|I looked blank when I won - mostly from surprise!|
When I was in college, I sent a short story to a library competition. I won first place, and somewhere in that library is a dusty tome in which that story is published and forgotten. Ever since then, my submissions to contests have not been smiled upon.
The complicated thing about contests is that a thousand poems or stories or even novels are sent, possibly from all over the world, to a few judges. They have to choose just one or three or ten creations worthy of a prize or an honorable mention. And yet these judges are human and have tastes and interests, like any human does. They cannot resist bias, so of course they chose what they love. Since they are usually the ones who fund and support the contest, it’s only fair that they should get to praise the discoveries that delight them.
On the other hand, if their taste leans one way or another, or their personal philosophy excludes this or that viewpoint, then they may accidentally be blind to the quality of some stories that are sent in. So, the writers at home who receive the news that their story did not place are doomed to wonder forever if it was because their story is terrible and worthless, or because by a fluke it didn't please the judges (though secretly it’s brilliant), or because it was truly a good story, just not as good as the best.
The difficulty, of course, is that we writers are as biased as those judges. When we do get to read the winning submissions, we often shake our heads and think, ‘But my story was that good.’
The thing we have to remember, though, is that our work might indeed be ‘that good.' Even so, there is always room for improvement. If we didn’t win the contest, we should view it as a personal spur to move on to better and better things.
In spite of such a heroic attitude, however, losing over and over again is discouraging. Especially if at the same time as you are losing contests, you are receiving rejections from agents. I’ve been there and done that, along with (I’m sure) countless other writers. We have to have occasional good moments to keep from descending into depression. These can be a nice comment on a blog post, a helpful critique on a story, praise for a poem…but for those of us who want to be published the most uplifting moment is – getting something published.
|One poem featured the beauty of Autumn!|
Some young writers and poets and scholars in Fort Worth, Texas, have banded together to start a journal of literature. They follow principles of literary criticism which I also was taught in college, so I was intrigued when one of the fledgling editors wrote to me and asked me for a submission. I sent four poems, and I’m happy to say that two were chosen for the inaugural issue of The Lost Country.
If you’d like to read them and investigate the journal, please follow the link! I’ll be intrigued to see how the journal develops in future issues.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that I now feel much more energized and encouraged. I’m even sorting through various publications to decide which might be a good fit for my poetry, so that I may submit more soon. The positive reinforcement of being chosen for any publication at all immediately makes it seem easier to try again in other places.
However, none of that nullifies my original point. I think it was Samuel Beckett who said ‘Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ He was very right. Even if we are discouraged (in whatever undertaking – writing, art, work, relationships), we have to try to improve after every setback. That is the way to become a true success.
The happiness of outside acknowledgment is just the icing on the cake. Icing may be delicious, but it’s only meant to lead us into the cake – the substance of what we do.
|Although some might argue that the substance of red velvet cake is the icing...|