Some time in late August 2018, I bought a water bottle. Almost anyone who has spoken to me in the last five months can tell you how much I love that water bottle. I talk about it frequently and with unbridled joy. I even bought every member of my household one, although none of them quite share my enthusiasm.
‘It’s just a water bottle,’ they say. ‘Calm down’.
‘But what a water bottle,’ I reply.
Then one day, while gleefully availing myself of the free WiFi on the bus to the airport, I decided to send a note of appreciation to the manufacturers of my water bottle. But when I went to their website, I discovered that their online feedback form was designed to receive complaints.
Surely, I thought to myself, I can’t be the first person to have ever sent them a note of appreciation. But by their rather dazed response a few days later, it seemed I might have been.
This got me thinking about how most people only speak up to complain. They don’t take the time to give appreciation for an ergonomic grip or easy-to-clean lid. They wouldn’t think to let the shopkeeper know that the window display made their heart swell or to thank the bus driver for waiting patiently for that elderly woman struggling to catch the bus. There is so much good and beauty and kindness in the world that goes unacknowledged.
Which brings me ever-so-self-consciously to the topic of my writing. (*ahem*).
In 2018, I put my work ‘out there’ 37 times, mostly award submissions and residency applications, with a light smattering of agent and publisher queries. Out of those 37 times, I had two definite ‘wins’ (You can read about those wins at imbineeme.com/news and even see a photo where I’m smiling so much it looks like my face has imploded). I also had one short-listing, one long-listing and an honourable mention.
Otherwise, I experienced a whole lot of rejection.
Mostly, I’m okay with this. I know these awards and residency programs are not like modern day pass-the-parcel where everybody is apparently a winner. And I know they must follow the Highlander model: there can only be one. But I also know this means there are plenty of writers whose stories or manuscripts were totes awesome sauce (and most likely don’t include the term ‘totes awesome sauce’) that weren’t awarded the prize or shortlisted and who received the same rejection email as everyone else without ever knowing how close they got or how much their words might have resonated with one of the readers during the judging process.
Luckily for me, I experienced two exceptions to this norm in 2018. The judges for one mentorship/residency program took the time and care to let me know I’d made the top 10% of a very large submission pool. And a judge from another prize contacted me via the prize’s organisers to let me know they loved my submission and to encourage me to keep going.
So to all the literary awards organisers and judges out there: the wording of that rejection email matters. Long lists matter. And although it’s not always practical or possible, occasionally reaching out from behind that veil (you all wear veils, right?) can make a huge, huge difference.
And look, while I’m at it, to all the readers out there: when you truly love a book or a story or an article, please consider reaching out to the writer in some way to let them know. Don’t be creepy about it and try and be their new best friend and offer to weave a brooch from a lock of their hair. Just let them know their words mattered.
Writing is such a lonely and difficult pursuit, we all need small acts of encouragement to keep going.
And, for the record, I will keep going (*she says, as she takes an enthusiastic swig from her beloved water bottle*).