There is no question that the online writing community is getting bigger and with it, the quality of stories I’m up against in any competition is getting better.
I’m not sure if I’ve become lazy, if i’m just distracted or maybe I’m not focusing, but my writing is NOT as successful as it was last year…at the moment. When I enter a competition now I’m thinking hard about the subject matter, researching details and thinking carefully about the narrative, setting and language used. I’m not saying I didn’t deploy this level of care and attention before, I just find myself checking, changing, adding and removing FAR more than ever, and even with all that effort there are lots of people ahead of me.
I need to up my game.
Going forward I decided that I need to change how I approach writing competitions. Back when I was new I didn’t know a lot about this world and I entered comps without researching what they were about, considering their aims and support of the community or looking at the comments of previous entrants.
It’s clear that some competitions are taking money from entrants and making a profit from writers who are trying desperately to get noticed. That doesn’t feel very responsible, fair or ethical to me. Profiting from people who are trying to stick their head above the parapit in such a competitive world, talented people who have likely placed their social life and/or career on a back burner to focus on their passion and don’t have money to throw away, just feels greedy.
Yeah, I said it.
I now realise that FREE competitions exist that, providing writers with the opportunity to be challenged by a prompt or idea on a regular basis without parting with a single penny. My attention should be focussed on those places first. They are often run by volunteers who have no other interest than helping us all raise our game and reach our goals. To be our best writer-self. These are the organisations that need our support. These are the organisations (and volunteers) that are making a tangible difference without adding financial pressures.
Even if you enter the paid competitions as well, why wouldn’t you join a free writing community run by people who’ve been there, done that and got the grubby, sweaty, stress-filled t-shirt? People who dedicate their free time to helping writers climb the greasy pole? People with a REAL passion for the craft, who want to see you succeed?
Now, that’s not to say that paid competitions don’t have their place. Many successful authors made their way up the same slippery pole by winning prestigous competitions, using them to gain experience and learn from others. A quick and easy Google search will help you root out the ones that are popular and have provided people with a leg-up and make a real difference.
There are also writing competitions using profits to fund a prize (or prizes) and then they reinvest the remainder in helping writers with events and community groups.
Organisations exist that you can pay a single membership fee and never have to pay to enter a competition with them for 12 months. And memberships aren’t always expensive or mandatory.
It’s no secret that I chose to volunteer with Secret Attic because of the way they manage their memberships, that they are never pushy about joining (they make it very clear this is a CHOICE for writers, not a necessity) and the team of volunteers involved (myself included) just want to see others succeed. Just to labour that point – when I gave up my opportunity to enter the Picture This competition because they offered for me to take over judging, I knew that I’d lose my shot of aiming for top of the leaderboard, but I didn’t care. My first thought wasn’t what I was losing, my first thought was that I wanted one of the other hard-working, clever, unknown and original writers I love, to get it instead (obviously I expect some credit in the acceptance speech though 😜).
There are ways of making the paid comp sector fair and enticing, but I don’t think everyone is working in an honest and development-focussed fashion. Some groups definitely DON’T make the writers and their improvement the priority, and again, in my opinion, that should always be the aim of the game.
I watched in genuine disgust last year when well-known and expensive writing competitions (£5 to £10 per entry in some cases) were going past the closing date by MONTHS in some cases without sending an email or making a simple social media post to tell paying customers why they hadn’t met their promises for publishing results on time. There’s no excuse for that and personally I find it incredibly rude and disrespectful. When I found myself having waited 6 weeks after a closing date with no update on the competition website and their social media accounts had been dormant for years (no exaggeration) I emailed (politely) to ask for an update. I got a shitty, frustrated, clipped response with a link to the terms where they’d written that they ‘reserved the right to change the date results are released’ and telling me there’d be an update soon. 6 further weeks passed before they posted anything anywhere. My email hadn’t even given them a little nudge to consider that updating their paying customers would be appropriate. Again, I’d find this level of service unacceptable for any paying customer and in any other paying environment, I’d be calling, chasing and moaning that I didn’t get what I paid for. Why do we allow it? I’m guilty too by the way. I’ve accepted that this is the status quo of writing comps and bothering organisers is a big no-no.
Writers aren’t second rate citizens. Most of us are trying to break through and get noticed in saturated markets, coming up with incredible, original, thought-provoking competition entries, paying to submit them, and sometimes we aren’t even shown a little care and respect as paying customers.
It’s not right.
I’m aware of 3 competitions in 2021 that were effected by delays and failed to keep their entrants informed. I’ve chosen not to name and shame them for now, which I also promised on social media. I recognise there have probably been unexpected delays and challenges as a result of the pandemic and hopefully lessons have been learned. But there is no reason for this mistreatment to continue. 2022 should be a game changing year in the writing community, and I want to be part of that.
What I don’t want (and as a mental health blogger I’m well placed to make this comment) is to see writers being stressed and exhausted by organisations that should be treating their authors emotions and worry with more care. We aren’t just pen names behind a screen that don’t matter because there is a level of anonymity and distance created my the online setting. Personally I pour effort and emotion in to my stories (yes, even the crap ones!) and often, I’m writing what I know. Stories about people who are struggling, grief striken, anxious and broken. The effort and thought that I use to create those stories has a direct effect on my own mood and health. I choose to do it because I want to be part of the Mental Health narrative and I believe strongly that talking more, writing more and being more honest is the only way a nobody like me can help people. The level of anxiety produced by my brain in writing and the submitting an entry is VERY real and, I believe, most other writers feel it too.
