Tag Archives: competition

No Guts, No Glory

One of my weird little happinesses in life is watching TV coverage of certain sports, including swimming, diving, gymnastics and athletics. I’ve been in luck lately, then, as up until the weekend, when they came to a close, The Swimming World Championships were televised on BBC.  I tuned in and very much enjoyed the coverage provided, marvelling at the skill and dedication of the athletes, and the sheer beauty and power of their performances in the water. This is not because I am a swimmer (I’m about as streamlined as a potato, though I float very well) or because I’m particularly interested in sport, but – for whatever reason – I really enjoy watching elite athletes, at the peak of their powers, compete against one another for records and medals and glory. Occasionally I wonder why it’s these particular sports which interest me; normally, I conclude it’s because these are the sports which I have the least possible chance of ever attempting.

Take your mark... *Go!* Image: uk.eurosport.yahoo.com

Take your mark… *Go!*
Image: uk.eurosport.yahoo.com

I’ve never been a sporty type; like all Irish kids, I’ve had my hands on a hurl at some point in my life, though I never played the game of hurling (or ‘camogie’, the version of hurling kept ‘for girls’) properly. I’ve also tried hockey, soccer, and basketball, all very briefly. The only thing these sports have in common, from my point of view, is how useless I’ve been at all of them. There are some sports that I wouldn’t watch on TV if I can possibly help it – football (which in Ireland means Gaelic football), soccer, snooker, golf, rugby (unless pressed to, out of national pride if Ireland are playing, and even then I normally only care whether we win or lose), because I either find them boring or brutal, or a strange combination of the two; there’s something about swimming, though, that I love. It’s graceful, it’s noble and it’s all about the individual; it’s one person against the water.

As I watched the coverage, I was struck by the commentary, and the commentators’ opinion that the only important thing is to keep improving, keep getting better, keep shaving seconds off your finishing time, keep striving for those medals. However, at least seven, if not eight, people competed in each race, and – of course – there were only ever three medals on offer. Three of those competitors were going to be the best from the second they dived into the pool, and – perhaps – the remaining swimmers knew which three they were. Nearly every time, the commentators could predict who would place first, second and third – and if the commentators could guess, so too could the athletes. I kept thinking about the other five swimmers in that pool, all of whom work hard, all of whom train and toil and sweat and travel to endless competitions and meets and qualifiers, possibly living apart from their families for months on end in order to pursue their goals, and for what? To end up eighth out of eight in a race that they knew they were never going to win?

What happens if you do as well as you can, if you work as hard as you can, if you train as long as you can, and you still come in eighth out of eight?

There will always be people better than you, at everything you try. Always. This is a hard thing to learn. Even if you pour out every shred of your soul into a piece of work, and even if you practice and practice until you can’t even think straight any more, and even if you shed actual literal blood over something you love and want to excel at, someone will always be able to do it better. Even if you do win a gold medal or break a world record, there will always be someone who’ll break that record, or win more medals, or get higher marks, or win more competitions, or earn more money, than you do. It was ever thus.

Not everyone can come in first, second or third. Not everyone can stand on the winners’ podium and weep as their flag is raised. Not everyone can sing along to their national anthem and listen to the cheers of their supporters as they nibble on their gold medal. Everyone who competes in any sport, or in anything in life, knows this. There are athletes who know they’ll never manage to come first, who’ll never hang a gold medal around their neck, yet they still compete. They still work hard. They still strive, and try, and get up and do it all again, despite loss after loss. They do it to be the best they can be, not to be the best in the world. They do it to test themselves, to sound out their own depths, to live their life as fully as they can, to know themselves and their limits. It takes a strong person to get into a pool with a champion, knowing that they will not win the race; sometimes, though, knowing you’ll swim the best race you’re capable of swimming has got to be a good enough reason to pull on your suit and goggles, and give it a try.

If a person loves to swim, but they can’t bear the thought of losing race after race, and they end up never getting in the water, that’s a recipe for a sad and wasted life. I’d rather be a perennial loser who tries her absolute best than a person who’s too afraid of losing to even give her passion a try. It takes a lot more courage to give something a go when you know winning is a long shot than it takes to compete when you know you’re the best.

And no, of course, we’re not talking about swimming any more.

