Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Pain of Rejection - for judges as well as writers

I took a temporary break from writing to help judge two short story competitions and hope this post is useful for writers who suffer the disappointment of not seeing their story reach a long-list, or move from long to short-list. As a writer well-acquainted with the pain of rejection, I'm acutely aware of the hopes being dashed when a story doesn't make it.

As a judge, I have read scores of truly excellent stories. Plenty of strong voices, original premises and stunning conclusions. It has been such a privilege. I gave so many stories a YES, or a very strong MAYBE, and meanwhile my fellow-judges were choosing their favourites too.

Ultimately, this meant incredibly tough choices had to be made, especially during the re-reads when a MAYBE might change to a YES because several delicately nuanced stories were even more impressive at the second reading. It was exciting to discover these, but had the effect of adding more contenders to the next stage - and therefore even more anguish to the decision-making.

It is horribly hard to part company with these stories. Many miss the final selection by a hair's breadth. In the end, the fate of an otherwise beautiful piece of writing can rest on one awkward sentence, or a touch too much distracting backstory in the opening paragraph.

Other reasons for not making the final cut? Perhaps the narrative holds the tension brilliantly until the denouement, then slightly peters out in the vital last few paragraphs. Or the pace of a slower starter eventually picks up well and builds to a spectacular ending, but the story has taken one too many detours along the way. And sometimes it's a case of the theme not being fully explored, or it might have become a little lost or obscured within the plot.

It may seem nit-picking, but locating these kinds of distractions from the narrative is the only means of separation.

Some of the stories which came so close to winning through will stay with me for a long time. These 'rejected' favourites don't stop being favourites. They don't stop being well-executed, compelling stories. They may have missed the lists this time, but only because of the other strong contenders - not because they didn't deserve to be there.