To ignore that, to treat those mental struggles and the out-pouring of a writers emotion with no care, to show no gratitude for the people who are paying to keep your organisation upright not just with cash, but with an emotional cost too…well last year, for me, it was genuinely upsetting. I’m sure many, many other aspiring writers know those tears and frustrations too.
After getting angry about all this (sorry), I decided that my attitude to the market this year had to be different. Some people are treating this as a business environment rather than a growing, inclusive COMMUNITY. The emotional strain of it all is just too much for me. When your hobby that’s been carefully constructed to try and help you makes you even more stressed, something is very wrong.
When I thought about paid competitions in January, and pondered how I want to be involved in this world in 2022, I made the conscious decision to only dip my virtual pen into compeitions that meet any or all of these 3 categories
- Competitions that are looking for entries from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds and / or asking for stories with similar themes
- Competitions that are free to enter and fit my skill set and experience
- Ethical competitions that have a fair or no fee, but promote the development of writing skills and encourage the growth of a friendly, helpful, inclusive writing community
I realise I’m going to see a competition in the next 10 months that just excites me, maybe I’ll instantly have a great idea to run with and I’ll end up entering without considering the rules I’ve made, but I will try to keep to them.
I’ve accidentally found myself thrust into the writers community on social media and I love having found a small place in this huge world. My plan was always to try and be part of the change for the mental health narrative in the UK. I wanted my daughter to see I didn’t give up when my brain was falling apart. But the same ethos has spread to writing too. I want to be part of the change that sees writers being shown the praise and respect they deserve. When they’ve entered a competition (especially if they’ve parted with cash) seeing them treated fairly and offered regular updates on competition results through websites and social media seems the least that should be happening. These are easy things to achieve, currently being done well by some forward-thinking organisations, and there’s not really any reason not to do it.
Anyway…I feel like I’ve had a rant and my thoughts on this whole messy situation are out there. I don’t mind being the first to say it, but I hope I’m not the last.
Having put some new thoughts in to this weeks Secret Attic weekly write, I used the prompt “They say he’s done time” to create a story about a family managing memory loss at home and dementia for the maternal grandmother. It wasn’t a simple story to write and I feel like, really, it should have been a lot longer. The characters could have been padded out and the back story clearly had a lot more to it. I may even reshape it one day in to a short story rather than a flash. I digress…
Wonderfully it appears I got a bit of my mojo back with this one because, finally, I was once again selected (although that elusive win is becoming harder to find) and I’m really chuffed that this foray into a different branch of mental health went relatively well.
As a side note, in order to remain current and evolve from my own status quo, I am trying to utilise different back stories, different character styles and different narrative perspectives in order to try and climb my own version of the greasy pole. I hope in the future I will be able to show you a different side to ‘Steph’ and my writing, but as I only post successful stories my silence alone will show you how well I’m doing.
The selected story, Memory, is below for you to have a read. I hope you like it. As always, my selection in the Secret Attic Weekly Write can be seen on their website, and if you want to know more about becoming part of the SA community, have a look around the site. Their competitions are free, the people are volunteers, everyone is bloody lovely, so why not give it a go?
On to the picture, a phoenix, representing the resurrection of my writing with a new style and a different perspective. The night sky, representing the time of day I inevitably draw.
Truthfully I wanted to draw an elaborate bird and I’ve chosen to make her a phoenix to fit with this post. I am finding it harder and harder to get the accompanying drawing right, but I promise to work on it because I feel you deserve better. Even though this is just a blog on a website and it costs nothing. I care about what people see and how I represent myself – maybe some writing competition organisations could start thinking that way too? Who bloody knows.
When Amy’s dad left her sadness grew. They had a special bond, but his affair broke Jen so she made him leave.
Amy would be a child of divorce. Jen needed a break from the blame.
“Are you ready?” The only bond Amy had stronger than her fathers was with Jen’s mum, so she arranged a visit.
“Hang on!” Amy thundered around upstairs. Jen remembered last hearing that noise as she sobbed, listening to her husband hurriedly packing, leaving his family.
“Sorry Mummy, I want to show Nana the paintings I did with Riley. Will she like them?” Amy had more energy in her crooked little finger than Jen had in her entire body.
“Of course she will. Tell her about soft play too” Jen was talking but not listening. Remembering nothing, forgetting everything.
“Mum, where’s Bruce?” Jen forgot Amy’s toy elephant – needed on every journey.
“Sorry darling. Here he is. Let’s go”
The half hour drive felt like decades. Amy spent 29 minutes asking for chocolate, where Daddy is and how milk is made. Jen had no answers.
They arrived and she watched Amy’s excitement grow. When Nana locked eyes with her the love spread pink over her pale grey face. Their cuddle seemed endless.
“How’s Michael?” Nana flashed Jen with angry, sullen eyes. “They say he’s done time. Glad to hear it” She looked back at Amy and her smile returned.
Michael, Nanas loving husband, died last year. He’d never committed a crime.
“Mrs Wells? Can we talk?” A concerned care home nurse appeared.
“Of course, what’s wrong?”
“We’re convinced her dementia is advancing. We’ve requested the Doctor visits. I’m so sorry”
The pink drained from Jen’s face as she realised soon Amy would be forgotten too.
And her final special bond would become another memory.