Keep going, little doggie! Image: sodahead.com

Keep going, little doggie!
Image: sodahead.com

Finding Your Voice

Every new Monday is like a new year, for me. I make resolutions to be focused, professional and productive; I make out my targets for the week ahead; I try to hit the ground running. I have great visions for what the next five days will bring, and I hope to make the most out of every single second of writing time that I can squeeze out of it.

That doesn’t mean I actually achieve any of it, of course. But I try.

Image: educationelf.net

Image: educationelf.net

In the midst of all this businesslike focus, though, it can sometimes be tough to remember that the point of writing is to create something, and that it’s not akin to building an engine or entering data into a spreadsheet; it’s important to keep in mind that in writing, you can’t predict how the working week will go, and how you’re going to feel about your work from one second to the next. It’s also important to remember one other thing: your writing voice, and how it can suffer under pressure. Without your writing voice, of course, you’re in big trouble.

But what does it even mean?

Finding a ‘voice’ is one of these things that everyone agrees is vital for a writer. It’s supposed to be your calling card, your ‘fingerprint’, your unique hook, your selling point. But how do you find it? How do you develop and nourish it? How do you know it’s ‘right’?

Well, in my opinion, the short response is that nobody knows the definitive answer to these questions. Everyone agrees that a ‘voice’ is important – nay, vital – but there are so many differing opinions on how to go about finding it that it should give any sensible person pause. I’ve read some advice which states things like ‘if it feels like work when you’re writing it, then you should probably think about changing your voice’; I’m not sure I agree with that. I’ve come across advice which tells me to imagine my ‘ideal’ reader and write to them – again, that’s problematic. Some advice-givers tell us that a writer’s voice is always an artifice – a construction designed to showcase their brilliant word-choices and their flawless plotting. Once again, you might have guessed I have a problem with this definition. I’ve also seen articles which exhort me to believe that if a person can talk, they can also write – as in, a good oral storyteller will be a good storyteller on paper, too – but I’m pretty sure I don’t believe this, either. I write a lot more clearly and a lot more coherently than I speak, as anyone who’s listened to me ramble on for hours on end will, no doubt, attest.

The riveted audience at one of my famous 'How Interesting Were the Middle Ages?!?' lectures. Image: profalbrecht.wordpress.com

The riveted audience at one of my famous ‘How Interesting Were the Middle Ages?!?’ lectures.
Image: profalbrecht.wordpress.com

The only key to finding your voice, at least as far as I can see, is to write honestly. I’m talking here about creative writing, more than writing with another purpose such as journalism or non-fiction writing, purely because I have more experience with it – I’m sure honest writing makes for more solid copy in journalistic terms, too, though. In terms of fiction writing, including creative writing and blogs, the only things you need to find your voice, in my opinion, are time and courage. Time, of course, is obvious enough – practice as often as possible, write as regularly as possible and get as much feedback as possible over the course of the weeks or months or even years that it takes you to feel comfortable with what you’re producing, and don’t try to rush the process. There is no race to be run – it’s not like there’s a limited amount of voices on offer and the slowest writers are left with the dregs.

But what about courage?

I will find the words! Image: he-man.wikia.com

I will find the words!
Image: he-man.wikia.com

Writing, by itself, is not really a scary thing. The fear of the blank page is common enough, and the terror that comes to all of us who write when the words just dry up and refuse to make an appearance is also well known. The creation of a document – be it a book, an article, a poem, whatever – is (or perhaps should be) more about joy, fulfilment and a sense of rewarding hard work than about fear; to me, the brave bit is what comes after you’ve finished the writing. Firstly, you’ve got to be brave enough to let other people see what you’ve written. And, even more importantly, you’ve got to be brave enough to write what you want to write.

