrible cold, and I fear it's affecting my clarity.

    2. Barb,
      I think you are very right - we write against ourselves and to please others. Sometimes, it creates a viscious circle and occasionally paralyzes true creativity or production of new works.