Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Essay: Intimidated by Giants

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

Whenever I meet aspiring authors (or even writers who have publishing credentials), I often tell them to submit their stories, either to the various publications or writing contests. There are two excuses that I often hear: one is that I don't have enough time. This essay isn't about that particular issue. The other--which has grown to become a pet peeve--is that they're afraid of the competition. Now they don't always say that outright. Sometimes, they just mention "but so-and-so is joining". Now being aware of the market and the competition, in any industry, is good. Being intimidated by them--as far as the craft of writing is concerned--isn't.

No matter where you are or whatever kind of work you're involved in, there'll always be giants in the field. Sometimes, it's best not to against the proverbial giant: during the EDSA Revolution, you could lose your life. In business, you're not only placing your finances at risk but that of your employees and customers as well. But when it comes to the field of writing and submitting to markets and competitions, the only thing at stake is your ego. That's not to say your ego isn't precious but if you're not willing to risk that, what are you willing to give up to achieve your goal? (And while we're at it, let's be honest: not everyone will like your story. If you can't take criticism, don't write.)

Writing, in my opinion, is a very unconventional field. In business for example, it's not uncommon for corporations to not only build themselves up but either directly or indirectly drag down the competition. The fiction market doesn't work that way. In fact, writers encourage fellow writers to write more and to submit! It's not even uncommon for established authors to train and mentor new writers--even if doing so is actually building up the "competition". The math is simple: the more people who joins a contest that I'm participating in, the less chances I have of winning. If I help other writers improve in their craft, that's one additional person who might be vying for the same slot I'm aspiring for. But do writers act that way? Some perhaps but most of the writers I encounter don't behave like that. I think first and foremost, writers are readers and rather than simply desiring to see their name on the printed page, they want to read good material. If this comes from people other than themselves, then so be it. (And let's be honest, reading your own material gets old too quickly. There's a lack of surprise for example.) Hence we have this community that encourages and trains fellow writers.

As for the giants in the field, there are two kinds. On one hand, we have those that act like the bullies you had in class, intimidating the rest so that no one stands in their way. At the other end of the spectrum are the benevolent mentors who attempt to impart all their knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. If you meet more of the latter than the former, then good for you. But if we as writers are to improve and hone our craft, we'll inevitably be clashing with those so-called giants, whether participating in the same competitions or vying for the same slot in a publication. There is no endeavor that comes easy or doesn't have competition. However, unlike business, there's no real cost to failing except a bruised ego. And as far as giants go, if they are truly worthy of their reputation, make them earn it. You're only as good as your last work after all and if the giants are truly worthy of their renown, they'll prove it by the excellence of their stories rather than because their peers conceded beforehand.

If you're joining a competition or market because you're afraid of the giants, then I have two questions to ask. The first, is it satisfying winning a competition (assuming you won) or qualifying for a publication where there was no challenge? And my second question is how dare you assume that your fellow writers aren't giants in their own right? They may not have the reputation to back up their skill level but that doesn't mean they lack talent or aren't as worthy as the giants you sought to avoid. And the last thing one has to remember is that somebody has to start from somewhere and one can only grow and develop by attempting to accomplish something rather than conceding before trying. If you don't submit a story, there's absolutely no chance that your story will get accepted. If you do submit it, well, the worst thing is that you get rejected but you still have a chance, no matter how small, to succeed.

And if you're the type that fears confrontation, writing is the perfect medium for you. Why? Here's one secret. Editors and judges don't reject people: they reject stories. Your story is not you. You write stories and better yet, you can revise stories. Heck, you don't even have to be in the same room when the editors and judges read your story. You just get handed the acceptance or rejection slip. Is that honestly so bad?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Charles, I found your blog finally ü Glad to meet you last time at Coffeebean.

And thank you for this essay. This affirmed my notion when I submitted a story last year for a FullyBooked's competition. All guts, where's glory. ü

See you soon.