What are your writing habits? With five children and a full time job, how do you find time to write?
I have no life, LOL. When the kids were home I was gone every night of the week to their sporting events but wrote on the weekends and all summer. Since they've left, a lot of my weekends are spent traveling to spend time with them. I'm adept at writing in the car and have had to start writing frequently on week nights, which I detest. But deadlines keep me honest. There's something about accepting an advance that reeks of expectation!
When my daughter played volleyball and every Sat. was an all day tournament, I was the mom sitting in the bleachers with the laptop :) I just stopped writing when she was playing.
What are your sources of inspiration and motivation? At different points during the writing/editing process, I think, "this is terrible! No one's going to want to read this!"
I don't think self-doubt ever goes away. I spend days away from the manuscript convinced that it sucks, it's going to bomb in sales, the editor is going to hate it...and then I get back into it and think, hey this isn't half bad :) Self doubt is helpful in that it keeps us striving to do our best. It's crippling when it becomes so paralyzing that you can't produce because of it. At one point in my career I had to eliminate things in my life that made me feel bad about my own writing. I dropped my RT subscription :) at that time because even though my reviews were good, reading others' made me fall into the rut of comparison and that is poison for a writer. I had to learn to concentrate on the things I could control. It's really the only way to retain your sanity in this business.
Some writers make a positive affirmation board. They list nice things crit partners or contest judges etc. have said about their work and post it by the computer. It helps to look up and reflect on the fact that others believe we have talent.
Reading great writing from other authors inspires me to write. I always come home from conferences exhausted, but with the creative well refilled. It's quite wonderful to get to spend several days talking writing with other writers. As supportive as my family is, none of them quite 'get it'. When I told them all that Berkley had made an offer on my trilogy one of my sons says, "You mean the university? That's cool." 'Nuff said :)
Most aspiring writers have full time jobs, families, and other commitments. Do you think it is worth spending time/money on contests to build a list of writing accolades to include in query letters?
If that's all you could hope to attain by entering contests, then no, it wouldn't be worth it. The accolades etc. might make the query letter sparkle a bit more, but unless things have changed drastically, query letters most frequently elicit an invitation to submit if they are in the ball park at all as far as appropriateness to the line. But you can get so much more from a contest.
1) Select those contests that pride themselves on providing the most feedback to aspiring writers. The Daphne is one such contest (for suspense); the Lone Star, I think it's called, is another. Those are the types worth the money. You'll get feedback from three judges and you can compare it and look for commonalities. Wherever you see trends emerge (two out of three mention your pacing; all praise your voice but give feedback starting the story in the wrong place) that's where you focus your revision energies.
2) I would tend to steer people away from the contests that judge on your hook or best kiss, or best scene when the h/h meet. Why? The parameters are too narrow for the feedback to be of much use to you. Why pay to get feedback on one scene or just a few pages? Just not enough bang for your buck. The only exception is if you are working to improve one of those areas, and you want to use the contest to judge how you're doing in that area.
3) Look for contests that have submission / judging by an editor or agent as the prize or final round. It's a good way to get recognition from the people who can do you the most good .