How Competition Makes Me a Better Writer

Some of my favorite bloggers right now are the ones competing with me in the weekly writing contests organized by Yeah Write. Yeah Write is a marvelously attractive site, very visual with great weekly challenge questions like ‘how come no one warned me?’ and and this week’s ‘what do we have to lose?’ to which bloggers can respond with fiction, nonfiction, or a 42-word flasher. Each category has its own deadline during the week and each is voted on separately by readers who are strongly encouraged and guided to read all of the entries before selecting their three favorites.

The popular vote is one thing. It’s great to rank first or come up in the top row. But two things are way more important to me than the vote results. The first is other bloggers’ comments. For a person who aspires to be a writer, works hard at it, and is a pretty steady blogger, I’m a terrible commenter. But these other folks are really good at it. They leave comments that analyze my writing, tell me what I did in a piece that I had no idea I was doing, and pick out the sentences they thought were especially striking. Their comments are so thoughtful, so intelligent, my ‘wow, this is amazing. I loved it!’ comes up as completely seventh grade in comparison. The substance of other writers’ comments has pushed me to take the time to analyze the essays I read even though it’s hard and reminds me of the poetry class I took at Michigan State where the instructor laughed out loud that I compared some stanza in an old poem to the Beatles’ The Fool on the Hill. Oh well. Time to get over it.

The second lovely thing about Yeah Write is the editors’ picks and comments. So, in addition to the popular voting, the Yeah Write editors post their top three picks from that week’s entries. Sometimes these parallel the popular voting but a lot of times they don’t. The editors look for the unique story that is well-told (technically); they say they use a rubric and I believe them since they post the actual rubric. I’m so much of a reactor that the discipline of a rubric seems restraining, too complex. I am, after all, the person who fell for a guy (30+ years ago, the same guy sitting downstairs now watching football) because of how he looked in jeans and Frye boots. Lucky the YW editors weren’t around then to insist on more careful assessment.

When the editors pick, they explain. Here is a Yeah Write’s comments about a piece I posted on Yeah Write last week that addressed very difficult dimensions of my hearing loss. The piece, titled Blindsided, was probably the most honest and cathartic piece I’ve written in a very long time. This essay was different, more personal and way more honest. I hesitated to post it in a writing competition but it fell into good hands both in terms of the editors and the other writers whose comments helped me see the strengths to build on. You know, weirdly, I felt like I could trust these strangers with this piece of work.

Jan’s voice is so clear in her piece this week about her hearing loss. The phrase, “I wasn’t prepared for this,” is repeated several times and breaks down the ways in which Jan was blindsided, tying the essay together quite nicely. This part struck me particularly: “No one told me… how to accept what can’t be changed but not give an inch away too early.” I am haunted by the idea presented that accepting the loss is about doing so in stages, about carefully monitoring where she is at and neither getting ahead of nor lagging behind something that’s moving at a rate she cannot control. This is a beautifully sad narrative but it has notes of empowerment and hope at the end leaving the reader with the same uncertainty I believe Jan may have been feeling when she wrote this.

You know what this editor’s comment and the other writers’ comments did for me? They made me feel like a legitimate writer. Not a pretender or a hobbyist but someone capable of doing decent work that is meaningful to others. So it was well worth the risk to post the piece, enter it in a competition, allow it to be read and evaluated by people who don’t know me and have no reason to indulge my feelings.

So a message to other bloggers: those of you who think you’re writers or want to be writers but you hang back because you’re afraid of being judged, stop it. Write your best work and show it to people who know what they’re looking at. Not your friends, not your admirers. Strangers. Strangers who are writers who believe in being generous to help other writers. That’s my favorite bunch of folks right now.

And there’s room for more, room for you. Come on.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Recently Acquired.”

9 Comments on “How Competition Makes Me a Better Writer

  1. Wow, Jan, this made me think. Perhaps its time to put on my big girl pants and venture out of the safe niche I’ve been writing in for some time now.


  2. I love this idea and have resisted b/c I’ve had my own agenda of things to write. But, you’re right. Wonderful to broaden your scope and get feedback from a new group!


  3. This is exactly what yeah write has done for me in the past few years: Made me believe I’m a writer. I haven’t been as active as I was when I was an editor, but I still apply what I’ve learned from reading amazing writers (like you!) to every piece I write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t imagine being an editor at Yeah Write. The submissions are so unique – how can you ever judge them? I think Yeah Write is just so well done. It’s ridiculous.


  4. Thanks for posting, Jan. I didn’t know about “Yeah, Write,” and intend to check it out!

    BTW: I’ve been losing my hearing since I was in my thirties; genetic, same as my dad and his mom did. Dying or defective ear hairs, apparently. Slowly getting worse and mostly affecting speech recognition, but getting more obvious now that I’m 60 and have a hard time understanding phone conversations or any conversations when there is background noise or the speaker turns away or has a low voice. Can’t distinguish words in soft voices from anyone. Very funny misunderstandings ensue.

    I would say “I hear you” to show empathy, but….

    Best to you,



  5. I’d love to comment but I too feel like a 7th grader among PhDs. So I’ll just say, hells yeah to all of this and to the wonderful editors and writers at Yeah Write who make you work harder and be a stronger writer each time you show up and put yourself in the game.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I consider myself a reader more than I’ll ever consider myself a writer and as a reader your work always grabs my attention, makes me think, and makes me relate.

    Liked by 2 people

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