Better Than Winning
by Susan Boltz, Contest Committee for St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference
“I volunteered to be on the contest committee for St. Davids.”
“Why would you volunteer to help with the contests? You have plenty on your plate already. What makes you think that contests are important enough to merit your time?” My friend sounded a bit peeved that I’d made another commitment.
“When I’ve entered the contests, God has used them in my life.” Doubt played across her face as I tried to explain. “The first time I went to St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference, I was getting serious about writing. God had put stories in my life, and it seemed I should share them, but I didn’t know how or what to do. I entered the contests to see what would happen. At the conference, some of the participants were professional writers, and it seemed like most of the writers were published. Who was I? A writer wannabe. Trying to compete with them seemed silly, so I knew I wasn’t going to win anything. I told myself it was good experience.”
“Pointless,” my friend said.
“That’s how it looked. But those people understood me. When I admitted that I was just a beginner, they told me that we all start at the same place. Every great writer was a beginner at one time. They encouraged me to obey God, learn more, and keep writing. By the time the awards were presented, I was happy with all that I’d learned that week and wasn’t expecting anything else. And then it happened. I won the second place award in the Devotional category. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was in a room with pastors, professional writers, other beginners too, and I’d won second place!”
“Maybe, they just let you win. You know, make the new kid feel good.”
“No, the judges don’t even know who the contestants are. No names are on the entries they receive. First place means this entry is ready to be submitted to an editor for publication. Second place means there are one or two things to be corrected. Third place means this is a solid entry and the judge likes it, but it needs a little more work. To me, the second place win confirmed that God would use my work.”
“So you had a nice experience. What if you hadn’t won anything?”
“Actually, God has used the contests more in my life when I’ve lost than when I’ve won.”
“How does that work?” She laughed. “That sounds crazy.”
“One year, I entered a nonfiction article in the contests. It was a personal experience story. I struggled to write it and thought perhaps I’d submit it to a magazine if it did well.”
“Definitely not a win. The scores were low, and the manuscript was covered with the judge’s comments and questions.”
“What did you do?” she asked.
“I threw the whole thing in a drawer and forgot about it. A couple of years later, Chicken Soup for the Soul had a call-out for stories like mine. I pulled out the manuscript. The comments and questions guided me as I rewrote the whole thing. In December of 2014, that story was published in The Power of Forgiveness. Learning from my mistakes was a better gift than winning any award.”
“Do you think God will use the contests with other writers?”
“That’s my prayer.”
Susan has been published in the Upper Room, Penned from the Heart, Vista Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Power of Forgiveness. She is a card-carrying member in good standing of St. Davids Christian Writers’ Association and CFO Second Tuesday Writers.