I’ve fallen into the trap myself, many times, of trying to write what I think an editor or a judge will want to read. I’ve tried to change my focus, write a story the likes of which I wouldn’t normally dream of writing, tried to develop a style which might be more in keeping with the sort of thing they normally enjoy – and do you want to know the truth of it? It has never worked. Not once. I’m not sure if it’s because the editor/judge in question has spotted that the work is not ‘authentic’, or because I’m just not very good at writing when it’s not coming from a place of honesty, but either way it just hasn’t been worth the effort of changing my voice to suit someone else. Being brave enough to write what you want to write can sometimes mean you still won’t win the competition you’ve entered or that you run the risk of not impressing the person to whom you’ve submitted your work; at least, though, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you wrote a ‘true’ piece, something that was meaningful to you. The work will be stronger for it, even if it’s not to the taste of the judge or editor who has the task of evaluating it. Writing is an extremely subjective business, too – so how are you to build up your own voice if you’re constantly changing it to suit the vagaries of editors and judges?

In my opinion, then, you shouldn’t listen to any advice you get on the internet (including this blog post) about how to find and cultivate your writing voice. My opinion is write what you want to write, polish it as hard as you can and be proud of every word, and submit it with courage until you find someone who responds to the notes of honesty and conviction in what you’ve written. However, of course, take that advice with a pinch of salt. Writing should be fun, but it is also hard work and a craft which needs honing and polishing; finding a voice is like learning how to use grammar and how to construct a sentence. It takes time, but it’s worth the journey. It’s not something which should be rushed, and it’s not worth trying to take shortcuts to achieve it. Just write with your soul in your fingertips, and be brave.

And, of course, patient.

Teeny-Tiny Tuesday

Hello, all.

I’ve not been feeling well for the past couple of days. Yesterday, I struggled with a headache that strangled my brain to the point of affecting my vision, and today I feel rather like a person who has been shoved into a barrel and rolled, willy-nilly, down a rocky mountain path. I managed to get a good night’s sleep last night, which has – to be fair – worked wonders, but I’m still not feeling my best self, shall we say.

I think the recent hot weather has been playing havoc with my person – and before anyone accuses me of complaining about the good weather, I’m not, okay, it’s been great – but, as always happens, by the time I’m used to the heat, no doubt it’ll be gone again and I’ll have to re-acclimatise to our normal weather conditions. I’m always one step behind, weather-wise! While it really has been wonderful to see blue sky and to be able to go outside without a rainjacket in the middle of the summer, some of us (i.e. me) are built like Yetis and can only function properly at low temperatures. Heat is not my friend.

This is my baby picture. No, seriously! Image: scaryforkids.com

This is my baby picture. No, seriously!
Image: scaryforkids.com

Also, I’ve been doing my usual ‘mad panic pressure have-to-do-everything-all-at-once’ nonsense again, and I really feel like I’ve blown a gasket in my brain. Yesterday was a total disaster, writing-wise. My blog post took twice as long as normal to prepare, and as well as that I couldn’t concentrate for longer than five or ten minutes at a time; trying to get any meaningful work done was a frustrating torment. However, instead of leaving the writing behind and going off to do something else, like a sensible person, I tried to truck on through. I never learn, do I? I do have competition deadlines coming up, and I want to put my best work forward for them, so I am going to have to try to remember that sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is not to write. Work you produce under pressure, or when you’re not feeling well, is never going to make the grade – all it will do is make you feel worse, set you back even further and give you a lot of sub-standard words and sentences to unpick when you’re back on your feet again.

So, I’m going to take it a little easier today. I’m going to write, of course, but I’m going to remember that it’s supposed to be enjoyable and fulfilling, not something which makes me cry over my keyboard. If I can only do it in ten-minute bursts, that’s fine; if I need to have a lie-down (which I never do in the middle of the day, on principle), then I’m going to allow myself to do that. I have to realise that if I don’t look after myself, nobody else is going to. Not to mention that I’m going to need my brain, my body and my mental health to see me through the rest of my (hopefully long and happy) writing career, and that means taking care of what I’ve got, however humble it might be.

But then I keep saying this, and I never actually do it. Today, I promise, I will take my own good advice. And I don’t have any fingers or toes crossed!

This picture made me laugh, so I'm passing it on to you. Happy Tuesday! Image: futurity.com

This picture made me laugh, so I’m passing it on to you. Happy Tuesday!
Image: futurity.com

Have a good day. Hopefully I’ll be back on form by tomorrow, and raring to go for the Wednesday Write-In, as normal. See you then!

