I clicked the Thunderbird icon, hoping for news about the contest I had entered. I knew the results were supposed to be coming at the end of October, so I’d been checking for days. I don’t know what made me check right before bed or why. I wish I hadn’t.
The email was there, waiting to be read. I clicked and my stomach flopped. Please let me at least be an honorable mention, I thought. I scanned the email until I hit the first place winner. Damn, not me. I scrolled through the second and third place winners. Not me either.
My shoulders slumped and my heart felt heavy. I really wanted to place, felt like I needed to place. What I truly wanted was validation. Despite my best efforts, I still hear my grandmother say, “How do you know you’re any good?” I wanted to be able to say, “Here, this, this proves I have merit.”
Okay, I didn’t place, but maybe, just maybe, I was chosen for honorable mention. Twenty-three people were chosen for honorable mention, and do you know that not one of those names was mine? My world fell through a dark hole into an abyss. I didn’t make it.
I scrolled through the rest of the winners, door prizes. There, amongst others whose names had been chosen at random, was mine. As if I couldn’t feel worse, somehow, this door prize felt like the trophy to losers. “Here ya go. Thanks for playing ol’Chap,” as some man in a nice suit claps you on the back.
All the negative thoughts I had about my own writing came tumbling down on me like a window air conditioner shoved out of a second story window. My own mind battered me with insult after insult as I crawled into bed. I laid in bed, willing myself not to cry over the “stupid” contest.
I had one helluva time getting to sleep, staying asleep, and not immediately focusing on the contest every time I woke up. I wasn’t surprised. I just wondered why on Earth I had to check for the results right before bed. (A Homer Simpson “Doh!” sort of moment)
I woke up and immediately dreaded having to tell my children, who had been rooting for me, that their mother had failed. I wanted to be that gracious loser, who smiles and says, “I’ll get ’em next time.” I couldn’t. I’m not proud. I shut the door to my room and went over the results again. I cried like a baby needing a change.
Let me be clear. I know it’s just a contest and it’s only one contest. I know it’s not the end of the world. I know I’ll have other setbacks and letdowns. As I said, I just really wanted the validation. I wanted someone with no stake in it to say, “You’re a good writer.” My family thinks I’m a good writer, but they’re my biggest fans. I’ve had a few people on Twitter tell me I’m a good writer or that I “have a lot of potential.” I always wonder if they’re just saying it so I’ll retweet them, or if they just like me and don’t want to hurt my feelings.
Of course, where did I go when I wanted writer support, which should be a hotline. . . I went to Twitter.
After the tweet, I decided to try to brighten some of my friends’ days since mine wasn’t looking too bright. I ran through my “Twitter Friends” list and retweeted and commented to what I could. I found myself happy to find such wonderful stories to share today. My happiness didn’t last long, though. My stupid brain decided to sabotage my happiness with a whole lot of negative thinking.
Guess what I got in return? The support I needed from writers who understood what I was going through. I cried when the first comments came through. It felt good to be understood in such a complete way. Then suggestions came in to help me out of my dark place. One of my friends gave me a bit of a pep talk, another told me to treat myself to something consoling and then kick my ass and get on with it, another suggested I write ten words for “darkness” without using the word “darkness”.
So I nodded at the wise words of my friends and took their suggestions to heart. I looked through my cupboards and thought what can I make to console and treat myself. Pasta! With garlic bread! I threw together a little pasta and garlic bread, and you know what, I did feel a bit better. It was like a hug from a friend.
After I ate a healthy helping of pasta, I moved on to my writing assignment, ten words – Darkness without “Darkness”. The assignment helped flush the worst of the negativity from my system. I debated whether to post those ten-word thoughts, but in the end, I wanted others to see them if they were having similar feelings. My words aren’t poetic or special. They are the feelings I had in the moment. Well, at least the ones I could encompass in ten words.
I feel silly for letting a contest dominate me so thoroughly. I know rejection is part of being a writer, but damn, that doesn’t make it any easier. At least now, I don’t want to throw in the towel. Now, I want to find out how I can make my writing better, and then I want to do what’s necessary to get my words out to the world. You could say, I found hope. I’m hopeful for MY future as a writer and what I’ll be doing to make that happen.
Thanks to Alex Micati for suggesting the song, “That’s Life“. I’m not sure which version he intended, but I liked this one. Also, thanks for all the pep talks and support. You’re a constant support to the writing community. You’re a beautiful unicorn!
Thanks to Tante Willemijn (aka Linnie) for the words of encouragement and understanding and the wonderful suggestion to treat myself to something consoling. You’re a wonderful, supportive friend! You’re a beautiful unicorn!
Thanks to Greg McGraw for the “10 Words for Darkness Without Using Darkness” Challenge and the supportive words of encouragement. You’re a supportive friend. You’re a beautiful unicorn!
*Special Note: In my family, we use the term “Beautiful Unicorn” when anyone does anything especially touching, meaningful, and/or caring for us or someone else.