“We regret that your story has not been successful on this occasion.”
…as familiar as the rejection slip or email. So I didn’t get short-listed for the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize . This is not a surprise, of course. Nor is it particularly disappointing. “We again received nearly 4,000 entries,” they tell me, so the chances of making the 26-strong short-list were somewhere in the region on 0.0065%.
3974 of us didn’t make the cut. That’s a lot of competition to handle. I’ve dutifully entered the BBC/National Short Story Award, with similar expectations of greatness being thrust upon me – I have no idea how many entries that will have received, but the odds must be equally long. And this is basing the chances purely on mathematics, rather than aesthetics; should I worry about whether the stories I’m entering are any good, given the weight and strength of others’ work? No, better not to, for that way lies a falseness that ruins the point. Far better than I should simply write them as well as I can, because I need to tell a story, and leave the judging to the judges.
I’ve entered other competitions, too, and over time won a few of them – smaller ones, where the odds may be higher and the returns lower but the feeling of reward is just as great. Nothing will stir you to break that empty page more than having a stranger say they like what you do. We should all enter these competitions and ignore the ‘big’ ones, that can look after themselves.
Focus instead on the regional, the collective, the festivals…they need our help to survive and to promote what they do, to make voices heard, to give space in which those voices can speak. Let’s celebrate the small and the innocent, where writing happens not to make money or create fame but because it needs to, because expression is all we have, and if from time to time our writing is noticed then that’s good too. At least 3974 other people should all be feeling the same way today.