A well-known and high profile creative writing competition is announced today. Now, I know my story will not be long-listed. My publishing credits are few and relatively recent. I still have much to learn about the craft and I have a fair distance to travel yet. But still, I’ve discovered this little kernel of hope inside me that I can’t stop igniting every time I submit a piece. Once the deadline passes, I go on with another piece and pay the submission no mind. But, then, when the announcement deadline arrives, I refresh and refresh and refresh. Today, I felt that little kernel and decided to stop and examine it for a moment.

You see, I think it exists inside all writers who create work intended for an audience. Of course, not every writer seeks publication. Sometimes a piece is written for our own eyes only. It could be a character study or a form of therapeutic writing, for example. But, when we do create a piece intended for a home in the material or digital worlds, we latch onto any small sliver of hope we can muster. We still do it even when we know we’re hoping against hope for validation. The writing ego always wants to feel that it’s not shouting into the dark, that our efforts mean something to someone somewhere, even if it’s just one other solitary soul in the universe.

And that’s where I find myself today. I know my story needs a little more tightening, that it’s up against far more skilful works by more experienced writers. Logically, my chances of success are limited. And yet, and yet, and yet, until the website updates, I can’t quench that little kernel of hope. I torture myself with constant refreshing, ‘Just in case…’

But there is no sadness when my title is not included on the long list. There is no jealousy of the other writers. There is merely the will to redraft and resubmit the piece of work elsewhere. There is always the will to keep going, to write something else, to try submitting again.

Now, why am I writing this? Wouldn’t it be better to say nothing at all, rather than to strip my creative self bare like this in public? No. Because I’m neither special nor unique. The vast majority of writers go through this process time and again. They experience rejection whether they are professionals with a long and prestigious list of publications or whether they’re amateurs like me. The point is we learn to develop thicker writing skins and we learn to stop internalising rejection as, ‘This means my writing is bad and that I’m bad.’ Somehow we learn over time to make peace with rejection. It’s true some rejections sting more than others, but there is always something to be learned from them. No piece of work is ever ‘a waste’.

So, instead of trying to smother these little kernels of hope whenever I sense them, I plan to leave them well alone. I will stop interfering because hope is a driver of creativity, no matter how much or how little of it you have. So, I will keep on keeping on because, well, you never know, right?

Reading my winning flash fiction entry at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2019

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