I’ve thought long and hard about posting this. I’m not keen on ruffling feathers, but I’ve put this by several people who feel as I do so here goes.
Generally speaking writers are a supportive bunch.
But occasionally writers can be a writer’s worst enemy.
Well I’ve been doing a bit of lurking again and there’s a lot of knocking of people goes on through the medium of the internet. No one is immune.
Successful, popular novelists are tongue (or keyboard) lashed for not being literary. Literary writers are sneered at for not being popular. I have no problem with that. We are all entitled to our points of view.
When I am looking at books on Amazon for example I value the opinions of other readers, good and bad.
Unless I can say something good, I tend to keep my opinions to myself, but I’m going to stick my neck out today about something that really bothers me.
Of course successful, published writers want their work to be enjoyed and I reckon even people like J K Rowling feel it when people slag their writing off – but they can look at what they’ve done and know that it doesn’t matter that some people don’t like their books, but hey that’s life. They don’t have to prove anything – they are successful.
Now I know very well that a forum is a place for open discussion and message boards are for messages, but all too often people are driven or excluded from such places because their opinions don’t fit in with the current ruling clique. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
What concerns me is the criticism of competition winners.
I’ve only been in for a couple of writing competitions – one was to write a novel, the other was the Bridport (yes I know, I had delusions of talent!) and I know how scary it is to send in an entry.
For a good many people it requires a lot of courage to submit work. I know a number of very good writers who simply will not send anything off. You know who you are and if you’re reading this, I really wish you’d do it.
But let’s get back to our competition entrant.
Here you have someone who loves to write. They enter competitions with a shred of hope and the expectation of disappointment, or maybe they are supremely confident who knows, but for the sake of argument let’s assume this is someone who lacks confidence and is wary about entering their work.
They read books and magazines about writing and visit several of the many forums and discussion boards online where others can be so encouraging and supportive – which generally speaking they are.
They work hard on a story, polish it to a gleaming shine, sweat blood over it and hesitate before posting it off only to hear it land at the bottom of the post box just as they think of something that would have made that opening line so much better.
They go home, gnaw their fingernails to bloody stumps, hit the bottle and . . . oh sorry I’m exaggerating here.
But here’s something that could happen. They win.
The judges have seen something in the work that appeals.
Our writer is over the moon, they start to believe in themselves and then . . . up pops a message somewhere saying the judges were wrong. How could they choose something that had spelling errors or a clumsy paragraph or didn’t have a very satisfactory ending?
Others join in, maybe just one or two but they end up swarming round the winning story like flies round a corpse. To me this is a form of cyber bullying. They pick holes and find fault and our winning writer trips over these comments and a budding talent is squashed.
Sometimes they name the person they think has won unfairly. The owner of one winning name in particular must have savagely burning ears.
And now I’m not exaggerating. I know we have to develop thick skins as writers, but truthfully speaking mine is still pretty thin and if I was new to all this and saw my first published piece being torn to shreds I may well give up or at least put writing aside for a few years.
Some people will shrug off this kind of criticism as sour grapes, but some won’t and that is what worries me. I know that if you offer your work for public consumption then you have to be prepared for feedback, but if it must be done then shouldn’t it be constructive particularly in the case of people in the infancy of their craft?
Rather than being mean spirited and critical of competition winners, why can’t they look for the positives that made the story a winner in the first place?
The kind of criticism I’ve been reading doesn’t really reflect on the competition winner and it may bring the critics a small glimmer of satisfaction that their forum friends have jumped on their bandwagon, but looking at it as an observer the only ones who look bad are the ones doing the complaining.
And the only one being hurt is the competition winner.
So if you are a competition winner or a runner up or you’ve had your first story published in an anthology or a magazine and someone out here in the ether has made some spiteful comment, then please ignore it.
Your work has touched the people that matter.
That’s what counts.
So do you dare enter writing competitions? Yes you do – go for it and if you win then good for you, hold your head up high, be proud of yourself and keep writing.