Life/Time Management

Another new week is beginning, and the sun is shining here. It looks (fingers crossed) like it’ll be a lovely day. The weekend was more or less restful – I was attacked by an idea on Saturday lunchtime, which is currently languishing in scribbles on the back of an envelope, and my husband and I had a Serious Discussion about the opening chapters of ‘Eldritch’ yesterday. So, I almost had a break from the words that like to linger in the corners of my mind.

Not, of course, that I’d like them to give me a complete break. That would be like the bereft, cold feeling of having the blankets pulled off you in the middle of the night. It’s just – sometimes – I wish there was more space in my brain. Space into which I could put, for instance, all the other things I have to do. Space to remember everything I need to remember, and arrange my life in the most time-effective and efficient way.

So, not like this guy. Image: smallbizmodo.com

So, not like this guy.
Image: smallbizmodo.com

Now, normally I’m not too bad. I’m usually pretty well organised. I get up early, I attack the day long before most people (I think anyone who does the sort of work I do would do the same), and I generally know what’s on the schedule from one day to the next. But there are times when I slip up, and that’s a real pain. I’ve been entering competitions, as you know, and trying to submit work to as many places as possible in the hope it might be suitable for publication. And I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of places to submit. So, it’s inevitable that, at times, stuff is going to slip through the cracks. I realised on Friday, for instance, that I’d allowed time to slip away from me, and that a competition deadline was approaching – and that, even if I acted fast, chances were I’d miss it.

This was a shame, because it was a competition I really wanted to enter. I’d noticed the call for submissions a few weeks ago, and I’d had an idea. I kept this idea on a particular shelf in my brain, ripening like a fine cheese; every so often I’d turn it, tend it, and check how it was getting on. Unlike a good cheesemaker, though, I allowed too much time to go by – I left it too long on the shelf. By the time I hurried it out into the light, I fear not only did I spoil it, but also left myself too little time to get it out into the world. The competition is in the UK, and the closing date is early this week. I sent my entry, but I have a feeling it will be too late. I also know that I should have spent more time on the story, if I’d had time to spend.

I got very side-tracked with ‘Eldritch’ last week; I really allowed it to take over all the space I had in my head. So, other things (like checking up on a contact I hadn’t heard from, sending a few emails re. an upcoming publication, and – of course – sorting myself out for upcoming competitions) fell by the wayside. I don’t want this to happen again, because it makes me stressed. There are, of course, a few simple steps that can be taken to avoid a recurrence – first among these is ‘not relying on your holey brain to remember everything, and getting a calendar’; second would be ‘not forgetting to take a big red marker and write the stuff you need to remember on the calendar.’ I’ll probably end up writing notes on my hand to remind me to write on my calendar, which will devolve into tying pieces of string onto various extremities and leaving myself Post-It notes all over the house… I can see it turning into a total disaster, but it’s better than nothing. At the moment, I normally put reminders on my phone to help with time management and organisation, but I think the poor device is going to raise the white flag shortly and beg for parlay. Plus, if I lose the phone, my whole life goes with it. That, naturally, would be a disaster.

Whatever way I choose to do it, there’s a job to be done. It’s (besides the physical action of putting words on pages) the most important job I have to do, which is making the most of the time I have, and doing as much as possible in every working day. I have a lot of ground to cover in a reasonably short space of time, and so every second is important. So, today’s agenda looks like this: my (wonderful) husband gave me some interesting and useful feedback on the first 10,000 words of ‘Eldritch’ yesterday, so I’m off to rethink the opening sections. I’m still determined to get the book submitted to agents, but this time I want to make sure I don’t send it until it’s as ripe, tasty and perfect as I can make it. If I’m to keep to my schedule, then, I’m going to need to have the most efficient working week I’ve ever had!

Determination, organisation, motivation… and a lot of perspiration! Hope your week is shaping up to be fun, creative and (happily) busy, too.

Good Things Come…

A few nights ago, The Husband and I watched a TV show that we didn’t really mean to watch. You know what I mean – neither of us was bothered to take control of the remote, and we couldn’t choose a DVD to put on, and we were too tired to think about watching any of the (approximately) ten thousand shows we’ve recorded, so we just kept watching the channel we’d been watching already.

