I recently came second place in the Newcastle Herald’s Summer Short Story competition with my story, The Deepest of Blues. I won my first ever prize for writing and it felt fantastic. Friends and family congratulated me, my story was published online, my name printed in the paper… it was a moment well worth celebrating.
But for every winner, there are loads who didn’t win. I know this because I have been that ‘not-winner’ many, many times over.
The Herald comp had just three winners. Then there were twenty-odd shortlisted entrants who almost made it, more than a hundred who entered but never heard back, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who considered entering the comp but for whatever reason didn’t meet the deadline.
That’s a lot of ‘not-winners’.
Over the ten years prior to this one, I’d entered around fifteen writing competitions. I’d laboured over every word, cut sentences and added scenes to meet word-counts, read and re-read submission guidelines, bugged my writing group with countless questions, struggled with printer settings and ran all the way to the post office on deadline day.
All that and never hearing back from any of the competition judges. Disheartening doesn’t begin to describe it.
So what kept this ‘not-winner’ going for all these years? What gave me motivation to keep writing and entering competitions?
1. I believed that my work was ‘almost good enough.’
Do you have that voice in your head that constantly says your writing’s not good enough? When you don’t hear back from competitions, do you scoff ‘no wonder I didn’t hear back!’ and try to forget you ever entered?
A few years ago, I decided to change my thinking on how competitions are judged. Instead of thinking that my work was ‘not good enough’ I now tell myself that it is ‘almost good enough’. Here’s how I do it.
I picture the judges sitting around a table covered in manuscripts. As they sift through the pages they all agree there are four clear favourites: my manuscript and three others. All the others are swept to the side. But there can only be three winners. I picture the judges discussing and considering, biting their nails, drinking cup after cup of coffee and having heated arguments over which three should win. Then eventually, in the early hours of the morning, they come to an agreement. Mine is regretfully moved to the ‘no’ pile and the other three are awarded prizes. My manuscript was ‘almost good enough’ but didn’t quite make it… this time.
Then, in my mind, all I need to do is focus on the one thing that pushed it to the ‘no’ pile and work on that for next time. Because I was so close.
Give it a go. Winning suddenly seems much more achievable when your work is ‘almost good enough’, doesn’t it?
2. I listened to the journeys of others
I met an award-winning published author the other day. When asked about her journey she said it was really easy, the words came naturally, she never questioned her work and publishers were queuing at her door from day one.
No, that didn’t happen. It’s all lies! In fact, I’m yet to hear anyone say the publishing journey is easy.
Authors will tell you that getting your work recognised is hard work. It usually takes years and years. All writers have moments of doubting their work – even the most successful ones.
It’s important that we seek out and hear these struggles from other writers, so we know it’s all perfectly normal.
I actually did meet the award-winning published author Jaye Ford the other day at a library talk. She writes crime thrillers and her latest book was set in my home town of Wangi Wangi. She talked about her ten year journey to get her book published and the challenges of raising a young family while writing. It was inspirational.
It was also a timely reminder that realising dreams is hard work but that doesn’t mean you should ever give them up. The greater the dream, the greater the reward at the end.
3. I simply loved writing
Above all, love what you do. Writing shouldn’t be laborious (at least not all the time). Enjoy it. If you are not enjoying it, try a change of tack. Put aside what you’re currently working on and do something completely different. Have fun participating in smaller projects like Friday Fictioneers or ABC Open 500 Words. Join a writing group. Do a creative writing course. Stop writing and just think about words for a while.
These things will put the spark back into your love of writing, and motivate you to get back to your bigger projects with fresh eyes and energy.
There is no easy way to win a writing competition.
But keep believing that your work is almost good enough, listen to the long journeys of others who have been down that path, and love love love what you do.
Then one day your manuscript will be the one moved to the ‘yes’ pile, and you’ll find that your years of hard work were all worth it.
Jessie Ansons writes personal, humorous snippets of life at http://www.jessieansons.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jessieansons.