In working through some of my blog posts in the last years, there have been times when I would look at a final draft of a post and then think to myself that it was pretty good, but for some reason it didn’t quite fit with the overall theme of my blog. Rather than rethink the piece, I would just put it on the shelf and maybe the right time and place to post it would find me.
A few months ago, such an opportunity presented itself when I started receiving emails about the annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Writing Competition. I thought that this might be an opportunity to pick up one of those shelved stories and fine-tune it for the purposes of the competition.
With that decision made, in the days that followed, it was with great enthusiasm that I would come home from work, speed through dinner and rush to my desk to chip away at the story, several times per week. The writing competition definitely stoked my enthusiasm for writing again.
While I have never had delusions of grandeur about my skills as a writer, confidence was running high as the themes of the story were current, relevant and would definitely resonate with certain readers. To achieve that, I dug deeply (veeeeeeryy deeeeeeeply) for the material, breaking open some old wounds.
Ever the optimist, I was confident enough that this story had a decent chance. I went so far as to investigate the tax implications should a Canadian win prize money from a contest held in the United States. Much like a lottery ticket, you just don’t know when your numbers (or in this case, your submission) might come up. As the self-appointed honorary boy scout, I wanted to be prepared just in case I won.
As the deadline was approaching, additions and editorial changes started slowing down. The story was maturing. But after the numerous revisions, it felt like I was in the eleventh month of pregnancy and just dying to get this thing delivered to the competition. Nonetheless, confidence and excitement were running even higher now. I was proud of my work.
I printed out the story and read it out loud to editor extraordinaire, Ivy the Wonder Cat, to be absolutely sure I didn’t miss any silly little typos or that my adverbs were needlessly abundant. When I finished, she rolled onto her back and stuck her paws up in the air as if to say, “It’s fine. Now rub my belly.” I assume that’s about as much of a ringing endorsement as I will get from the feline segment of my audience.
But at the same time, something started happening. I wasn’t feeling very well. With each word in the final revision, my stomach churned and gurgled. I started feeling sick to my stomach.
Even though it was a work of fiction inspired from events in my life, will anyone recognize me in the story? What if it actually wins and it gets published? Was I ready to have it read by others? Was it too revealing? Was it too personal? Did I dig too deeply for the sake of fiction?
Why did these feelings kick in only now, just as I was about to hit send? Why didn’t these feelings kick in when I first thought of entering the contest? Why didn’t these feelings surface at any point during the editing process? It’s not like these thoughts didn’t have ample opportunity to cross my mind before. But why now, when I was days away from the deadline?
Beads of sweat were popping out of my forehead. The rumbling in my stomach was now registering on the Richter scale. The confident writer was now crying in the corner of my mind. I just couldn’t do it. I had to put it back on the shelf, even with the deadline fast approaching. Now, not only was I stressing about my submission, but I was stressing about the deadline too.
In the following days, speaking with a few friends helped me gain perspective and realize that winning would be a tremendous stroke of beginner’s luck. I finally returned to the PC, closed my eyes tightly and hit the “Send” button.
In the weeks that followed, as the judging was going on, I forgot about the entry altogether as work got pretty busy.
A few weeks later, I noticed that there was an email from Writer’s Digest in my inbox. My heart started beating with such intensity, it felt like it was going to pop out of my chest. Beads of sweat started trickling like a zen fountain, as thunder rolled through my stomach. I took a deep breath before double-clicking.
I quickly scanned through the message. My eyes stopped on the statement that “all of the winners have been contacted”.
It was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand I was sad that the story didn’t even make it to the runner-up list, but on the other hand, I was relieved. I didn’t take it personally whatsoever.
But just to be absolutely sure I didn’t win, I searched my inbox, my junk mail folder and the spam folder to reconfirm that I wasn’t one of those winners who have been contacted.
Where was Mr. Confidence now?
While my finished product may not have made the cut, I still feel like a winner in having taken another baby step as a writer and feel as though I have already grown personally and professionally from the experience.
This experience also introduced me to a new range of writer’s emotions I would never have anticipated, which I realize will probably fade over time as I apply to competitions more often.
I just need to allow myself the freedom to feel those emotions, to learn to peacefully coexist with them and to disconnect the emotion behind a written product before hitting the send button. And most importantly, to do all that well before the deadline.
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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
5 responses to “My First Writing Competition”
Bravo! Do we get to read your story?
Hi Jena, thanks very much!
I haven’t decided yet what to do with it, but my inclination is to try working at it some more and maybe resubmit it next year.
We’ll see where inspiration takes me! Thanks again and have a great day!
Andre, Farley Mowat is one of my favourite authors, yet not every piece is necessarily one that has resonated with me. Likewise with judges for competitions. No matter the claimed neutrality in judging, there still, deep within, is a chord in each of those judges which resonates whether they personally appreciate the full extent of the piece, no different then people looking at a piece of art. Not everyone appreciates, a Renoir, Monet or Picasso. In many ways it is not unlike the numerous times we have sat around boardroom tables during our work and left feeling the others in the room did not see the merit of the points we raised. We keep persevering. Keep writing, keep posting, keep submitting, and if nothing else let that roller-coaster of emotions in the process remind you, you are alive and contributing to life.
Thank you so much for your thoughts and observations. You are absolutely right in that the story, the way it is, may not have resonated here, but it could elsewhere. Or maybe it needs a few changes to hit the mark with the judges.
Either way, I am glad I did it and look forward to trying again, whether with this story or another one. It is what I love doing.
Your encouragement is most appreciated!
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