Writing, Validity and Vulnerability

I received my contributor’s copy of the 2017 Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual this week.

Aesthetica 2017 Creative Writing Annual

It’s only the second time I have had a short story published in print, so it’s a great achievement for me at this point in my career. My story, Things I Have Wasted Money On, previously won the Devon Prize in the 2015/16 Exeter Writers Short Story Competition. I enjoyed writing it and liked experimenting with its quirky format, which I hope tells the story and expresses the narrator’s emotions in an interesting way.

I also recently won 3rd place in the Erewash Writers’ Group 2016 Open Short Story Competition, which was judged by Patsy Collins. Again, this is a big deal to me because I haven’t had much success with writing competitions. Partly because I don’t enter as many as I should.

 

Submitting writing means being vulnerable.

When you enter a short story competition or submit work to a writing journal, you are inviting rejection. Most stories will be rejected. Very successful, established writers get rejections, so when your career is embryonic, rejection is not only expected – it is inevitable.

Exposing yourself to rejection is never fun, but it is necessary. The alternative is to write purely for yourself, to lock your stories away in a drawer and never let anyone read them apart from yourself. This isn’t an option for me, because I am passionate about literature and writing. I want people to read my work. I want them to like my stories. I want my fiction to evoke emotion and raise questions for people, to challenge their thoughts and assumptions. I would also like to earn a living from writing. All of this cannot be achieved without allowing myself to be vulnerable.

This is difficult for every writer. Well, maybe a few writers are super-confident and genuinely don’t care if everyone hates their work, but I have never met them. However, it is doubly difficult when you have mental health problems which make you constantly question your ability.

 

Small successes provide validity.

Hence these small successes mean a lot to me. They offer evidence that my work is worth reading, that I’m not wasting my time and energy. They are a small counterargument to that voice in my head which says “you’re kidding yourself, you can’t write” and “don’t bother submitting stories, because you’re wasting everyone’s time.”

It would be nice to not need or want such validity, to have utter confidence in my writing, but that’s not the way it is. External validation holds a lot of value for me.

So as much as I enjoy these small successes in and of themselves, they convince me to keep going. To keep submitting my work in the hope that someone will like it, that someone might believe it has value.

Ultimately, vulnerability and validity are two sides of the same coin. Part of me wishes I didn’t feel so vulnerable and that I weren’t so reliant on external validity, but it shows that I care. Writing is important to me and I want other people to believe my work is worthwhile. If just a few people enjoy my stories, that makes me happy.