New Writers Awards: fourth time lucky
'Don't take no for an answer' is up there with some of the best writing advice I've ever been given. Of course, it's advice that has to applied appropriately. I am not advising you keep harassing an editor with multiple drafts of the same story or badgering event coordinators to reconsider your pitch.
Rather, I mean that it's important to remember that no prize is for everyone, no one style suits every editor and not every publication will be the right fit for your work – but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keeping trying. Especially because a 'no' can sometimes turn into a 'yes', if you're prepared to carry on asking.
I first heard about the New Writers Awards from Scottish Book Trust years ago, when I was still at uni. As soon as I graduated and became eligible, I applied. Back then, I was feeling pretty raw and uncertain about the whole writing thing and maybe was a little too green to be applying to anything, but it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.
The MSc. I’d just undertaken had stripped away a lot of the stories I’d enjoyed telling myself. Namely, the idea that if I just sat down to write, something good would magically appear. As you know, that's just not the way it is – there's a lot more hard work involved. My confidence was pretty low, and I thought that if I was lucky enough to win a place, I’d have the proof I needed to keep going.
Well, I wasn’t successful that year and, to be honest, it gave my – already somewhat bumpy - confidence another little dent. However, blind optimism and wine meant I didn’t take the hump for too long and, a whole year later, I was ready to try my luck again. I’d been working hard since that first application and I hoped that maybe, this time I’d have proved I was worth a gamble. Well, it turned out I wasn’t quite yet and I had another 'no' to ponder.
It wasn’t the only ‘no thanks’ that came my way that year, either. By then, I was submitting short stories to magazines and anthologies fairly regularly. Sometimes I was successful, but I had plenty of opportunities to get used to people telling me 'not this time'. Or worse, letting their silence pass that message on for them. During that year, I was working on mentally turning 'no's' into 'not yet's'.
By the time the New Writers Awards applications opened again, I’d girded my loins and told myself ‘third time lucky’. I sent off another application form. Guess what? Third time wasn’t lucky. I didn’t make it again.
I’ll admit much wine was needed again, but by then, I’d started to build up other ways to keep confident about my writing. I was performing at local spoken word events and getting published wherever I could. I’d started a writers’ group with some great local writers and enjoyed the chance to read as part of Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Edinburgh City of Literature (It took me two tries to snag a spot at that too). By then, I didn’t need someone to give me permission to keep writing, I was doing it anyway.
Last year, I tried my luck again, although I didn't expect to be successful. By then, I wasn't as worried as I had been before and I was able to remember there are lots of reasons for a no – from a weak sample to a waffley personal statement or even a personal style that just didn’t suit the tastes of the judges.
Luckily for me, it wasn't another no. On my fourth and final try, I was given a New Writers Award. I know several people who make the cut on their first try, and I’m not going to lie and say I’m not a tiny bit jealous, but I’m also pretty proud to know I didn’t give up the first time someone said 'uh uh, this isn't for you right now'. This prize was hard won and it might even be a little sweeter for it.
If you’ve applied in the past and been unsuccessful, don’t assume you will be again. Give it your best shot and don’t give up. A no isn’t the signal to stop asking, it’s just another chance to up your power of persuasion.
To find out more about the New Writers Awards, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, take a look at the Training and Awards section of our website.