A writer’s game: competing to take part

The writing world is rife with competition – the prizes, the race for an agent, a publisher, the need to push your books into the hands of the readers over all of the others grappling for their attention – there’s no avoiding it. The second you start sending your work out, you’re pitting yourself against all other writing out there, simply by saying it’s worth someone time to read yours and not someone else’s.

That’s a big enough ask, but these days I’m finding myself getting caught up in trying to ‘win’, whether that means placing in a competition or having a story accepted. No big deal, maybe. Isn’t that the whole point? A shiny wee medal of encouragement and a pat on the back, who wouldn’t want that? But the more I find myself thinking about writing as something you can win or lose, the harder I find it to actually concentrate on what I’m writing.

With talk of branding, book as products, authors as equity, it’s easy to start to think about this business as a game, as something you can squeak past the finish line of. We’re in it to win it, but should we be?

Winning street sign

Competing for reader’s eyes, that’s important to most writers, but equally important should be fulfilling your own desires. If you’re always looking at the podium, imagining yourself there, spraying champagne, when are you going to spend time thinking about what you’re writing? How are you going to forget about everyone else and write something true?

A few recent near misses of one kind of another almost knocked me off course recently, until I remembered that I’m not writing for a gold cup or a badge, I’m doing it because I want to – just for me. And if you take part, it doesn’t really matter whether you win or not, because if someone else reads one of your stories, that’s a pretty awesome prize.

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14 responses to “A writer’s game: competing to take part

  1. I so agree. When competition is the game, it is tempting to avoid being “wrong” and unless a writer risks being “wrong” they cannot get close to the truth. Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on creativity expresses this well.

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  2. Ugh. So true. I actually hate the idea of having to compete for anything… I always think about Rilke in that regard. To compete, you have to compare. But Rilke says stop comparing and simply turn inward when writing.

    Anyway, great post. 🙂

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  3. Yup, know what you mean. It’s a competition between all these other writers – and then it becomes yourself v yourself – and then the stories suck – and then you try to forget the ‘market’ and focus – and then the stories no longer suck…

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  4. Definitely agree. Competition takes many forms: the entry competition, where there is only one winner (maybe second place or even a prestigious shortlist etc.) and also wider market competition. Entry competitions are fun and a bit of a lottery… I’ve won a few prizes but lost far many more. The wider market takes longer to figure out… I’m actually inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. It shows that publishing is like the Wizard of Oz, a man behind a curtain and lots of smoke, not quite the gatekeeper of quality…far from it, in the case of 50 Shades of Grey. This also illustrates the need to connect with core readers, even in terms of fan-fiction, which is the kernel of success in this case. There’s also the intermediate market of events, awards, bursaries and opportunities, which is itself somewhat modish and agenda-orientated. From my point of view, I’m trying to forget all of that and reconnect with a core readership, which in my case is horror. This involves making connections through reading and writing in an area of shared interest.

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      • Ha ha! I hope so! It’s a kick up the bum anyway. Horror and dark fiction is my main interest although it is good to see all the other stuff going on.

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  5. Ah, yes … I’ve definitely lingered on the page you write of. It’s so hard to not get caught up in all the hoopla about writing that _is not_ actual writing. Thankfully, all that noise quiets when I lose myself in a story … Thanks for the thoughtful post. 🙂

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