The prize is getting into the chair every day. The prize is saying to myself, this isn’t over. Because my story isn’t finished.
I regard submission of a story as an achievement. It signifies that I’ve written a story, which puts me a long way in front of the earlier me, the person who dreamed about writing, but never got around to it.
If you enter writing competitions, it’s likely that in most of them you won’t get a mention. You might not even get an email telling you that you missed out. You’ll have to find the website and look for your name and the title of your story, which won’t be there, because they always let you know if you’ve scored. But I check the website anyway and pause at every name and story listed. I pause for longer in some places, because the title of a story will grab me. I’ll think about the title and wonder if I’ll ever get to read that story, because I’d like to see how someone constructed a story that fits that title. I’ll wonder about how much time the author spent on their story.
Because time can change a story. The story that has spent three or four months locked up in a writing competition is a different story when you read it again. Three or four months on, you’re different.
I read the stories that won the competition, and if they’re also published, those that were highly commended or shortlisted. I like reading stories. And reading these stories gives me some idea of what the judges are looking for. But I don’t compare my story with the winner. I compare the story I submitted with the story I could have written, which is a finished story, the one that will come with more work.
I tell that voice in my head that I don’t write bad stories, just unfinished ones.
I get back in the chair. I revise my story and submit it somewhere else. I remind myself that my name is on the entry form, not the story. Submitting a short story to a writing competition is not like professional sport, or worse, politics. They don’t publish the names of the people who weren’t successful. And having your name published in a shortlist is a win, not a loss.
The difference between not getting a mention and being shortlisted might not be much. Even when you are shortlisted, you don’t know whether you’ve finished fourth or seventh. And who cares, because the difference between fourth and seventh is down to the judges, who are readers, like us. And like us, they prefer some stories to others. A shortlisted story might have been very close to winning. And that’s where it gets hard. Is a story that’s been shortlisted finished?
I’m a compulsive revisor and editor. I decide my story isn’t finished. I get stuck in, because I don’t write bad stories, just unfinished ones. I submit my story to another competition, and it doesn’t get a mention. So I have another go at it. I can’t help myself. My unfinished stories are like relatives. They’re never done with me.
But I don’t mind, because the prize is settling into the chair and having something to work on.
Kit Scriven has been published in Island and short story anthologies. He won the Olga Master Short Story Award in 2016 and 2017, and the SALA Short Story Prize in 2016. He has been highly commended or shortlisted in several other short story competitions. Kit’s story ‘We’ll Stand in that Place’ won the 2019 Margaret River short story competition.