So it’s finally happened. After the longest time of submitting your stories to competitions and being greeted by silence and embarrassed shuffling feet, you’ve discovered there’s life out there – you’ve been shortlisted!
Now starts the rollercoaster of emotions that pretty closely mirror the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, the war and peaces (too far?) of a life of writing.
Up, Up, Up
Those dark times, when it seemed like you were just throwing your stories into a dark, dank short story competition abyss, are over. Someone likes your story. The characters you’ve created, the plot you devised, the prose, the beginning, the ending – they liked it.
You jump around the living room for a little while, setting off metaphorical fireworks at your genius, until everyone you love has left the room and is threatening you with a hosepipe if you don’t calm down. No? Just me?
You get on social media and announce the news, swimming around in the congratulations like Scrooge McDuck in his money,
and suddenly you’re shot with inspiration. Your work isn’t utter rubbish after all. It’s time to get writing and show the world what you can do.
Life is great. You feel like your yellow brick road has appeared in front of you and you’ve got a renewed direction – until a dark shadow appears on your horizon… I’m not going to win.
Down, Down, Down
As everyone knows, rejection is a big part of what it means to be a writer, and (despite the ridiculous notion I can’t shake that every story might just have broken new grounds of literary genius) no-one ever expects to be shortlisted. You just keep your fingers crossed and try not to obsess about it.
This is what makes it such a lovely surprise, but then anxiety begins to prod at you. Now you’ve got this close, you could win, couldn’t you? And then your mind helpfully deals with this with an unannounced attack: of course you’re not going to win.
Your writing is rubbish, your story is nonsense and was undoubtedly at the bottom of the pile and only got in because all other entries had ignored the rules, or were horrifically offensive, or no-one could read the writing or something… but, then again, just perhaps, maybe you could win…
And so, it continues. My advice at this point would be to threaten your mind with something it won’t like, a Michael Bay movie perhaps, and then remember what’s actually important here.
Up and Away
Once you’ve been shortlisted you’re in a no-lose situation. No matter how many entries, no matter how many judges, you’ve been given a clear signal that you are heading in the right direction. You’ve been given something to hold on to tightly in those dark moments all writers have, when the harsh critical voice is shouting at you that your writing is incredibly bad, that it’s time to stop embarrassing yourself, to just stick to shopping lists and the occasional text message. Someone likes your writing, who doesn’t have a personal investment in your happiness. Well done.
What else? Any writing achievement will help build up your writer’s CV, which is important to show your success and dedication to a writing career should you want to submit any work to magazines, agents or publishers.
Also, the competitions often come with great extras, that mean it’s not just the first prize that’s important. Most competitions publish their own anthologies, which means if you’ve been shortlisted your story will be published in print. This is often more important as most people don’t write for the prize, but write so others will read our stories, so this is something to consider when choosing which competitions to enter (See Mel’s upcoming post ‘How to Choose a Competition’ for more information).
If you’ve been shortlisted in a competition then congratulations, you’ve already won a lot.
Now, the long wait until the winner is announced. You could spend it by practicing your ‘I’m not disappointed’ face for friends and family… or your ‘I’m thrilled, but I won’t let this go to my head’ face, because you never know.
Image by Thomas Hawk
Words by Christie Cluett