Which is how we managed to take in a documentary hosted by this lady:

Image: guardian.co.uk

Image: guardian.co.uk

about these two fellas here:

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

Image: blogs.telegraph.co.uk

The lady is none other than the comedian and actor (or actress, if you prefer) Miranda Hart; I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but I find her very amusing. I’ve often enjoyed her particularly awkward, slapstick brand of humour without realising that she believes she owes it all to the gents in the second picture – the unmistakeable Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, of course. The TV programme Hart hosted was her homage to the famous Morecambe and Wise, whose comedy she had grown up watching, and whose influence on her, apparently, was incalculable. It was a warm, honest and touching hour of TV, and I’m glad that I watched it. Though, I wish it had been a conscious choice instead of one made for me by my own apathy.

In any case, the point I’m trying to come to is this: Morecambe and Wise are, even now, pretty famous. At least, in my part of the world, they are. They’re known for their timeless comedy double act, their lifelong friendship, their many catchphrases and their still hilarious physical comedy routines. They’re comedy gold. Their very names are shorthand for success and achievement.

But until I watched Miranda Hart’s programme about their lives, I had no idea how much work they had to put into getting noticed and getting gigs, and how young they’d both been when they started their careers. Hart was allowed to look through an archive of letters that Morecambe and Wise had sent to producers and theatre owners all over the UK, begging to be given even the smallest opportunity, or even to be allowed to audition. Nobody was interested. Some of the rejections were polite and helpful, but most were dismissive. It was an eye-opener for me. I would’ve thought that people with the level of talent possessed by Morecambe and Wise would have met with immediate success and acceptance, and that the quality of their ability would have been obvious from the start. But it seems not.

Of course, I know all about authors and their struggles to make it. I’m aware how slow and painful a process it can be to get even a toe onto the publishing ladder, let alone make a living out of words. But for some reason, knowing that other creative pursuits have a similarly punishing induction regime was a revelation. As well as that, it was almost comforting, in an odd sort of way. Morecambe and Wise are deservedly famous, and have left a legacy second to none, because they were both extraordinarily talented in their own right but also because they managed to find each other – their unique ‘hook’ or selling point – and they worked so well as a team. And, also, because they worked – from a very early age, they were plying their trade and learning the ropes of showbiz. But if even people of their talent and ability had to struggle to make it, it makes the mountain facing me seem a little easier to climb. I’m not facing this mountain because I’m stupid, or unable to write, or don’t deserve a chance – I’m facing it because it faces everyone, and everyone finds their own way over it.

And, of course, the lesson is: there are no shortcuts. Good things come to those who wait, but also to those who work. This was true in the 1940s, as Morecambe and Wise were trying to sell their comedy routine, and it’s true now, too. It can be hard to remain patient and focused when you’re watching your email inbox like a hawk, or scouring Twitter for any mention of competitions you’ve entered or shortlists you’re hoping to make, but you just have to put all that to one side and remember to keep writing, and keep breathing. To use another aphorism – Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

I’ve always liked that one, actually.

Image: onesocialmedia.com

Image: onesocialmedia.com

 

 

Workin’ Nine to Five

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Image: bbcamerica.com

Image: bbcamerica.com

I’ve worked at a great many things during the course of my life so far; some of them have been great fun, but a lot have not. The first job I ever had (besides the usual suspects of household tasks and babysitting) was in a ladies’ fashion boutique, where I worked one summer at the age of fourteen or fifteen. My duties included cleaning (which I actually didn’t mind), as well as helping to serve customers. I was probably the least fashionable human being on earth at that point in my life, so I often wondered what the customers thought of me – a creature in Doc Marten boots and long flowery skirts – attempting to offer them advice on what to wear. I learned several valuable lessons in the course of this job, however, including how much I hated the lengths to which some retailers will go to try to sell things to people, and how much I hated being considered ‘just’ a person who worked in a shop.

