Late-ish last year, I entered a piece into the CBC Short Story Prize literary contest. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, because I experienced one of what I call my ‘witchy feelings’ that I needed to. I chose a story that I had written years ago, for a short story class at Camosun College when I was a student there, polished it up, and did the necessary computer gymnastics (downloading from OneDrive to my husband’s computer, to save as a Word document, because I couldn’t do it on my Mac and Submittable wouldn’t take any format I had–I’ve since been gifted Word for Mac by my dad, so I won’t face the issue again), and submitted the story.
I wasn’t expecting to place on the contest’s long list, but that didn’t stop that sinking, stinging feeling from settling in the pit of my stomach when I received the email sharing the long list and my name wasn’t on it. However, that feeling didn’t stick around, mutate into a rage monster, and rake me over the ‘You’re a total failure who should never write again’ coals like previous rejections from journals and contests. It stung, I allowed myself to be sad, and then had a conversation with myself about the number of entries (2,200 English submissions), the number of writers on the long-list (27), and about how not being chosen this time doesn’t mean that I’m a poor writer, but that my piece wasn’t what they were looking for.
Reading and the enjoyment of literature is subjective. The ten people on the submissions committee had to read 3,000 entries (English and French together) and narrow the list down to a fraction of those. They have to take that 27 down to another, smaller number, and then finally choose only one to receive the banging grand prize ($6,000, publication on CBC Books, and a 10 day residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity). Inclusive of the finalist prizes (4 of $1,000 each, with publication on CBC Books), my story had a 5-in-3,000 chance of making it to the ‘Big Show’ (or a 0.16% chance, if you like a percentage).
The odds were not in my favour.
However, I’m not saying that to make myself feel better or to soothe away any remaining sting, because I’m not upset. I was and let myself be for a little while, but, honestly, I succeeded. I took the first step and submitted my story. For me, sharing my work for the purpose of being judged is one of the most difficult parts of being a writer. It’s like peeling away parts of myself and offering them up in the hopes that whoever the judge is won’t find them too clumsy or messy or ill-suited for whatever purpose. It sucks and I hate it, but I did it anyway, because I needed to take that step.
I didn’t place on the long list this year, but maybe I will next year. My lack of placement isn’t going to keep me from writing more and submitting more. There’s another contest I have my eye on, for short prose under 300 words, and submissions are now open the CBC Poetry Prize.
Rejection sucks and it’s always going to, but it’s no longer enough reason for me to keep from trying.
So, write up, me hearties; yo ho!