(I originally blathered on in cscole's LJ about this, but realized someone else's LJ was the wrong place for my own babbling, so here it is).
I started entering Writers of the Future when I got serious about writing at the end of 2005. The first two times I entered, my stories were Quarterfinalists (which I believe is now called Honorable Mention). For those keeping track, the stories were "Samsara" and "Padre".
I was guardedly thrilled at QF, but I didn't know what Quarterfinalist meant. I knew that contests and magazines received a lot of dreck in the slush. Was I a Quarterfinalist simply because I used proper manuscript format, spelled everything correctly, and employed proper grammar?
When I went to Worldcon in LA in 2006, I happened to see Tim Powers (a WOTF judge) on a panel. Afterwards, I asked him if being a Quarterfinalist was "good" or if it just meant I could follow directions and create fully-functional sentences. He said that it was much more, it meant it was an interesting story, that it was interesting to the end, that I should be very encouraged and to keep going.
Cool! I entered every quarter after that and racked up a string of "no places". I got frustrated, but I realized I wasn't taking it seriously. I was just finishing off a story in the week before the contest and sending it in. No critiques beforehand, no real revision, just a raw first or second draft. I wasn't sending in my best work. I wasn't taking it seriously.
So I stopped entering WOTF for a while. After talking with kenscholes and Eric James Stone over email about WOTF, and jaylake at cons about WOTF, and hearing the WOTF panel at Orycon, I realized I was making a mistake. WOTF is a great opportunity for new writers. Your stories are going up against other beginners, not against seasoned professionals. You should enter every quarter and send in your best story at the time.
So I took what is arguably my best story right now, "This Moment, and the Times Before" and entered it for 2008 Q1. "This Moment" is definitely better than "Padre" or "Samsara" was. It received a good response from pros who critiqued it at a con. I was guardedly optimistic.
And "This Moment" will end up with a No Place. Yes, it's all about how the story works for the judges. Every place has a "style" for stories that work and don't work, WOTF included. If an editor for a magazine says "no, it didn't work for me" then that's exactly what happened. Oh well, move on.
But then the frustrating thoughts come along: "If my best story can't even do well in comparison to other beginners, what am I doing submitting stories elsewhere? Am I deluding myself?" Or perhaps my "style", the kind of stories I like to write/read, isn't the WOTF style, and I should just give up on entering. But I know that other folks would metaphorically smack me a good one for this attitude.
At Viable Paradise, Steven Gould gave an excellent lecture which I summarize as: "Worry about the things you can control, and let go of worry about what you can't control." I don't control how the WOTF judges, or any editor in general, will react to my stories. I don't control whether or not they choose to publish them.
Here's what I control: I control how much I write. I control what I choose to write about. I control what stories I revise. I control when I submit stories. I control where I submit stories. That's it.
I also control my own expectations. And I do have expectations and wants. I can and should write good stories, ones that do well in WOTF, ones that get sold and published.
Unfortunately, I also control my own level of frustration. That's the hardest thing to let go of right now - frustration over things I don't control.
It all comes back to the VP Oath: Write, Revise, Submit. That's what I need to do. So, I have a story in mind for the next WOTF, and in the meantime I'm revising stories to send out elsewhere. And I'm continuing to write stories. Because that's what I control: Write, Revise, Submit.
Thus endeth today's frustrated blathering. I now return to my regular agenda of posts on travel, nerdy links, LOST, stories, politics, and random thoughts. Yeff out.