I worked in a supermarket for years, too, through my secondary school life and well into my time at university. The work was hard, the hours were long, but I made friends in this job which I’ll keep forever. The camaraderie among the younger staff (I was young at the time, don’t forget) was always good, and we nearly always managed to find something to smile about in the course of our working day. One of the first things I was ‘headhunted’ to do during this time was work behind the supermarket’s fresh meat counter, to my horror; I was sixteen, going on seventeen (sorry if you’re now thinking of ‘The Sound of Music’), and a newly fledged vegetarian, but at least my stint as a ‘trainee butcher’ didn’t last very long. I remain, to this day, the only person I know who has ever started a conversation with the line: ‘I used to cut up hearts for a living’. I always hasten to reassure the listener that I’m talking about beef hearts, of course, but they’re often not reassured. There were many disgusting aspects of this job, but I don’t think I’ll ever top the experience of taking the blade of our huge band-saw off in order to clean it, and having it snap back and hit me in the face. If I was to pin-point the nadir of that job, I reckon that would be it. (It didn’t leave any lasting injuries, thankfully.)

I went on to work in several offices, a health centre, a printer’s, a tourist office (which was one of the biggest patience-testers I ever endured), and at a university for many years. The only thing all the jobs I’ve done have in common is that they all involved hard work, and that’s something I’m really glad of. Every first day was fraught with terror, every new thing I learned seemed unimaginably difficult until I’d got the hang of it, every new challenge gave me palpitations and sleepless nights. But – importantly – I met every challenge I faced, and I prevailed.

Image: danandrewsmarketing.blogspot.com

Image: danandrewsmarketing.blogspot.com

So, even though I’m not ’employed’ in the traditional sense at the moment, I have many years of work experience behind me, and every second I’ve ever spent in paid employment up to now has gifted me with knowledge, expertise and skills that I’ve found indispensable over the past number of months. Writing, as a career, is an extremely difficult and slow-moving thing, which calls for huge reserves of patience, resilience and self-discipline. The jobs I’ve done in my life so far have all brought something to my life – whether it’s the conviction that I never want to do anything like that particular role ever again, or simpler things like how to prioritise tasks and manage time effectively – and I’m grateful for them all. When a job is hard, or the work is heavy, or you’re not getting on as well as you could with your workmates, or you’re getting injured from flying blades (ouch), it can be hard to remember that there’s a point behind it all, and it can be tough to imagine that, one day, you’ll look back on it and realise you’re grateful for the experience.

I’ve often found myself, during the course of my working life, in the middle of experiences I never thought I’d have, wondering how I was going to get out of them. When I was thigh-deep in thirty years of correspondence, paperwork, and filth as I cleaned out a retired professor’s office, I asked myself what I thought I was doing. When I was waist-deep in student records, trying to alphabetise and file them in a room smaller than the average downstairs loo, I asked myself if I was crazy. As I dealt with the loudest, longest and least patient queue of customers I’d ever served in my first week of working in a university bookshop, I had to convince myself not to run out the door. And as I set foot into the biggest lecture theatre I’d ever seen, ready to deliver my first lecture (on the major historical events of the fourteenth century, and their likely effect on English literature of the period), I almost had myself convinced I couldn’t do it. But I did, and here I am – finally doing the one thing I want to do more than anything else.

These are the things I think about when I feel like what I’m doing right now is ‘too hard’, or ‘beyond my capabilities’, or ‘too much’. I remember that I’ve organised an international conference, I’ve delivered lectures, I’ve set exams, I’ve given expert advice on books, and I’ve dealt with busy-ness, deadlines and stress for the last twenty years. I also realise that I’ve done so many things which I’d really like not to have to do again, and how lucky I am to have the freedom, at the moment, to pursue what I’m doing. I know, too, that I have all the skills I need. Treating writing as a job, even if you’re not being remunerated at first, is vital to making a success of it, in my opinion, and I hope I’ll never be ‘changing career’ again. If this is true for me, it’s true for anyone who wants to write – every challenge you’ve faced makes you better able to write, and every working day you’ve had deepens and strengthens the skillset you need to be a writer.

In other news: I came second (or, in the friendlier American term ‘first runner up’) in this flash fiction competition at the weekend. Check out all the entries – they were amazing, and it was fantastic to see so many different takes on the prompt image. As well as the motivation and skills I’ve been talking about in today’s blog, and how they’re helpful in forging a writing career, little successes like this one are just as important. So – write! And enter competitions! And – most of all – believe you can do it, and keep going no matter what.

Happy Monday!

On Being Brave

For some reason, several people in recent weeks have taken the time to tell me how brave they think I am. I presume this means they think I’m brave for putting my dreams on the line and for following the impulse to write, or perhaps for entering competitions and submitting pieces of work for publication.

