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Thursday, September 10, 2020

When a Loss is a Win

 Yesterday I got the initial results of WOW’s most recent essay contest. I had not made it to the next round. Again.

That means I’m 0 for 2.

This piece that didn’t pass muster is close to my heart. It’s organized to echo the format of one of my favorite essays: Joyas Voladoras. It’s on a topic I’m passionate about: racisim. I really wanted it to snag at least a runner-up spot.

It didn’t. To advance, it needed a score of at least 14. The pieces were scored on subject, content and technical aspects--each was worth 5 points. Mine earned only 11 points.

image by Pixabay

About 6 months ago, I entered my first WOW contest. It was also an essay that was close to my heart. This one focused on postpartum psychosis. I have two friends who have daughters that suffered from it. One killed her three children, in the span of three years. She’s been in prison for 30 years. The other friend’s daughter shot her husband, and her baby daughter. She then killed herself.

Both pieces would have shed some light on an issue that’s important to me. Getting a large audience to read them would have been wonderful.

However, this time (just like the previous time), I got a critique as part of the package. Earlier, a friend paid for the critique. When I entered recently, I paid for a critique. I mean, how often does a writer get feedback (other than from their writing group colleagues)? We might get a rejection email. We might get no response, which means a no. But rarely do we get specific constructive criticism.

Lucky for me, I got several pages of feedback. Some of it spoke to me needing to tighten my piece. Some of it tried to school me on the use of ellipses. (The audacity! Doesn’t everyone know that the ellipsis is king? It should be used as often as possible… at least once every other sentence.) But, a lot of the critique involved lines being crossed out--parts that weren’t really necessary to the piece.

And double-lucky for me: I got the same judge to critique my piece that I got last time. I know it’s random, but my earlier feed-back was so spot-on, when I paid for the feed-back this time, I had a wish: I hope Chelsey critiques mine again. Without even knowing if she’d be involved in this round of essays… (See? Ellipses are always welcome and appropriate.)

I’ve heard many of my respected writer friends froth at the mouth over workshops they’ve taken with Chelsey Clammer. I can see why. If her suggestions are any indication of her talent as a teacher and a writer… well, I can see why she’s able to inspire so many pieces into existence. (Chelsey: I know you’re rethinking the ellipsis thingy. You’re warming up to embracing pieces with 42 ellipses, right?)

Even though I failed to earn a spot as a runner-up, I’m calling myself a winner. I got an incredible start at reworking my essay. I also got something I’m planning on using in my classroom. When my students write essays this year, I’m going to put Chelsey’s crossed-out version of my essay up on my smartboard… to show my classes that sometimes we love our words, but there’s always room for improvement.

Sometimes, there’s lots of room for improvement… (Chelsey--You’re hot for ‘em now, right?)  

Sioux is a middle-school teacher by day, and a failed contest writer by night. Lately, she's found great success at falling asleep (sitting upright) on the couch, her laptop in her lap. If you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.


  1. Jeanine DeHoney11:12 AM

    Sioux, a loss can definitely be a win when you choose to have a positive outlook about it, as you did. The stars aligned in your favor to get a critique from the judge of your choice, so that was indeed a win for you. You are now reworking your essay accordingly and teaching your students a valuable lesson by sharing your critiqued essay with them. Sounds like a win,win to me. I'm sure your essay will find a home soon so keep submitting it.

  2. I love Chelsey too. She once edited some manuscripts for me and they were spot on. Love that you are going to use your marked up piece for teaching. What a great tool for the students to see. I hope you rework your pieces and submit them again. Loses can be multiple wins.

  3. Sioux--I'm convinced that CNF is an art form all in itself. Like you, I've submitted a few essays to competitions here and there with no luck. I can write fiction and magazine articles but am stuck there. But choosing to get feedback is essential, and it sounds like you're committed to continuing to learn the art form, as am I. Keep on writing and sharing! This will be a great lesson for your students.

  4. Haha! Ellipses... ;)

    Sioux, I hope you take Chelsey's advice and rework BOTH of your essays. A lot of contest winners are writers who've taken the editor's advice, reworked the piece, and placed. I know these stories are important to you, so please don't give up!

    I love working with Chelsey. My favorite workshop she teaches is Face Your Fears: Women Writers Anonymous - and there's one starting on Monday, Sept 14th!

    That's cool you're going to put up your critique in your classroom. It will be valuable to your students, I'm sure. You'll also have to put your revised version right next to it. And the trophy from your win .................. ;)

  5. I love that you are using your feedback in your classroom! What a fantastic way to encourage your students. And I really, really hope you are submit your essay again. That one that got accepted for me recently was actually submitted to a writing contest the year before, which rejected it. I then reworked it, tried again with ANOTHER contest, that rejected it. And in the midst of a ton of submissions, I reworked it yet another time, and finally it got accepted. I truly feel yours will too!

  6. How awesome that you are going to share your journey with your students. That's the kind of thing they need to see.

    Good luck with your rewrite! I love watching my work change and grow.

    Hmm . . . couldn't figure out any other way to work that in.

  7. Jeanine--Thanks for the encouraging words. I am definitely going to revise my most recent essay. The other one? I'll have to dust it off a bit before looking at it again.

    Theresa--I've heard that story before--that a rejected piece can later be accepted by several editors. It's somehow easier to accept/believe when it pertains to someone else. ;)

    Renee--You've hit the nail on the head. It IS a unique animal... an artform that's different from other forms of writing.

    Angela--You started this Chelsey Clammer fandom in me, when you bought that critique for me. Now you've done it again. I signed up for her class last night. What a salesperson you are. ;)

    Nicole--Yes, I will rework and resubmit. However, I don't know if I will have the same results as you...

    Sue--I am aghast. You had trouble fitting in an ellipsis? For shame, for shame, for shame.

  8. Well, first of all, who doesn't love a good ellipsis? It''s...I don't even have the word for it. :-)

    But more importantly, can I just add how inspiring you must be as a teacher? When students see that even teachers struggle, THAT'S a lesson! I call that winning in my book, Sioux.

  9. Cathy--Everybody needs a ellipsis. Or two. Or twenty.

    And a good ellipsis? That's redundant. There's no such thing as a bad ellipsis. ;)

    Thanks. It's truly a joy writing alongside my students.


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