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Erin Cleary

  • Erin Cleary

Participation Trophies

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Participation trophies. Kids get them so they'll feel better when their team loses. Well, I am writing to tell you they can make adults feel better too! There is a valid argument that trophies like these will keep people from learning to lose gracefully, so it is important that they represent more than just your showing up. They do not take the place of a true win, and they do not mean you have done enough. Participation trophies must be viewed as a symbol of a goal you haven’t yet reached and not as the end result.

April was a busy month of applying for things, entering contests, and adding a few participation trophies to my own digital shelf. These trophies came in the form of what we aspiring writers call badges. They are the little graphic icon boxes we post somewhere on our websites to show that we are genuinely trying to make it in the children’s publishing world. They represent a contest we entered, some accomplishment we achieved, or some event we attended. It’s amazing the affect these little boxes have on my psyche as I dream of the day I will hold my very own stories as a printed books in my hands.

In the days after a contest’s winners are posted, social media gushes with announcements and congratulations. Not being on those lists can make it easy to lose sight of personal writing goals and to let discouragement overwhelm. Those were the days I copied and pasted my newest participation trophy onto my website. Each one is a visual reminder that even though I haven’t yet reached my goal, I am doing the work and getting out into the KidLit writing community. I like looking them over from time to time as encouragement to keep going.

There are some badges that mean more than participation trophies because they show the work I have done. When I realize how much I’ve accomplished this year alone, I am reassured that if I keep going at this pace, I will definitely find success. In four months, I have written eight first drafts manuscripts, entered two writing contests, applied for a mentorship program, read and studied over 450 picture books and 17 mid-grade novels, participated in three critique groups, come up with well over 100 picture book ideas (no, not all of them are great, but each idea could lead to another!), and filed away a few rejection letters from agents and editors.

The craziest thing is that even though I haven’t won any contests and the competition is so fierce that it’s a long shot each time, I’m sure I’ll keep doing it. I love the challenge of writing something that fits a set of guidelines, and it’s nearly impossible to ignore the, “what if?” question echoing in my head. In the end, losing and rejection are not going to stop me because I seriously cannot stop. Ideas keep flowing, fingers keep typing, curiosity keeps itching, inspiration keeps sparking. The sting of a loss always wears off, and I end up with a stronger drive to find success. My badges remind me that I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, I will be a published author one day!

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