Having a blog about writing is odd, because I’m not sure how much ‘writing’ I can actually share. I know what I am doing right now is writing, but I mean stories and pieces that one day I might want to do more with.
We live in a digital world, where posting content on your obscure blog can still mean it’s published, and therefore, technically you can’t then submit it to a competition or try to get it published in the traditional way. You can’t even submit your short story to a woman’s magazine if it’s been published elsewhere before. Obviously submission criteria are all different, but the fact remains that I’m bordering on paranoia with what I allow to be seen online.
A case in point is a recent poem I wrote. That makes it sound like I’m always penning verses, but this was my first attempt since school. I got some good feedback from friends and family, and was going to share it on this blog, but then I decided to be brave and enter it in a competition. As part of the submission criteria, it stated that the poem could not be previously published, including online.
When you submit to a publication or competition, there are always numerous specific (read pedantic) rules about what font size to use, what spacing to use, how to label documents, how to pay for entry and what letter your name can start with (just kidding on the last one). I wonder how many people never make it through to even being read because they haven’t used the right margins.
It reminds me of a teacher at my secondary school who, in the run up to exams, set a test where the first instruction was to read right the way through to end. There was one smug individual who followed the instructions, and discovered the last instruction was to not complete the test, but to put their pencil down and leave the hall. They sauntered out, whilst the rest of us witless fools scowled incredulously and doggedly got back to fiendish quadratic equations.
The point, to read the instructions before starting, could have been made without embarrassing the entire class; but then, what teacher is going to pass up the opportunity for a bit of peace and quiet and chance to say ‘I told you so’.
I digress. Once I battled through the submission criteria and made sure I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, I then had to actually press the button and submit my precious piece of work. Each piece of writing is part of my soul laid bare. It takes a special kind of courage to be vulnerable and put your inner self out there. Either that, or have a very thick skin.
Submitting a piece feels like a cross between submitting my dissertation and entering a lottery. Relief and a frisson of excitement. I allowed myself a modicum of a daydream that I might win, that perhaps I’ll dazzle the judges with my similes. Then you do what I did, and look at past winners. The top three entries from the last competition were won by multi-prize winning poets with published work and one is an editor of a literary journal. My heart sank. How can my little poem stand up to these greats? But, I’m still clinging to that elusive ‘what if?’
Now I have to wait and see whether my literary baby passes muster. One competition I entered last November didn’t announce the winners until the following March. Women’s magazines routinely have a six to eight month turnaround to reply.. As an aside, a lot of magazine publications ask for actual paper-based manuscripts to be physically posted to them. In 2020.
In that competition , when the winners were announced, the lingering ember of hope was extinguished as I read the winning pieces. I grudgingly forced myself to acknowledge their superiority, learned from the experience and moved on. This arduous process is repeated every time you submit for a slight chance of gaining recognition from experienced writers.
I don’t know why they should be the people who decide whether your writing is ‘worthy’? Surely readers will do that, but winning a competition is one of the best way to get readers. The judges are the gatekeepers to this particular castle in the sky. I’m trying to put this particular competition out of my mind for now, and look to the next one. It’s a good way of honing my technique, and if I do get feedback, a good way of listening to critique. One day, just maybe, I might get placed. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right?