Sunday, 27 January 2019

Paddling in Shallow Waters

A few of the publications with my work included.

When you follow good writers on social media you inevitably see lots of posts about success. Whether it’s a competition placement or a win, or the publication of a novel or short story collection, their successes keep coming.

It’s wonderful to share the joy of someone’s achievement because we all know that a lot of hard work has gone before it. It’s also good to know that the publishing industry is alive and well. And when you know someone’s work from competition placements you know that you’re likely to love their novel!

But for some of us there is a slight downside too. It can make our own lack of success seem overwhelming. We have a choice, either to give up and put the notebooks and pens – or the PC – away and learn to knit or do dry stone walling instead, or keep working at our craft and compete with them until we have our own success to publicize!

But when it’s only a small success, perhaps a brief flash fiction on a website, is it worthy of telling all and sundry?  

I’ve just re-read Tania Hershman’s excellent article in issue 78 of Mslexia (June/July/August 2018) Boasting for Beginners. She discusses the issues of women finding it hard to boast, aka talk about their successes. For many of us ‘boasting’ was something we were encouraged as children to avoid, as boasting has a pejorative tone. I recently discovered an old exercise book of mine from school in which I’d had to write about boasting. I cited a family I knew who boasted about all sorts, but their boasts were empty and vain which made them slightly ridiculous, although I did admire their unstinting confidence! Never mind the things they boasted about often never happened, they kept right on.  

But publicizing successes is a whole different game. We should be proud of what we have achieved. We all know that placement in a competition let alone getting a novel published is no small matter. But where does that leave those of us who are still paddling in the shallow waters of success? Sometimes so shallow it’s just the ebb and flow of the tide on the sand? Those of us who have had perhaps the occasional competition placement, or one article published? Our writing isn’t earning us a living or even enough to fund many competition entries.

A technique I used to explain to my speech and language therapy patients was to not measure  themselves against only the best, but against everyone. It works well in the writing world too.

There’s always going to be someone who is more successful than we are. If we measure ourselves against only published novelists, we may feel ourselves lacking, but if we measure our achievements against those of everyone in the world who has ever uttered the words, ‘I’d like to write,’ then anyone who has actually entered a piece for a prize or publication is already way ahead. Because they have created and finished a piece of writing. If we are long-listed in a competition, or had a flash published that’s  more than many who are writing but not entering their work, or haven’t yet managed that step yet.

But singing our praises is still difficult for lots of us. I know that some people who might read this have several novels out, some have won literary prizes. Others have had numerous wins in competitions, or stories published in magazines so they are all way ahead of me. When I was in Australia I met up with some people in a local writing group. After chatting for a moment one asked me the ‘Have you had anything published?’ question. I mentioned that I’d had a few flash fictions and short stories published, expecting to hear ‘Oh that’s nice’ but what I got was ‘Oh, wow, listen, everyone, Lindsay’s been published. That’s fantastic.’ It felt nice, but even as someone else said ‘Well done,’ I found myself saying ‘It’s only a few small pieces…’

1 comment:

SAL PAGE said...

So true, Lindsay. Of course we should boast - or at least tell! I get this from my Mum too, the implication is you should never big yourself up. Not the done thing. As your experience shows, it's when we find ourselves talking to non-writers (away from our people on Twitter!) that our stories in anthologies and competition placings do impress. Even though, yes, we play it down. Or, to use a swimming analogy, even though we're paddling. Sometimes I'm the slowest swimmer in the pool and sometimes the fastest but I'm only ever competing with myself and try not to compare. My criteria for carrying on writing is if I enjoy it, the whole process from ideas and first drafting to completion and submitting somewhere. And I do. So on I go ...