I help administer a short story competition on behalf of a writers’ group I go, and last week I had to send a copy of an anthology to one of last year’s successful entrants.

I didn’t have their postal address, so I went back through our emails to find the entrant’s original submission, and then got in touch to ask for a postal address.

I was horrified when Gmail returned my search results. There was the email with the competition entry, but the email was dated 2017, not 2018 (when the competition in question was running).

Immediately, I panicked. I feared I’d made some almighty administrative blunder. Had I sent the 2018 judges a story submitted during 2017’s competition? If so, how had I managed that? And had that led the judges to award a prize in 2018 to an entry submitted the previous year? I was mortified at the potential fallout from such an almighty disaster.

I know the systems I have in place for administering the competitions, and I thought they were robust. How the heck was I going to sort out this nightmare?

And then I accidentally knocked my mouse, which caused the screen to scroll slightly, revealing the rest of Gmail’s search results. That’s when I realised what had happened.

The competition entrant had submitted that story to our 2017 competition. However, they’d also entered the same story into our 2018 competition … and, on this occasion, it had been placed.

When I say the same story, it was a slightly different version. The 2018 version had been tweaked (only a few sentences), and as I read through both stories, I could see how the 2018 version was much stronger.

So here was a writer who’d reviewed their work, looked for ways to improve it, and then had the confidence to resubmit it, to the same competition. And that effort paid off.

I also think it’s a useful reminder that when you submit an entry into a competition, it is being judged against its fellow competitors. So, therefore, what fails in one competition can succeed in another … or, as this case demonstrates, in the same competition the following year, because it is now competing against a different batch of entries. (We also change our judges every year, so that will influence the outcome, as different personal tastes are reflected in the judging decisions.)

This incident really highlighted to me how important it is to accept that if a competition entry isn’t successful on one occasion, it does not mean it’s a bad piece of writing. There’s no harm in reviewing it, seeing if you can strengthen it (the break between submitting it and learning its outcome gives you the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes again), and then resubmit it elsewhere.

And this incident also highlighted to me how active my imagination can be sometimes, going off at completely the wrong tangent when I think I might have ballsed up. I suppose that’s the downside to being creative. Always imagining the worst!

Good luck.

Competitive Edge

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