Confidence seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. A couple of things happened this year that made me question what I’m doing and why. The events in themselves were both relatively minor, but somehow at the time seemed to speak volumes.
One of these was not getting long/shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition 2016. This might not seem like a bit deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you are a memoir writer, and competitions come around so scarcely (especially the ones with a decent word limit), then they take on a much bigger meaning than really they ought to, especially when you’re so close to the stories you’re writing (although I’m sure this is the case for writers of all genres).
I’d written and entered a story that meant a great deal to me. It was a story about a traumatic and scary encounter I had many years ago, a story that made me cross, disappointed and sad for the fact it happened in the first place. I hoped beyond hope I’d get placed in the competition, and I knew I’d be in a dilemma if it didn’t. I’d put so much into the story, I really didn’t feel I could edit it and improve it any further. It was a rare chance to have my voice heard and gain some recognition for my writing at the same time, and I was quietly, naïvely, hopeful.
The other important thing going on in my life was my application for a Diploma/MA in Person-Centred Counselling, and the interview was looming. Unfortunately, the results of the Fish Short Memoir Competition were announced and published online minutes before I had to leave for the hour-long interview – and I discovered my name wasn’t on either the short or the long-list. So before I’d finished reeling from the crushing disappointment that my story hadn’t made the grade, I had to get in the car to drive to an in-depth interview where I had to sell the very core of my being, and suddenly I’d lost all faith in who I was.
I knew I’d fluffed the interview as soon as I’d walked out of the building, although it’s probably a good job I didn’t know at the time that my getting on the Diploma course depended entirely on the answers I gave during the interview (which were graded), and not at all on my academic competence or my contributions in the classroom.
I carried on with life, telling myself that I’d surely be alright. I knew I ought to be in with a good chance of getting on the course. But then the interview dates were extended to give the external candidates a chance, and we discovered that there were so many candidates that they’d have to find a novel way of deciding between potential students. So the course we’d all begun believing it was a feeder course to the Diploma, if only we did the right things in the meantime, became a dead end for most of us. Then the rejection email came through, three days after we’d been promised an answer, and I discovered I’d been unsuccessful.
After that, I had to regroup, and I’ve spent the last few months figuring it out. I think I’m coming out the other side now. I’ve discovered that rejection doesn’t mean the end of the road, and that it doesn’t always mean anything personal.
I got a critique from Fish Publishing, which I was very happy with, and although they gave me a couple of pointers to think about changing (the second-person POV, and a suggestion to adjust the narrative arc slightly to focus more on the transformation aspect towards the end), the rest was all positive, and I feel more confident that I’m on the right path.
The critique renewed my faith in my writing, and I feel sure I can make the story a success. I’m editing it again now, as well as working on a couple of new stories, and hopefully one of them will find its way to publication.
And as far as my counselling career is concerned, I discovered that I was actually placed number five in my class of sixteen (only four were offered places initially), and I got a call when I was on holiday offering me a place on the Diploma course. However, by then, I’d had a rethink of my career/study options and had applied to do an MSc in Psychology instead.
I suppose the moral of the story is: don’t read too much into life’s disappointments. At the end of the day, nobody died and life carried on. All that happened was that my confidence got a little bit chipped. Then I found it again, and here I am, still smiling, still studying, still writing. Nothing’s really changed at all, apart from maybe I’m a little tougher than I thought I was.