A recent twitter post suggested a writer was giving up entering competitions and trying to get published because they hadn’t made a short list. I hope the tweet was fired off in the aftermath of disappointment and not an actual plan.
Writers have very little control over who wins competitions or gets published. That control lies with editors, publishers, competition judges, literary agents and other gatekeepers. Setting your worth as a writer in terms of getting your work published or placed in competitions is wrong. A literary agent can love your novel but be unable to find a publisher, an editor can like a poem but not be able to make it fit with emerging themes when putting together a magazine or anthology, one judge on a judging panel may have loved your poem but be outnumbered by others who loved other poems. Rejection slips aren’t necessarily a judgment on your work. “Not this time” really does just mean “not this time”; next time might be a win.
What writers do have control over is what they write and the craft that goes into it. You can read, write, edit and polish your work. You can develop your craft. You can do your research and match your work to suitable markets or competitions. You can measure whether you feel your writing is stagnating or improving. Make your measurements achievable and realistic: failure to meet your own goals will lead to disillusionment. This is why writers should never measure their achievements in terms of publications and competition places but in terms of am I sending out more pieces for publication this year, do I feel my work is improving, am I still enjoying writing?
What helps is joining a writers’ group or finding fellow writers to follow on social media. You’ll open up a world of tips, advice and helpful solutions. You’ll learn that publication or getting placed in competitions is a bonus, not validation. Getting constructive feedback on your work will help you develop and improve as a writer. Knowing others get overlooked and collect rejection slips gives a sense of not being alone. Much better to vent to a fellow writer over a drink than vent on social media where others might misinterpret what you’re saying.