Adventure 11/52: Entering a short short story contest

For the first half of my life, I can remember giving only one answer to the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up: A writer.

I’m not sure how this came to be, other than the fact that I was painfully shy as a child and writing was the one activity in which I felt inexplicably confident. I was first “published” in the third grade. My poem was a simple stanza on the benefits of being me, and it lacked any hint of irony or sarcasm. (This still fills me with pride, no matter how embarrassing the content.) As a 10-year-old, keeping a journal was second-nature, and like many teenagers, I channelled my angst and confusion into poetry which remains, thankfully, unpublished. At 16, I didn’t hesitate to enter my local newspaper’s Halloween horror story contest and was the youngest, by far, of the three winners. I experienced a minor set-back in my dream career when I watched “All the President’s Men” and realized that my intended college major of journalism didn’t seem to be a good match with my introverted nature. In a panic, I ended up majoring in Public Relations, for which I was equally unsuited, but its curriculum left much time to continue writing, through elective classes and my involvement in student organizations.

However, this once-pleasurable activity soon became a source of frustration. Accustomed to praise and support for my writing, I was ill-prepared for the critiques I received from professors and peers. One of the most painful experiences of my life was listening to faculty advisors and fellow executive board members of the campus literary magazine bash my blind submissions for its upcoming edition. I had plenty of company in the reject pile, but that was of little comfort after what I’d heard.

My frustration turned into fear after graduation, when I landed a job at a publishing company. One of my responsibilities was writing sales copy for new books, and I spent days agonizing over every word choice, every headline. The critiques continued, and the stakes were even higher; bad copy equalled poor sales. Leaving after two-and-a-half years of constant doubt was a relief, and I made peace with the fact that writing professionally was no longer a dream, nor even a possibility, for me.

Fast forward 10+ years. I’ve never stopped journalling–though some periods of my life are better documented than others–and my multiple careers have included some decent writing opportunities. I feel somewhat vindicated that my husband, a college English instructor, shares one of my essays in his composition classes each semester. (He’s a completely unbiased critic, of course.) I started a blog to test the writing waters again, and it’s helped me to rediscover the joy I once felt for writing.

With that cathartic and long-winded introduction, I present to you Adventure #11: I submitted a short short story in an unnamed University’s literary contest. The goal? Not to win or to be published, but to open myself to criticism and rejection without letting it destroy my confidence or my renewed passion for writing.

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