Sunday, 3 July 2016

Leaving the Living Room: New Writers Awards

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

(Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672)

This poem by Anne Bradstreet has always been one of my favourites, and though I have not shared her experience, I can well image her discomfort when her poem was shown to others without her knowledge, even if it later led to a publication.

My own work sits safely in my living room, within my own little writer's bubble of tweaking, trimming, and neatening. However, earlier this month a work colleague told me she had applied for the Scottish Book Trust's New Writers Awards and encouraged me to do the same.

I had just received my first feedback at the time and felt anything but ready to apply for an award and sending in a sample, though the idea appealed to me. Not so much because of the prize (though, let's be honest, it is a great prize, particularly the whole mentoring aspect!), but because of the possibility to get my name out there and actually let people know that I and my writing exist.

In the days that followed I was not sure what was more agonising: writing a 500 word synopsis or selecting 1-2 scenes with a total of no more than 3500 words and editing them to my satisfaction.

The synopsis went very much against everything I had learned in the past, which was to leave your readers wanting more, rather than telling them: this happens, that happens, there's some suspense and a possible twist, and finally we arrive at this ending.
I ended up writing 5 different ones, before I arrived at one I thought did not read like a primary school kid's first holiday report. Though looking at it now, can I really be sure it doesn't or am I just desensitized to all the "and then this happens"?

Can you tell this whole thing is taking more courage than I had originally anticipated? I am my own worst critic - a common problem among writers, or so I've heard. Mix that with a large dollop of doubt in my creative skill, a sprinkle of uncertainty -- because what chance does a non native speaker stand next to the wordsmiths of English? Add a splash of fear because how can I be sure the novel and I are ready? Shake well and the result is a jittery mess of would-be-writer who thinks fondly of the application form... saved somewhere on the computer rather than sent away to be considered by the award panel.

Thankfully, though I am easily scared, I am not one to look away when opportunity knocks on my door. I poured away that dark cocktail of self-consciousness -- well, most of it -- and sat back down to work, got some people to comment on my efforts and, finally, sent away that dreaded email.

And now I'm sitting here, a jittery mess, because I have done it. For the first time, I took something of my own and sent it into the world to be looked at by other eyes -- eyes, that might not be so kind as my friends/alpha readers. But every manuscript encounters unkind eyes at one point in its existence and, who knows, maybe mine gets lucky and that part of its life is still a long way into the future.

In the meantime, for the first time ever, I will play the waiting game. Not yet waiting for a publishing deal or an agent to take me under their wing, but some sort of recognition that my efforts are worth more than my time and enjoyment.

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