So, I’ve won another writing competition – but I can’t announce which one it is just yet (more news in due course). I’m also a finalist in another competition, which I can talk about. It is the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award a well-thought of competition from a well-thought of publication.
The reason I mention these successes is that they come after a hiatus, that will-sucking vacuum of rejections and near-misses that makes you feel like you are the astronaut trapped in the capsule while the buzz cuts get to frolic on the moon (and then when you go back to earth, there’s no doubt a whole line of people telling you how, just like the Olympics, it’s the taking part that matters, and you have to smile and try not to beat them over the head with your goldfish bowl helmet).
But with writing competitions, those annoying people would be right – it is the taking part that counts. Getting short lists and long lists in competitions can be a simple, effective way of being motivated not just to write more, but to hone craft, be bolder with themes and ideas, really nail voice and tone.
Getting a listing may persuade you to tweak an existing story and be a little more careful with the editing. To extend the metaphor well beyond the manufacturer’s agreed limits, taking part is a bit like showing you the moon through the world’s best telescope. You can see things more clearly, understand where you want to go, but know that it is still a long way away and you have to do more to get there.
Getting a win is, in some ways, a trickier cat to shave.* Winning can add a little complacency to the mix. No matter how much you try to keep your feet on the ground, you end up floating a cigarette-paper’s width above. You imagine that somehow there’s less to fix, less effort to make, that you have reached some sort of new level.
In truth, it rarely turns out that way. I’ve only been writing seriously since 2011, so I don’t have years of experience with competitions, but I have entered, placed or got nowhere in enough of them to know that you can’t judge things on a few competition successes. Great though they are, the only thing you should do in response is to use it as a small leap towards being a better writer.
So, I’m very pleased to have won one and be in the running for the other, but I will also be trying to practice what I preach and use it as a spur, not a resting place.
*Please note: No cats were depilated in the construction of this sentence. I merely wanted to get away from moon/astronaut analogies for a moment.