Friday 27 September 2013

Keeping On

It's been pretty quiet around here lately.

The truth is it's been difficult to find things to say, and I'm always wary of those 'blog posts about how hard it is to write a blog post' posts. Put simply, this has been one of the least successful writing years I've ever had, certainly in terms of competition results and publication. It's taking some getting used to, to be honest.

So far, 2013 hasn't yielded a single publication or longlisting, let alone an appearance on a shortlist, or a prize of any kind. My output has been slightly reduced (as I've mentioned before, I moved house last month, and that caused significant disruption to my usual routine both before and after), but it's taken me by surprise to find that none of my stories are finding homes at the moment. As the months have slipped by I've found myself scanning the results of the new Bath story competition, Bristol, Bridport, the Salt Prize, the BBC National Short Story Award, HISSAC, the Wells Festival competition, the list goes on - all to no avail.

OK, some of those were very ambitious long shots, but the point is that the stories I've been sending to all these places have been, as far as I can tell, pretty good. And I know it's all down to luck and the results of any given competition would be dramatically different if you changed the judge or the initial readers, but still, this year is feeling like a particularly tough roll of the dice.

I suppose the problem is that I've always used competitions as a way of gauging whether I'm on the right track with my writing. To go through nine months without getting a single confirmation that, yes, what I'm producing is all right, does open up a floodgate for the doubts to come rushing in. Have I lost the plot? Am I somehow writing the wrong things now? Are my stories too far-fetched? Or not far-fetched enough? Are they -gulp- boring?

A dry spell like this does knock your confidence. It's times like this when I feel silly for even having a blog. It seems ludicrous that I can claim to have anything worthwhile to say about writing when my work is sinking without trace in competitions left, right and centre. What insight into the process can I offer, if my stories seem to appeal to nobody but myself?

There's only one way to go - onwards. Anybody my situation can whinge, but the only way things are going to change is just to carry on. Write more stories, send them out, try new things, revisit old things but do them better this time. Nobody's entitled to get results in competitions, or a string of publication successes. Those things have got to be strived for, earned. The knockbacks are there to weed out the people who just don't want it enough. The ones who succeed are the stubborn swines who just won't take No for an answer.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some fiction to write.


Patsy said...

I've had periods of doing well and periods with no sales and have tried to work out why. There doesn't seem to be much logic to it. The successful stories weren't all written at the same time or under similar conditions, I don't think I subbed them all on a full moon and I wasn't aware they were better than the others.

Hope things improve for you soon.

Sherri said...

I've had a very similar year to yours on the competition front, after previously more succesful years, and I know how you feel.
It is a lottery somewhat - especially for those comps with lists of 40/2000+ stories - but it's hard not to feel 'I used to be better than I am now' or 'other people have improved and I haven't' and it can be very demoralising.
However, I'm sure that's not the case with you - and I hope it isn't with me! - so your attitude is the only one worth having. And all our poor ignored stories may well yet find a more in-tune judge who loves them as we do.

Good luck!

Teresa Stenson said...

Dan, I totally understand how you feel.

But I'm going to get Buddhist on you. (Have I told you I'm a Buddhist now? Yeah, I've been to two classes. I'm totes Budz.)

I won't get into to it here in a big way, but I'm finding that some of the stuff I'm learning about can be applied to the trying to get published thing.

Roughly speaking, and I'm speaking for myself, if I make my happiness dependent on external stuff, whether it's material stuff like money or less tangible stuff like or praise (or specifically to us) getting shortlisted or winning - then I'm making myself vulnerable and open to suffering and doubt and a lack of confidence - because there will always be times when I don't have those things. Lots of times. Maybe all the time.

I don't want to sound preachy in any way, mostly cos it's not like I've got this totally licked myself - but it makes sense to me, and reading your post - I just want to shout out (in a gentle way) - that you shouldn't feel those feelings of 'am I good enough?' because you're lacking (this year) in external reassurance. You are good enough, whatevs. Or something. And I don't want it to kill your creativity.

You know?

Chloe said...

I feel bad that everyone is saying they know how you feel, but... :) Really dry year for me too. Got to the stage of lying on the floor crying that I was never going to be good enough. But I'm over that now! It's also why I try to blog a bit about other people and literary news - I don't feel qualified to do the advice bit of blogging!

It's a shame writing success doesn't give everyone a turn, isn't it? But I have a hunch that it might favour you again before too long. You're one of my favourite short story writers!

Dan Purdue said...

Aw, thank you, everyone. I didn't mean for this to come across as a woe-is-me, everything's ruined, why do I even bother? kind of post. What I hoped to get across is that these fallow periods can ambush anyone, at any time, and the only way to deal with them is to just grit your teeth and get on with it.

I have been very lucky in the past, in terms of competitions, and I think that's meant that I've developed a particular sensitivity to the results of even the ones I don't enter. I follow some very talented writers on Twitter, and it's always a little bittersweet when they post news of a success. Don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased for them; but I do then find myself wondering, "What did they do that I didn't?"

Overall, I've found competitions (and other submissions) very useful as - to borrow Teresa's phrase - external reassurance, and I think they're quite deeply ingrained in my revision process now. But they're not the whole story, and I don't look to them for my happiness.

The wheel of fortune will turn again, and we'll all get our turn sooner or later. The trick is to be ready for when it next comes around, by writing the very best stuff you can.

Good luck to you all!

Anonymous said...

That's the spirit. I think keeping on is the thing. And using your own judgment as a barometer rather than competition panels. You've had loads of success before so you know you're a good writer. And you're not writing the wrong things, unless you're writing things you don't want to write (if that makes sense).

If you do feel like you're getting in a rut, I've found working on something completely different is really useful - recently I've been working on some illustrated projects and have found that it is making me think about things in a completely new way, having to describe everything that needs to be drawn and considering how it all has to sit on the page has been a whole new challenge and hopefully has improved my other work too. So, maybe, try something different.

Good luck, I'm sure all will be well.