Does Winner Takes All – or Nothing?

dictionariesA timely lifeline has recently come my way from *Words Ireland (and Roscommon Arts Centre) with the opportunity to work with author and creative writing tutor Nessa O’Mahony.

We’re halfway through a mentorship in which she’s made me realise I can write both rubbish and decent stuff – and it has been a very motivating experience so far.

Nessa has helped me question why I write, what I want to say, how I want to say it, and at last I think I’ve got my writing mojo back. Phew!

Louise and Nessa Feb 20s
Not sure what we were looking at, but this is me (on the right) and Nessa O’Mahony

I’ve mentioned before about how winning a few awards seems to have stifled my creativity.

Which begs the question, why would I bother to enter any competitive activity if I’m not up for winning?

Well I always want to win, of course. Although I tell people I’m not very competitive, the thrill of having my name called out as the best of the bunch gives me a huge buzz. And the prize money’s nice, too.

When I won the HE Bates Short Story Competition in 2015, I’d gone to Northampton after being invited to read my story aloud at the award ceremony. Story reading opportunities are like hen’s teeth, so I jumped at the chance, not knowing I was the winner. I recall arriving late (after getting lost) and slipping into the back of a crowded room hoping I hadn’t missed my reading slot. They were still going through the winners in reverse order – and when the judge got to first-placed, she began talking about a story written from the point of view of a farm gate. My story! That was certainly a writing career highlight.

Then the much-repeated (by me) story about me winning the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award nearly two years ago when a Dublin pub was re-named in my honour (I know it was only for a weekend, but still…)

two cat shadow
A winning combo: cats and shadows. Because isn’t this what the Internet is for – pictures of cute cats (aka Betty)?

Not long after that, Carol Ann Duffy asked to see some of my poems, and I was selected for publication as one of her Laureate’s Choice poets. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and going to check my emails (again) because I couldn’t quite believe that had happened in real life.

Then last year at the New Roscommon Writing Awards as writers’ names were read out, it began to dawn on me that I might be overall winner. I could hardly breathe – I’d entered this annual competition every year since its inception in 2014, proof that persistence can pay off.

I’ve had some other nice accolades, too, but through all this time I have been struggling to create new, original work fearful I still can’t do it.

And there’s the rub, when you’ve acclaimed work out there, you can end up being your own harshest critic for anything new.  I now only occasionally send out to literary magazines and competitions, and I’m nowhere near as productive as I used to be, worried my efforts are not good enough. I’m sometimes proved right, with rejections or my name not on a shortlist. But the point is, I hardly send anything out these days, so how do I know no-one wants to read my stuff?

I guess you can’t experience failure if you don’t put yourself out there. Or success.

*The irony of the competition for the Words Ireland mentoring scheme isn’t lost on me though. Three hundred writers applied for 21 places…