Write Club is an annual contest run by the inestimable DL Hammons (@DL_H) in partnership with the DFW Writers Conference. During Write Club the community of readers and writers comment on and vote between anonymously submitted 500 word excerpts in an elimination-style competition. The participants all get feedback regarding their writing, and the winner earns a free pass to the following year’s DFW Writers Conference.
Below is part one of a journal compiled of the notes I took throughout my experience this year. Author links were added after the fact.
Feb 29, 2016
Last night, I suddenly remembered that Write Club 2016 starts soon. I discovered this contest while I was signing up to go to the DFW Writers Conference recently. As part of my personal query-something-every-month rule, I decided to enter.
I submitted the first 500 words of Impact, a short story about a bullied high school boy. I look forward to reading and voting on the other submissions. I suck at networking and small talk, so having something specific to talk about when connecting with other writers will be helpful.
Checking the calendar this morning, I realize there’s still a week before they start posting excerpts, so I have another week to worry that opening myself up to anonymous criticism from random strangers on the internet was maybe not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not sure I want my piece to be chosen.
Mar 7, 2016
Write Club 2016 started today with a cleverly retold Little Red Riding Hood by Marie de France (Susan Chapek, @SusanChapek)and a compelling description of one young woman’s early morning walk-of-shame by Zom. It took me all day to decide which I liked better (Zom for the captivating use of language). Obviously, the competition is going to be strong. I posted my own vote and commentary despite feeling like an incompetent impostor. There are lots of people voting and commenting, and none of them are being nasty!
Mar 14, 2016
I post daily on Facebook about Write Club. Since I haven’t mentioned that I’m actually IN Write Club, I’m sure this is annoying many of my friends and family.
I’ve also revamped the way I use Twitter, by which I mean I’m actually using it. There’s a vibrant writer community on Twitter filled with announcements, inspiration, grammar jokes and encouragement. It’s like having a constant, revolving writing club right in your computer.
Mar 16, 2016 – morning
I faithfully check the Write Club battles every morning, often doing my reading before I even get out of bed. Each glimpse into another writer’s craft fascinates me. This morning I finished reading Vodka’s thrilling excerpt about a horrific car accident and a mysteriously dangerous woman and scrolled down to the second entry of the day …
The blood vessels in my neck felt hot and tight as I read my own words on the screen. I tried to imagine how it sounded to people who aren’t intimately familiar with each sentence, each word. I cringed in a few spots.
Mar 16, 2016 – evening
So, I spent all day obsessively refreshing the post. This flies directly in the face of Life Rule #1: Don’t Read The Comments, but I can’t help it. I must know what each person thinks of my story and I must know immediately!
Each positive comment leaves me a little dizzy with confusion. Are they really talking about me? Each negative (but still respectful) critique inspires in me a burning desire to explain. (But if you could just read this later scene you’d see …) I successfully resist going to battle in my own defense. Instead I roll the comments around in my brain, testing them for accuracy.
Mar 22, 2016
Voting closed on my head-to-head round! I won! I didn’t vote for myself. It felt too awkward to talk about my own piece in third person.
So, what did I learn from this first round?
- Readers like to make assumptions, especially if the beginning of your piece is filled with misleading foreshadowing.
- It is possible to resist responding to comments, but it’s not easy.
- For every reader who thinks your word choice is perfect, there’s another one out there who thinks you need vocabulary lessons. That’s the beauty of differing opinions: even though you can’t please everyone all the time, most times you manage to please someone.
- Write Club commenters are nothing like the rest of the interwebz. They are a thoughtful, respectful bunch.
I can’t wait to see what the next rounds bring.
Mar 29, 2016
My cage match bout was posted today using the same 500 word excerpts as last round. I’m up against Ann McKnight’s (Jennifer Camiccia, @JenCamiccia) story of a scared teenager in the car with her psychotic step-father, which I voted for in the first round, and Marie de France’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, which managed to intrigue me in the first round even though I don’t normally like updated fairy tales. Knowing I am battling excerpts I respected so much in the first round adds a new layer of anxiety. I know exactly how many other people loved these pieces before and it scares me!
Mar 30, 2016
I created an elaborate chart for tracking the votes (in all the matches, not just mine) as they come in, and I’m spending WAY too much time refreshing the voting pages to update it. Write Club has reached the levels of obsession!
Apr 1, 2016
I won my cage match! The voting was much closer this week – my heart pounded every time Ann or Marie got a vote. I decided to vote for myself, reasoning I would feel stupid losing because I lack self-confidence. If I ran for president, I’d vote for myself, right? It feels super awkward, though, and I keep imagining the other contestants raising an eyebrow over it at the end of the contest.
I enjoy the varying perspectives in the comments. Many have helped me improve my own critiquing style. I’m still impressed with the civility of this large group of anonymous commenters. Some of the critiques carry a little sting, often because they are true. The perfectionist in me hates realizing that I missed something. Once I shake off the “but wait…let me explain” moment, I appreciate how the suggestions can help me.
Apr 3, 2016
I sit frozen at my computer waiting for the official email telling me I’ve won. It’s the modern equivalent of sitting by the phone in high school, waiting for a boy to call. I spent the week agonizing over which excerpt to send next. The comments about my current piece have been very positive, but many who voted against me did so because they “knew” it was going to end on a dark note. If I send the end of Impact as my next excerpt, I can fix that misunderstanding, but that’s not one of the excerpts I have ready. I’m not sure if I can cut the ending down to an effective 500 word excerpt.
I trimmed every last bit of fat from the end of Impact and I think I created an excerpt that will provide some closure to the first excerpt. I had to have Mikey click SEND to stop me second-guessing myself.
Although I tried to keep this short and sweet, it’s obvious that I failed. Catch the second half of my Write Club 2016 journal tomorrow.