So, as noted previously, I entered a couple of contests and didn’t win them. No, worse than that. There are several grades of winning for stuff like this, after all. There’s the actual winning of it – where someone asks to see more of your work and/or offers representation to you as an agent or an editor – then there’s the “I loved your work, you were very close” rejection, followed by the “your pitch was very strong, here’s where you could have improved it just a little”, and even the “intriguing idea, but you need to fix some things”. All of those are wins, although admittedly they don’t feel a lot like it at the time. They give you feedback on where you can improve, which is a victory of sorts.
No, I got “interesting idea, I don’t think it’s right for me,” and nothing more. This is the lowest level of winning, below which one cannot go. I had three potential mentors selected; only one of them bothered even to send me the above form rejection. If it is impossible to enter a contest like this and lose, and there’s some support for that position, I nevertheless came as close to losing it as it is possible to come.
This was confidence-shaking, as I outlined before. I believe that ultimately, knowing the truth is better than not knowing it, which means that the revelation that my writing is not actually that good, and that I do not know how to effectively pitch it so that people are interested in reading it, will do me good eventually. In the moment, though, it was a hard blow. I’ve never had an article rejected. Everything I’ve written and submitted for two years has been published. Clearly I got a little bit outsized opinion of how good I was.
Learning that I’m not actually very good was hard. But what was worse, I entered the contests and started following them as if they mattered. The temptation, when you chase an agent or a book deal, is to think that an agent or a book deal is critically important, and to live or die on the acceptance or rejection of the pitch you make to acquire one. I fell right into this trap. It’s taken me two weeks to understand it and I haven’t come back out of the maw even yet.
The truth is that I’m probably not as good as I thought I was. But then, I knew I would have to get better anyway. I wasn’t writing so that I could get an agent, or a book deal, not that I would have said no to those things, but they weren’t the point of the exercise. I wrote because I had stories to tell. I wrote because I wanted to. I wrote because I’m a better person when I do.
And I forgot this.
If that’s why I’m writing, then it doesn’t matter if no one is interested in representing my work to publishers. It doesn’t matter if my novel is publishable. It doesn’t even matter if no one wants to read it at all. I forgot. I’m writing because I have things to say.
I still have things to say. I probably ought to start writing again.