I don’t feel brave, though. Not at all. I feel like the biggest quivering chicken in the history of the world. Surely, if I was brave, I’d feel more like I was channelling Queen Boudicca instead, taking on the might of the Romans with little besides a bow and some facepaint. Isn’t that how it works?

It’s hard to feel brave when you have to force yourself to check your email in case there’s a note of rejection in there. It’s hard to realise a piece you’ve written is really not very good – and it’s especially hard to realise this after you’ve submitted it. Some of the stories I’ve entered into competition over the past while have been catalogues of rookie mistakes, and I’m learning the wisdom of the saying ‘measure twice and cut once’ – or maybe, in this case, ‘read twice before submitting’! I don’t feel brave because I’ve started this process; I simply feel like an amoeba in a very big pond, realising just how much I have to learn.

This is me. Hello!Image: resilience.org

This is me. Hello!
Image: resilience.org

I feel like what I’m doing at the moment is an apprenticeship, something everyone who wants to write has to go through eventually. I’ve done things in the past which I’ve needed bravery for, sure – giving lectures in front of hundreds of people, for instance. Taking an oral examination. Going up in front of a funding board made up of six senior male professors, and arguing for the validity of the research I was doing at the time. I still can’t quite believe I’ve done all these things, because even the memory of having done them makes me quake in my boots. All those things made me sick with fear before I did them, and I felt like I’d accomplished something when I’d managed to get through them.

Submitting stories for publication feels more like a compulsion, though – and, like any compulsion, it can sometimes be impossible to resist. I feel like I have to submit something I’ve written, perhaps before it’s ready, because the urge to do it is overwhelming. It’s only afterwards when I realise ‘perhaps that piece could have done with a bit more maturation time.’ But it’s too late, at that point, to retract it. It’s almost like my enthusiasm gets the better of me and a certain recklessness gets into my blood. So, off the story goes. Submit in haste, repent in leisure!

This isn’t to say that the pieces I’ve submitted haven’t been my best effort at the time. I feel like there’s something of value in everything I’ve entered into competition, and I’ve done my best. But it’s the same with everything; after the fact, you wonder if you could have done better, and what you should have changed to make the piece stronger. But if you followed that logic to its extreme, you’d never submit anything. You’d spend the rest of your life tweaking your first piece of writing until it’s beyond recognition, and nobody else would ever read it. The process of writing and submitting and being rejected is a terrible crucible, but it’s absolutely necessary. I know I have to go through this process of learning in order that something I submit, somewhere, someday, might meet with approval.

So, I don’t feel like it’s brave, as such, to send things away for other eyes to read. It’s horrible and I don’t like to do it – but I don’t think it’s the same thing as being brave. However, there’s a certain amount of facing your fears involved in living through the days afterward, when you’re waiting to hear the results. You may never hear how you got on, of course. There are a lot of voices clamouring for attention, and I know it will take a long time before my words will warrant any recognition. The process is somewhat analogous to shouting into a hurricane – your small contribution is swirled up into the whole and becomes lost. But the value of it still lives inside you. You know that you tried, and did your best, and over time the process gets easier (hopefully, at least.) In my case, it’s even true to say that every submission makes me feel a little better about myself – at least, until the doubts start to creep in. But I don’t think doing what you have to do is brave, really. This is a process I have to go through, and I’m just doing what I must. It does make you feel vulnerable, and it’s not entirely pleasant. But, given the choice between doing what I’m doing and trying to live any other life, I’d happily choose what I’m doing.

I do appreciate being considered brave, though. I try to remember it every time I’m faced with the prospect of entering another contest, or laying my work out in front of someone else like a merchant laying out her wares. I remember it every time I have to check my email, or every time I wonder ‘should I enter something into this contest?’

Maybe that’s what being brave is all about, though – taking a chance on something even though you’re not sure what the outcome will be, and hoping for the best. In that case, every one of us is brave.

I'll never be as brave as this lady, though. Let's hope it's never up to me to stop the onslaught of a tyrannical Empire...Image: listverse.com

I’ll never be as brave as this lady, though. Let’s hope it’s never up to me to stop the onslaught of a tyrannical Empire…
Image: listverse.com