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So, what have I been doing this week?  Watching lots and lots of Olympics, certainly.  Who knew how interesting the trampoline could be?  Who even knew there was a trampoline event at the Olympics??  I’m also loving Kate Cambridge’s colored jeans and cute striped tops.  Plus, how hilarious is this Jezebel article about the top ten reason why Ryan Lochte is the world’s sexiest douchebag?  Good times….

But I am also trying to finish a new book, a Regency for Harlequin.  Wrapping up a story is always the hardest part for me.  Beginnings are fun, easy–the book is so shiny and new!  The characters haven’t made me mad or veered off on weird pathways yet!  Even middles aren’t bad, because I usually know what I’m trying to say about the characters at that point, we’ve gotten to know each other better and I see the shape of the plot clearer.  But endings–ugh.  For one thing, I always think I am closer to The End than I actually am, and it always takes much longer to get there than I plan.  Stuff doesn’t want to get solved, or it gets solved too fast.  When I feel frustrated, I turn to my Inspiration Board.

I actually have a cork board hanging on the wall next to my desk, where I stick things like postcards, book covers, scraps of fabric, whatever catches my attention.  (Also lots of pics of my 2 year old goddaughter being incredibly cute).  But now I’ve also started inspiration boards on Pinterest, to which I am completely addicted.  Yes, it’s yet another way to waste time online (like I needed another one of those!), but I also like looking at images that help me get a concrete idea of my book in my mind.  Plus there are always pics of cupcakes on there somewhere.  (You can follow me there at AmandaMccabe)

So what’s on my Pinterest board for this book?

This is the heroine’s house, called Barton Park in the book.  It’s an important part of the story–she moved back there when things went bad in her marriage, to live quietly with her sister and try to make sense out of what went wrong with her husband (and why she still loves him).  It has to be once-grand but now sort of shabby…

This is the garden maze, where important plot events happen…

This is the hero, Hayden, who is now sorry for what he did to lose his wife and now has to find a way to get her back…

This is the heroine, Jane, who at first doesn’t want to take him back…

See how fun this can be??  I also have boards for my Mary Queen of Scots book “Tarnished Rose of the Court” and the new Elizabethan mystery series, as well as a Wedding Ideas board.

What would be on your Idea Board?  What are you watching on the Olympics??

Jane Austen (“our” Jane Austen, not the real one) clued me in to the ArtsJournal website, which gathers interesting articles about the Arts from all over. Besides such fascinating topics as how insomnia shrinks the brain or, correspondingly, how napping makes you smarter, this article caught my eye, Why You’re Better Off Winning A Bronze Medal Than A Silver.

The logic is quite understandable. From the article:

“Third-place winners have upward thoughts (“at least I won”) that increase satisfaction, researchers have found, whereas those who come in second tend to have downward “if only” thoughts that decrease happiness.”

I think just being an Olympic athlete is a great achievement.

This got me thinking about the Romance Writing contests that abound at this time of year. Not only RWA’s Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts and the RITA for published, but the RWA chapter contests, like my home chapter’s Marlene Contest. Does the logic fit romance contests? I actively used contests to reach my writing goals, both when unpublished and published and I’ve been successful at both, winning both of RWA’s top prizes, the Golden Heart and the RITA.

For the published author contests, like the RITA, the Holt, NRCA, Golden Quill, etc., there is typically only one winner. Reaching finalist status does feel like an achievement, like winning the Bronze. Same is true for the Golden Heart.

But when I was entering lots and lots of unpublished contests, my feelings were different. If I was lucky enough to make the finals, I always prayed that I would at least get second place. To me, the Bronze merely meant my manuscript wasn’t good enough.

Now isn’t that silly?

The more rational part of me knows that, like in the Olympics where some events are measured in fractions of seconds, there may not be much difference between first place and third. I also know that reaching the finals is some validation of one’s writing skill, but not reaching the finals does not mean your manuscript isn’t just as good. Like figure skating, there is a subjective element. If your manuscript doesn’t reach the finals, then it may mean you got judges who subjectively scored it lower than other judges might have. I know I missed the finals on some unpublished contests because judges scored me low for what they assumed were errors in research, which, in fact, were not. These things happen, just like in some events of the Olympics, where judges might make mistakes because they know only what they subjectively see.

So, have you writers out there entered any contests this contest season? What are your hopes for the contests? What have you entered in the past? Have contests made you feel encouraged or discouraged about writing?

For readers, does it make a difference to you to know a book has won a contest? Does it make it more likely for you to read it, or does it make little difference? What contests mean the most to you, if any?

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