Yesterday, the lovely and talented Lady Patricia of Trakai dropped by the blog to leave a comment. And it got me to thinking.
First, for the record, although I am writing an eddic-style poem on early Storvik history, I'm not competing in the competition I'm sponsoring. It's for display only, and if their Excellencies have the time and inclination, for the amusement of the populace at court.
But past that... why compete? In general, it's a good bet that there's someone better than you entering the competition, just because we have so many awesomely dedicated and talented artisans in the SCA. Unless you know yourself to be the go-to person for a particular art or science, there's the distinct possibility that you could be up against the go-to person.
1. Winning really isn't everything. I give our fighters, heavy and rapier, and our archers a lot of credit here. Newbies or old pros, they compete in tournaments where, by luck of the draw, they could be up against someone with decades more experience. But they do it because it's fun. Hopefully, doing and exhibiting your art is fun, too.
It's absolutely intimidating to take your first sally into an art or craft and show it off to everyone. But honestly, most people in the SCA don't bite. We have a few meanies, but you are much more likely to find someone who will congratulate you on what you did right, offer you resources to continue your work, possibly want to start a local interest group with you (!), and will gently point out areas for improvement. The artisan community is usually full of bright and curious people who are a lot of fun, and competitions are a good introduction to meeting them and having more fun.
2. Competitions can be goals. Goal-setting, and follow-through, is one of those magical life skills that's supposed to help you solve all your problems. Well, that's asking a lot of it, but it sure does help sometimes. And for many people, an externally-set goal, with an external, hard deadline, is more real and compelling than one they set for themselves. Preparing for a competition can be the kick in the pants that gets you to finally finish a project and finally write up your documentation.
3. Feedback helps growth. The Flying Butt Monkey Institute of Statistics calculates that 90% of all A&S competitions provide those little feedback sheets to competitors. The quality of the feedback can vary, but I've never received another point of view that I just tossed aside as worthless. Even if you don't agree with the assessment, it's good to know how your work is being viewed by others.
4. If a stitch is embroidered in your house, does anybody else see it? If you are hoping for recognition in your field - not necessarily awards, but just a general awareness in your local area that you do Craft ABC and might be interested in working groups, or could talk to a newcomer about it, and so on - it helps to actually put examples of Craft ABC with your name on them out on a table so people can see it. (And it does help with awards. They can't give you one if they don't know about your skills.)
5. Win your own personal contest. Sometimes, you might know if you took second or third place in a competition. Sometimes, you won't. Always, you can compare your scoring sheet to your previous one. Did you address the judges' concerns from last time? Make improvements? Maybe just entering the contest is a personal win, or you set a goal to provide more than basic documentation and did it. You can use competitions as motivators to your own goals, not necessarily the obvious goal of winning the blue ribbon.
Why Not to Compete
1. Less than perfect feedback depresses you. If you know you don't want to hear about your own shortcomings, if that will send you into a week(s)-long funk... it's not worth it. Arguably, being able to accept constructive criticism is a good trait but... that's for you to work out on your own. If right now, today, it would deeply upset you, don't go looking for that.
2. You're already strongly goal-oriented, and the competition does not further your goals. You can spend a lot of time chasing competition themes and not make any progress on the work that interests you. Plan accordingly.
3. You're not strongly goal-oriented, and the competition does not further your goals. This is harder to diagnose. If you feel like you've been doing Craft ABC for a few years now, but you're not much better at it and you don't know where you're going with it, sit back and see if chasing competitions has made other, unstated goals take a backseat. See if you can state those goals that you really feel that you want to pursue, and ignore the competitions that would deny you the chance to work on them.
4. Your entry is nowhere near complete. It's one thing to show a work in progress; that can be kind of neat. It's another to enter some design sketches and a Wikipedia entry and call it "research in progress." If your project just needs hemmed or sanded or otherwise have a few finishing touches done, I'd say go ahead and enter it. If it's barely started, it's really not ready yet.