Even though I try to post every other day, something happened to me today that I felt needed to be shared.
This afternoon was one of “those” days. When the writing is blah, the work is meh, and there’s very little inspiring things going on. I left a mediocre day at work to head to the barn, where I had a little girl on a spunky pony ride circles around me, both literally and metaphorically. If she was 9, I’m the tooth fairy. And I got to watch her admittedly stellar warmup (while Gabe was particularly lazy), smooth transitions (while we played let’s-become-a-camel-during-EVERY-canter-depart), and beautiful leg yields (which Gabe gave me several half-assed attempts at). But we had some good lengthening strides. We had an ok ride that I wasn’t left feeling very motivated after. And I remembered about 12 things I’ve been meaning/wanting to do, and still haven’t–so, integrity fail.
And I was feeling a bit of a quarter-life writing crisis. The kind that says, “Holy hell, do you realize you’ll be 27 this year? That’s only 3 years away from 30. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE PUBLISHED AT 30!” I don’t have a problem with 30 as an age b/c I’m looking forward to getting to pretend that I’m mature then, but I had always expected that I’d be published by now. (I don’t know why I always picked 30, but I figure it’s as good a goal as any. Not old, but old-ER than I was as a teenager, when I made that goal.) And, my panic-logic rationalized, if I’ve failed to be published in 26 yrs., what’s another 3? (Of course that assumes that I’ve been writing and trying to get published en utero, but still. That’s panic-logic for you.)
The action that kicked off this quarter-life crisis was a tiny one, as they almost always are. Back in Jan. I entered a flash fiction contest. Nothing earth shattering, really–just the winter “WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest.” They were hoping for 300 entries and ended up extending the deadline (which had been Feb. 28) a few weeks so they could meet that goal. I entered something I thought was pretty stellar, and when they didn’t make their expected entry number by the deadline, I’ll admit that I was like, “Yes! Chances for winning just increased. Yeah, baby.”
So, I accidentally happened to remember that I’d entered today and went on the contest site to see what was up. And there are the 2009 winter contest winners, the runners up, and what looked like 20 Honorable Mentions. Not mine. And this one stupid contest made me feel really down, mostly b/c I’d been REALLY proud of the piece I’d entered. After reading the winning 3 entries, I had to admit that I didn’t think theirs was better than mine, truthfully–and I think my 7 years of university and literary journal critiquing gives me some expertise in this area. I thought mine had better humor, equally addressed the “human condition” within the short word limit, had equally steady pacing, etc. So why did mine not make it?
Then, fast forward to the rest of a meh day, and I’ve got a full on pity-party going by this evening, largely questioning my big-picture plan for getting published. Am I really on the right track? I alternated between the logical part of my brain that said, “ever writer gets rejections, nobody likes them, and this is exactly how you get that thick skin to keep persisting.” But then, the other side, which is much quieter but infinitely sneakier than the logical part, would whisper, “yeah…but how many times do you have to knock on a door before you realize you’re at the wrong house?”
And in the process of the rest of my day, something strange snuck into my Inbox that I hadn’t noticed before I left work. An email, from the WOW! site, notifying me that my submission for the 2010 flash fiction contest had made it past the first round of judging. According to the email,
“First Round Judging means your story has made it through the first cut. Our round-table of guest judges have scored all of the contest entries, and based on those scores, we have narrowed down the entries to the top 100 or so. That means your story beat out roughly 200 other stories.”
I read that sentence and my brain shut down. I hadn’t been rejected. And furthermore, not only had I not been rejected, I’d made it past a panel of judging that put my entry above almost 200 other entries (which is, duh, how a contest typically works). And FURTHER furthermore, (and this was the part that made my brain shut down), I happened to get this email on the SAME DAY that I happened to accidentally wander onto the site to get some input after almost a month of nothing and walked away feeling like deep fried dog turds.
This seems so bizarrely coincidental that my head exploded. It was like God was like, “*boom* Checkmate.” And, like always happens when He does that, I feel incredibly embarassed that I had the doubts I had in the first place.
Now, like I said, this isn’t an earth shattering contest. Thousands just like this one happen every month around the world. But I had some Big Doubt going, (because I’m emotionally fragile enough that little bumps make me think we’re all gonna die). The bad part about that kind of emotional teeter-totter is that it doesn’t take much to make me think, “I am a cosmic fail.” But the good part of that teeter-totter is that it doesn’t take a lot to bounce me back to thinking I’ll be the next Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer. So even this small measure of e-validation makes today amazing. And I think it’s small events like this that writers need to focus on–the little validations (since, for a while, that’s all you’re likely to get–small ones). Because it’s entirely too easy to get a small rejection and think it’s time to hang it up.
The next steps are for it to go through more judging which filters for the final judging by the guest judge, who then selects the Top 10 and 15 Honorable Mentions. By the third week in April, I’ll know if I made it to the Top 10. But I think I’m happy taking this validation, however small, as a sign to keep it up. Little nudges like this with conspicuous timing always seem to be the work of a still, small voice, and I’m happy to take what I’ve got.
Though that will in no way stop me from crowing like I won a Pushcart if I win anything in this contest. 🙂