One thing I am learning as I grow older is that the writing world is a really really big place, and there are a lot of people attempting to break into it. It seems to me that every rejection email I get begins with "We had an astonishing number of entries" or, "We have chosen from 280 entries" or even "We were inundated with high quality entries." Actually, once I won a competition and the Judge's report began with something along the lines of "I was concerned by the general tendency for navel-gazing amongst all stories submitted this year," which is just a great way to talk to young writers, don't you think? (Now, in my twenties, I actually appreciate this honesty but at the time, I put a black mark next to this person's name on my shovel list. Marian Keyes reference for you right there. Deblina will get it.) Still, I keep entering competitions, despite these tough odds, confident that if I keep practising, eventually I will beat them.
Last year, I took a year off from it because I was doing my honours degree and I was supposed to spend all my writing time, you know, doing my honours. I did a fair bit of writing on the side as well, just to keep the voices in my head at bay. (I don't really have voices in my head...) I didn't send these stories anywhere. I didn't have time. For my trouble I won an award for my honours thesis. Plus bragging rights. How on earth do I top that?
This year, I've been entering loads of competitions and being rejected by them. Just because I'm a glutton for punishment, here's a bit of a look at my 'wins' versus my 'losses' this year.
WINSI was invited to read an excerpt at the Subiaco Library by local author Annabel Smith.
I was a state representative blogger in the reviewing process for the update of Dear Writer by Carmel Bird
I did not get accepted into the Ampersand project at Hardie Grant (for my YA novel which needs to have a major redraft and become an adult novel because that's what I prefer.)
I did not get into the Big Issue fiction edition, most likely because the theme was "Make me Smile" and I wrote about a starving artist type and his fickle, drug addled girlfriend, but hey, I thought I was being ironically funny.
I was not even short listed for the Best Blogs competition run by the Australian Writers Centre
The Sleepers Almanac rejected two of my short stories, one of which was about four girls living in a house made out of soap, one of whom had a genetic disorder that caused her to become a nymphomaniac on the full moon. The other was about art theft and religion.
My short story 'Shinjuku 2020' was rejected by the Carmel Bird Short Story Competition, but to be fair the theme was The Twilight Zone, which I've never watched.
Last week my novel, my precious baby, was not included in the shortlist for the QWC/ Hachette Manuscript development program. By the way, best of luck to all those who were shorlisted.
And yesterday the short story I wrote earlier this year that my Mum loved so much she restored my faith in my ability to write was rejected by the Overland short story prize.
It's probably not healthy to look at them all stacked up like that. It's a little bit like writing a resume for despair, and this is supposed to be a hopeful and inspiring post. So let me tell you what I have learned this wonderful year. It is the secret to happiness in writing.
Your achievements are not measured in how often you get published but by how steadily you improve.
If you want to, write that on a piece of cardboard and stick it above your computer or desk. Make it a daily affirmation. I certainly need to. When I'm sitting in the bathtub with my knees up to my chest and sobbing like a little baby because my book got rejected by Hachette/ QWC, I should be thinking that. I should have been thinking that, because that particular rejection happened last Tuesday and for some reason I was convinced that this year was going to be my year. But now it's nearly over, and I have a total of 0 non blog publications for this year. This leads people close to me to ask me why I keep submitting to competitions. Didn't they hear me say I am a glutton for punishment? But also, my darlings, you must be in it to even get close to winning it, and as Sylvia Plath once said,
I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.
The other thing I have learned is that I love to write. I love to lose myself in typing things, I love to handwrite things, I love to have my own head as a captive audience while I tell myself a story. I love it. At the moment, I am researching POW camps and trying to be Richard Flanagan, and I LOVE IT. I am elated to sit down to my work, I am elated to tell people about my progress (although always careful to write more than just talk about it.)
I have learned how to measure success from within. Everything else will come. That wins column will grow. I know it.