Writing Competitions – Why Bother?

It’s there in black and white, the longlist and your name’s not on it. The disappointment sinks you. That voice starts nagging at your ear. ‘You’re fooling yourself about this writing malarkey; you must be, else you’d be up there too.’

Somehow you manage to scrape your fried-egg-ego off the floor and force yourself to start typing something new.

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Why do we do it, eh? Why do we waste 8 quid, 10 quid, sometimes 25 quid when, with more and more people entering writing competitions, we stand such a miniscule chance of being one of the chosen few.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence – what writer hasn’t? – but getting placed in this year’s Writers’ and Artists’ Short Story Competition was just the way to do it, I reckon. Enter the story then completely forget about the date that the results are revealed. I found out that my story Antelope had made the final 19 when another writer Tweeted me to tell me.

That’s so rarely the way it happens, right? I mean, how can you score through a date that’s so firmly etched into your brain?

So when the big day arrives and you discover your name’s not on the longlist, resist the urge to whack yourself over the head with a saucepan for not being quite good enough. Maybe you are, but if your work doesn’t strike a chord with the early readers in competitions, you’re out. Maybe you almost got through – who knows? – or maybe you just don’t have the same writing tastes as the judges.

Case in point – last year I was lucky enough to be in the Bristol Short Story Prize shortlist. Here’s a confession – I entered the same story, albeit a much shorter version, into the Yeovil Prize, and it wasn’t even placed. Even though, I like that story so much better than the one which Yeovil commended me for back in 2013.

BRISTOL PRIZE PIC

It’s all about your audience. So this year, right back at you, Yeovil; I’m hitting you with something new.

In fact, I’ve got that many short stories up my sleeve now, I’ve got one for every UK competition that’s going. Only I’m not going to enter everything – there’s only so much disappointment a girl can take.

So why bother entering anything at all – because being placed occasionally really does help to silence your own self-doubt, for a while at least. And it’s a small voice of encouragement that you might just be doing something right.

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When NOT to start Writing

Be patient. That’s what my soon-to-be-eighty dad told me last week.

I’d been chatting with my parents about writing, sharing my agitated ideas for my third novel with them.

‘Be patient,’ said my dad in his soft Irish lilt.

This from a bloke who has never kicked the cardboard on an Ikea flat-pack. This from a bloke who has hung doors without swearing. He goes on long walks on winter-thick days, my dad, and he’s the most patient person I know. Unknown

I’m pretending I’ve inherited the skill. I’ve forced myself to stop pacing; I’ve shut down my computer each night at nine. I’m still working on book three though, walking forwards with it: Listening, watching, waiting.

There are lots of ideas swilling around in my foggy head, it’s just I’m unsure they’re the right ones. There’s a story about a woman and a teenage girl. There’s a corrosive, white landscape. There’s a feisty little voice whispering at my ear.

Book three is gathering, percolating, but it’s a bit blurry still. I wrote 50,000 words of a book once which ended up in the trash can because I’d started without thinking it through properly. So for now, l’m doing like my dad and being patient. Because the best work comes from patience, don’t you think?