I went to enter a short story competition yesterday because I am going to be a writer and put myself out there until one day I too have a novel adapted to a TV show and my portrayal of sex is the main topic on Joe Duffy.
It is a personal goal of mine to be accused of creating pornographic content by strangers.
So I knuckled down to turn personal life experience into a story – that’s how writing works, right? – with a, let’s be honest, less-than mediocre result. But I remained steadfast in my dedication to proactivity and a commitment to just frigging try and thus still decided to submit the really very feeble essay with no narrative arc or character development WHATSOEVER. Hurrah, I inwardly congratulated. Look at you, overcoming your fear of rejection and putting yourself out there. Well done, old chap, well bloody done. Don’t know why I felt the need to turn into a Downton Abbey extra but I suppose that’s just what happens when the literary canon gets you?
At 11:58 (the deadline was noon), and therefore a perfectly respectable two minutes before the cut-off point, I logged onto the website and went to fill out my application form. It was at this point I discovered that, when attempting to become your generation’s answer to James Joyce, it really does behove you to familiarise yourself with the competition – or even just the vaguest of its requirements – before entering.
Reader, they only accepted postal entries. Of course. As seems my determined trope, I fell at the final hurdle and no amount of freakishly-fast couriers or DHL promises could save me.
And, just like that, I was back to being the procrastinating, self-sabotaging disaster zone of my youth, staring out my bedroom window wondering what it was like to be someone who was ORGANISED and not so petrified of failure that they left everything to the last minute. Ah, what a wonderful world that could be. I flirted with the idea of writing a pleading email that bandwagoned on another participant’s excuse of being cocooned due to COVID and therefore unable to reach a post office but decided against it. If I won, it just wouldn’t feel right to know I had done so by manipulating a global pandemic that has cost thousands of lives for personal gain. Whatever lines of reality lockdown is blurring, my ethics remain rigorously intact.
Just to circle back to the topic of trying to action my ambition to reach out to others in the space and put myself out there in a professional way (have I shoved enough horrendous catchphrases of our times into two lines yet), I equally felt it necessary, in my hungover state washing pots and pans a few nights ago, to email the High Low podcast with gushing praise and equally galling self-promotion. They’d been talking about the productivity phenomenon of lockdown and so, severely dehydrated and not a little needy for attention, I took it upon myself to send a stream-of-consciousness email in which I sent them an article I’d written and basically told them they should read it.
Some people text exes or re-download dating apps when hungover and desperate for validation. Me? I send cold call and unwarranted spam mail to my personal idols in which I not-so-subtly insist they read my work. I’m not sure which is more self-destructive and demoralising.
A day later I was refreshing my inbox or, as I like to call it, working really hard from home, when a response flashed up on my screen – a vermilion siren screaming to be opened. It began “Hi Holly, thank you for writing and…”
My heart did a million somersaults while the posterior of my stomach literally dropped to ankle-length. Oh Jesus. “Thank you for writing” is never the start of a positive email. I wanted the ground to swallow me up and die as I read and reread that generically patronising opening line through slitted eyes.
It took me a full 24 hours before I was able to get over my embarrassment (and myself) and open the bloody email. It turned out to be from neither Dolly or Pandora but their assistant.
“Hi Holly, Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts. I’ve passed your email onto the girls. Best, etc”
WHAT. A day of walking around feeling nauseous, sick, and mortified for a one-liner from an assistant? Am I the world’s most outrageous narcissist?
I mean, what was I expecting? For Dolly or Pandora to somehow intuitively single out my email from the thousands of others, drop all of the other obligations and commitments of their lives to write a personal and ebullient response figuring something like, “HOLLY, this is the BEST, most ARTICULATE, uproarious, honest, insightful, beautifully-wrought letter we – the two of us voracious readers combined – have ever received. You are a wordsmith unrivalled; a wit unparalleled. You are EVERYTHING we have been looking for in a writer, social commentator and also – though I hope I’m not too bold to confess this to you – a friend. Please tell us you’ll consider making our duo a trio and join us as a co-host on our hit podcast where we want YOUR VOICE SPECIFICALLY to be broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people. Yours with envy, awe, and all of the gratitude for being blessed with your words, Dolly and/or Pandora.”
Yes, reader. That is exactly what I expected. That’s always what I’m expecting. Which might explain why I’m perpetually dissatisfied. So now I am walking around, with a useless short story, a one-liner rejection, and still an eagle eye on my Gmail patiently waiting for a message that will never come.
The moral of the story is, don’t try and pursue your dreams – it’s a lot of effort and at the end of it, all your left with is 2,000 words on the importance of wearing SPF.
Happy frigging Sunday.
- The Adam Buxton Podcast in general but mainly the bit at the end where he skits off Michael Barbaro from The Daily. Harumphing and sighing all over the shop, I crack up every time.
- A can of Guinness after a swim in the sea. Glorious, every time.
- The frankly delicious moment when you join up two vast sections of a jigsaw and, for that one brief moment, the world makes sense again.