Speaking of banging your head against the wall…

Sometimes it feels like just continued pounding away. Creativity is wonderful when the merest hint of received delight is forthcoming, but it’s, well, it’s somehow excoriating to put things out and get nothing back.

This image seems like the last thing I’ve done that has elicited any kind of feedback, and that was way back at the end of July. Odd how three weeks can feel like three years. But three weeks ago I sent my photo, of the woodpecker who visits us intermittently, off to an environmental bulletin that’s circulating around our Lions Club District. The editor was gracious; I was delighted to participate in his call for images. Can’t wait to see if it makes the next issue.

Meanwhile, on the topic of head-banging, I must note that writing competitions are feeling to me like great black holes that suck out all one’s creativity, along with the entrance fee, and give nothing back except shame, self-doubt and recrimination. Over these intervening three weeks, I’ve not been short-listed yet again for another handful. These rejections come after an even ten efforts of mine got nowhere in a members-only competition among a collection of writing groups. Perhaps it’s churlish of me to discount the one ‘highly commended’ citation gleaned in that one, but what we used to call ‘honourable mention’ back in the day only amplifies what I’m compelled to feel is an otherwise devastating indictment of my lack of talent.

Another competition site holding my earnestly-wrought travel-writing piece had been moribund, before it was finally taken offline a week or so ago. My pitch to The Guardian’s ‘New Life after 60’ features has fallen on stony ground. The competition I was really holding out hope for indicates today on its website that the entries short-listed have all been notified, but I’ve heard nothing. The last extant entry I have out there wasn’t really complete, according to the consensus in my writing group, so that’s me done then. Approval, or even the smallest breath of validation for my creative efforts, has definitely hit a dry gulch, though truth be told I’ve never even found the smallest wellspring of encouragement in scores of efforts on the fiction front.

And I haven’t even broached the topic of negative reception: caustic reviews of my novelistic efforts from Kindle readers, friends and even family. Or the parallel situation: being completely blanked by folks I know have looked at some of my novelistic material. It’s surprising just how devastating these critiques and ‘no comments’ can be, even as they also conspire to make me want to do better. Thanks guys, I know you mean well, but yikes.

Desperately searching over these past weeks, I remember at last a kind word received in the post, an actual physical hand-written letter, and I realise how this correspondence lifted my spirits for a few days. Odd how easy it is to discount the kind words when the next dispiriting comment comes along.

I was trying to think how I could work towards eliciting some sort of validation, and to be honest, given this track record, I can’t think. Various avenues feel as if they’re being closed; doors feel like being slammed shut. It’s still summer-time, meant especially to be a fallow period in which the conditions for creative productivity can be re-kindled, but these days all I can feel is despair. And how can I face my writing group again, when my efforts, often honed conscientiously with their comments, have universally met with failure? I’d hoped I could participate again this coming term in humility and with purpose towards improvement, but these reflections give me serious pause on that front.

And that’s the way it is at the type face, just at the moment. And I have to have lunch today with dear friends who I sense are embarrassed for me and my writing odyssey. Chagrin piles on abashment, and I find that I can neither read nor write.

I have to say, my choice after completing a degree in both English and Biology is looking more and more astute, considering I opted for biomedical research as a lifetime career. But I loved both.

By Larry Winger

Retired scientist, devoted diarist (AllendaleDiary.org), community-minded aspirant novelist, I've lived on a smallholding in the East Allen Valley for the past 30 years, delighting in watching our family grow up, in experiencing the development of our grandsons, and in taking care of our small flock of chickens and garden.

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