I have spent most of today feeling sorry for Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue and all the other emotionally drained judges who have to weep their way through reality tv contests. I have been sifting through a huge pile of entries for the short story competition which I ran in conjunction with publication of my novel, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”. The stories had to be less than 1000 words long and the subject had to be “modern celebrity”.
I have been trying to work out how those who work regularly as judges manage to maintain their sanity while dismissing and disrespecting the work and talent of others, deciding who will be encouraged and who will be disappointed. How come Simon Cowell looks so confident and carefree when he is breaking hearts with his highly subjective judgements?
Having read an avalanche of entries, the vast majority of which are extremely good, I am now a complete dithering wreck. The thought of discouraging any budding talent by excluding them from the shortlist simply on the grounds that there were other stories that struck me differently is horrendous, but I know it has to be done. I have received enough rejection letters during forty years of writing, (and listened to enough deafening silences), to know that it is the way of the world, and that the initial anger I felt at those low moments stoked the flames required to forge the steel that every freelance writer needs in their soul in order to survive and go on to enjoy the highs when they come.
The other blow of reading these entries is the realisation of just how ferocious the competition is out there. There are so many people with good ideas, so many people who write well, how can we all possibly survive? Where are we all going to find enough people to buy and read what we want to write? I suppose it’s the same feeling that would-be superstars experience when they turn up to the giant X-Factor auditions and realise that the talent they had until that moment believed to be unique, encouraged by doting friends and family, is actually not unique at all. We are all struggling together to make our voices heard and have our words read.
At least when I was a judge for the Biographers’ Club prize a few months ago I had two others to help with the ruthless task, one of whom was the chairman and therefore carried the ultimate burden. Now there is no one else to share the responsibility with.
I know I have to be strong and make the choices but every decision to put a well written story into the “no” pile is an agony. God knows how the Booker and Costa judges come out with their sanity in tact, or maybe they don’t.
I have bought myself some precious time by whittling the entries down to a short list of ten, (all of which I hope to be able to display on the website www.steffimcbride.com in the next few days), but maybe all I have done is prolong the agony for all of the entrants as well as myself. I hope not.