I’d already been writing for a while when I had the crazy notion that maybe, just maybe my work was good enough to do something more than sit on a shelf. Obviously it wasn’t as good as the books on my actual bookshelves, but it wasn’t terrible. After a bit of encouragement interspersed with questions such as ‘Why isn’t yours as good as_____’, ‘do you like it? Well why won’t other people then?’, and ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I convinced myself that not only was my writing not terrible, but it was quite reasonable, I enjoyed reading it, and at least it didn’t have as many typos as some of those already published. The question was, how to go about this monumental change? Bedroom typist to published author? I didn’t think so. Having considered the problem, I decided that entering competitions would be a good a way to ease into things – have a go and get some feedback without putting anything major out there. This idea was confirmed in various articles I read about getting started with writing.
I thought competitions would be the way to go because: there are a wide variety; they run throughout the year; they encourage you to actually write, which is supposedly one of the best ways to improve your writing; winning or being shortlisted – more important than the prize itself – will boost your confidence; they’ll get you used to working to deadlines and word limits; they might actually give you ideas and get you writing something you hadn’t thought of doing yourself, like a different genre.
Unfortunately I didn’t so much consider the flip side: winners contacted/announced after long waiting times which come and go with no news; the unstoppable hope that maybe this time. . . only to find out the answer’s no again; getting no feedback whatsoever, just the un-comforting message that: ‘we had so many entries this year. . . such a high standard. . . doesn’t mean you’re work isn’t good. . . only the opinion of this team for this instance. . .keep writing and good luck.’ And sure, all that encouraging stuff they tell you is perfectly true. It also doesn’t always help.
With feedback, I know they say upfront that they can’t do that for individual entries, which I get because they probably have thousands to read through, but how exactly is entering competitions supposed to improve your writing then? You don’t know if your entry missed going through by a teeny tiny bit or a mile, and although they say the standard was high, that doesn’t mean your own work reached that high standard. What I mean is, if you don’t know more precisely why your efforts didn’t get through, you can’t make your next attempt better. On the other hand, even if one competition told you why you didn’t get through, that issue might not apply to anything else because a different competition might be looking for completely different things. It’s infuriating!!
Which brings us neatly to; it’s just like sending a manuscript to a publisher but in miniature. You have slightly shorter waiting times (on the whole) for competitions, but there’s the mixed feelings after hitting send, the long wait, the expectation and hope even if you’ve told yourself you’re not going to get it. The chest-punch when you scan that shortlist or reply. . . read it through again more slowly. . . check that all the details are right, because they might have got the wrong story or the wrong person somehow. . . and the deflation when it really sinks in that it’s another ‘no thanks’. (Everyone that I’ve come across is terribly polite, which I approve of even if it doesn’t make the news any better!)
Do I try again? Do I really want to keep putting myself through this? The doubting questions flicker through my thoughts, sometimes sticking around for a while before I managed to squash them. So far the rejections haven’t stopped me – I don’t think I could stop writing completely – however they do make me wonder if seeing your story in print is worth everything most of us have to go through to get it there. I’ve heard other people say it is, that there’s nothing else like it, but sometimes I can’t help wishing I’d stayed a secret writer. . .
. . . Then I hit that ‘send’ button one more time.