The winner of the Splice Today writing contest will be announced in a few days. As an editor at Splice, I had the opportunity to be a judge for the contest. I feel honored to have been asked to do this by my publisher; he could have simply chosen a winner, instead he asked for my input. As I write this, I don’t know who will win. We received several hundred entries (no doubt spurred by the $1000 first prize), and I’m appreciative of every single one of the people who took the time to share stories from their lives. I received what the publisher considered the best 17 and was told to rank my top five.
As an editor, I read stories every day. We have a talented stable of writers at Splice, and their work is consistent. Some pieces I like more than others, and luckily my colleague, who is also judging the contest entries, edits sports pieces because ugh, sports, and he also does most music pieces, because I’m a music moron too. But none of the contest entries were sports or music related because they were all autobiographical/memoir style pieces, which happen to be my most favorite genre to read.
The 17 pieces affected me in several ways. First, I had to struggle with my own natural instinct to think every other writer is better than me. Most writers are self-conscious, and I’m no exception. But this wasn’t about me (most writers are also narcissists), so I pushed aside my own annoying insecurity and just immersed myself in the worlds of 17 people.
My judging standards were up to me, so here are a few things I went with from the gut. First, if there are spelling and/or grammatical errors in the first paragraph, I’m going to have an automatic prejudice towards your piece. This is a contest with a grand at stake, not a ninth grade English class assignment, hoss, so maybe you should’ve taken precautions to be sure your grammar ducks were in a row. If you don’t know the difference between it’s and its and you’re and your, I really don’t want to end up editing pieces by you every week as part of my job. Of course, I finished reading the piece, but man, it would have to be a compelling story and otherwise perfect for you to get me to overlook my Catholic nun indoctrination.
Second, the opening. I should want to read the rest of your story after I read the first line to your story, or at least its first paragraph. As a reader, I should be sucked into your world immediately so that I want to stay there for several thousand words. There was only one piece I read where I loved the first line and ended up not liking the story. There were a few I ended up loving that didn’t have a stunner first line, but they had me in the first 50 words. I wanted to know what was going to happen.
Third: move me. The difference between the 13 stories that didn’t make it into my ranked top four (there was a tie for fifth so I left them both out of the top five) and those that did are that I cared. I wanted to know what happened to the people, not only at the end of the story, but before and after the story in their lives. A few made me laugh, one made me cry. I hope it is my pleasure to edit and especially to read the work of some of these gifted writers in the future.
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the contest entries. Your comment about struggling with your own natural instinct to think every other writer is better than you is a familiar sentiment. I'm relieved to know that at least one other writer feels this way too. :)
I'm curious how good the other entries were, compared to the winners... wish I could read more.
We are hoping to publish more entries in coming weeks. At least, I've been lobbying my boss to run my top picks.
Eager to read the winner. Not life-changing, but nice f dental bill paying money, the grand I hope hits the spot for top Splice scribbler.
...all I gotta say is: art is definitely subjective.