Epiphanies are rare. That moment when the right thought finds the right cubby hole in your brain in which to nest and nurture itself. This morning I realised after much anxiety this week that writing competitions just aren’t for me. What was I torturing myself for? How I’d goaded myself into believing that there’s a path and if you want to be a successful writer you must follow it to the letter. Given I’m a bit of a newcomer and have had my head wedged in the pages of my first book for the best part of four years, I told myself that I really should be writing some short stories and entering local competitions. Get yourself noticed. Get yourself heard. A chance to shed the invisibility cloak for a while. Sure look at this writer and that one who started out winning competitions and so on until my brain wrote one just to shut the voices up.
I should have known really that competitions weren’t for me for I am an eternal optimist. I do the lottery rarely but when I do I get a little tingle at the prospect that yes – it could be me and I have it all but spent by the time the draw comes round and someone in Belmullet has won it again. Unlike the lottery you’ll be surprised to find writing stories requires a bit more effort than a Quickpick and so time and energy must be exhumed in order to bleed the right shade of blood that a particular competition is looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, I see their worth, their value to those that win but what of those that don’t. Eight hundred people entered the competition I agonised over this week and twenty-four were shortlisted. Brilliant for those writers and fair play to them but what of the seven hundred and seventy-six writers bereft of any words in the pool of disappointment, not knowing if they came close or were the first to reach the recycling bin. Did I think I could win it? No but God I hoped. It’s the lottery all over again and so I found myself all week refreshing the relevant website for news. Again and again and again. I care a little too much and that scares me because its damaging to me and its also distracting me from the actual joy of writing. I have enough to be thinking about with my novel currently out on the hunt for an agent and that I have discovered, is all the anguish I need right now.
Compare if you will a writer to an athlete. Always writing, always training, breaking a mental sweat versus the physical one. Now imagine that athlete running a marathon, urging every last cell in their body to get them over the finish line, pushing themselves until they can no longer breathe, the finish line the only thing keeping them going as it appears in the distance, growing nearer and nearer. Perseverance is needed but they reach the end and have the beautiful satisfaction of recording their time, checking if it’s a personal best and if they’re lucky enough maybe even picking up a record and a nice medal. Now imagine that marathon runner is a writer and they have secreted themselves out onto a page and entered a writing competition. Their mind will run that marathon for months waiting on the result for they can’t enter that same story in another race while still running this one. They have cut loose a piece of themselves to be judged, only in the end satisfaction is not forthcoming. Only silence. Now the two are melding, the athlete running among his peers but he is invisible, like a ghost moving one foot after another as other runners jostle past them. For the invisible runner, the finish line just keeps moving further back into the distance and they may never ever reach it and if they invest themselves as they do in all things with 110%, they will end up forever exhausted and unable to do what it is they so loved in the first place.
Having taken my short story from an anecdote told in my novel, I do realise that it comes down to personal taste and maybe my tragic notes are not for everyone. Hell I get that, I do. Completely. And so rather than torture myself and burn my energies finding more competitions, I shall leave it to the pros. There are so many talented writers in Ireland and so I bow to those of you who have what it takes mentally and the physical arsenal of material to keep firing at these deadlines all the time.
I’m not an athlete (I spend far too much time sitting at this computer) but I fully appreciate that training is a huge part of finishing races and achieving goals. But there is a pressure out there, probably self imagined that mirrors my I’m-a-mother-I-should-be-able-to-do everything to I’m-a-writer-I-should-be-able-to-do-everything that is just not realistic and for the foolhardy among us leads only down a road of further torture.
I’m not afraid of showing people my work (if I was my novel would be sitting in a drawer right now and I wouldn’t be writing its sequel). It is what it is. I do what I do. Like all forms of creativity it speaks of the individual who made it and one story, song, painting, poem is not going to speak to everyone in the same way. And so I have decided that writing, much like the film reviews I write should be expressed and sent out to float into the atmosphere and find their own natural home. So no more competitions, no more judges, no more waiting. I shall post it here and continue what I love best.