The weeks ticked by. I was so busy with other things that I didn't really give much headspace for the announcement of the contest winners. But then the date drew nearer, and I found out that there was a Facebook party on March 31st, where members of the Rooglewood group could get the announcement a couple days ahead of time. Plus, they were announcing not just the winners, but a bunch of honorable mentions, finalists, and "Special Unicorns"--stories that got perfect scores from the judges even if they didn't win. My hopes lifted. Surely Digital Pulse would be in there at some point.
So I decided to join in the festivities, especially since Five Poisoned Apples is the last collection of fairy tale retellings. I even made a comment before the announcements that even if I wasn't in any category, my heart would be content. Looking back now, I wonder if I was only kidding myself.
The celebration began.
The honorable mentions came and went.
My name wasn't there.
Then the finalists were revealed.
My name wasn't there, and my heart was sinking.
The Special Unicorns were unveiled, along with specially-made book covers.
My name still wasn't there.
At that point, I knew: who won didn't make a lick of difference to me. Because I knew I had lost. My story, which I considered the best thing I'd ever penned in all of my writing days, was nowhere to be found. I'd begun that evening joking around and feeling good; I finished it by joking around to keep up the façade that everything was fine. Inwardly, I felt crushed.
The feeling didn't last long. After all, I had feedback coming! I hoped the judge would have a lot of good things to say about it. I had put my heart and soul into it, going so far as to weaving in a personal theme that brought me to tears. I'd been chatting with a friend of mine about it, and I told him that it takes time and maturity to enjoy constructive criticism. Hindsight seems to point out I lacked both.
On Tuesday, April 3rd, as I left work, I noticed I'd gotten my feedback. I drove home eager to open the email and see what the judge had to say about Digital Pulse. Well, because they were doing "proper" feedback forms this time around, they scored you on several categories. Your story could get a maximum score of 60 points.
I got a whopping 38 out of 60.
And while she did mention some good stuff about my opening, pacing, and originality, she seemed to gloss over that. Instead, she hammered down hard on the other aspects: plot, climactic sequence, characterization, dialogue, world-building/setting, writing style, command of the language, use of Snow White themes, and likability. On a scale of 1 to 5, most categories got 3; characterization and dialogue both got a 2.
You wouldn't believe how devastated I was. My self-esteem as a writer took a massive blow. I felt crippled, paralyzed, frozen in grief. I had anticipated this? If I had wanted to tear apart my own story, I could've paid myself to do that!
As I descended deeper into a vortex of blazing emotions, I didn't know what to do. One of my initial reactions was to delay my Monthly HapPENings post by a week and post this instead. Good thing I hadn't, otherwise you would've all been subjected to something much more raw.
I was told things were going to be okay, I was still a good writer, this didn't define me, and so forth. But those words fell on deaf ears. I didn't know how I could see the good in this situation. Perhaps that sounds a little overdramatic, but it's what I honestly felt.
The next day, I decided to take a risk and make a brief post about it on the Facebook group. I hate to say things like that, because it looks like I'm trying to garner pity. But when one of my top two love languages is words, and I just got my story seemingly ripped to shreds through words, I just need to . . . I dunno. Be encouraged, I suppose.
The response was better than I expected. I got a lot of support from the others. It felt good to know I wasn't the only person who got a lower score. But the comment that encouraged me the most was this one:
Considering that the only time I'd really spoken to Deb was on her blog a number of years back to encourage her, I found it interesting that she came at my time of need to return the favor. This comment, along with the others, helped me begin to move past my grief and heal. Can I say that I don't still hurt when I look at that feedback form? No, of course. It's going to take a while. The writer in me is still recovering.
I've also asked myself where I go from here. I had originally planned on novelizing Darkened Slumber as my next big project, but now . . . now I'm conflicted. What I do know is that it'll be a while before Digital Pulse and I see each other again. It's not like I'm back to hating the story. We just need . . . some space, I guess.
So what was the point in all this, in me sharing my less-than-amazing conclusion to the Rooglewood contests? As I did with A Flaw Most Fatal, there's a lesson to be shared from my troubles. I mean, isn't that our responsibility? I think one way God turns bad situations and occurrences in our life into something good and beautiful is by having us share what we've learned from it with others, to help them improve.
What I gleaned from this emotional, turbulent finale is that my timing isn't God's timing. As the perfect Father, He knows what's best. Let's pretend that you're playing piano, and you aim to make it big. Finally, you get your opportunity. This could be your moment!
But your dad knows you could do even better, or that there will be more favorable chances in the future. So he suggests you get a private instructor to give you some constructive criticism. You agree, confident that you'll nail it.
After you've finished playing, you get the feedback--and you're devastated. You thought you were so good at your gift, but the instructor thinks you need more time to practice. You run to your dad, tears flowing. It hurts. It hurts to seemingly be told that what you put so much time and effort was all for naught. He comforts you and encourages you. And once you're ready to hear it, he tells you that he believes you can do even better. There will be greater opportunities in the future. You trust him, so what do you do? You don't give up, and you continue to practice.
I realized that me getting no recognition in the contest is not a matter of me being lousy at writing or God saying no. Quite the opposite, I think. God wants me to see just how good I could do, then say, "You can do better! I believe in you; I know you can. I gave you those gifts and talents." It's Him saying, "Yes, but not now. Your time will come. And when it does, you'll go farther than you ever thought possible."
And so I believe my Father's words, and I grasp that hope, for it is all I have.