I’ve entered a couple of things in competitions lately and been short-listed for one, unsuccessful in the other. The first cost me nothing, so it was a great boost to find my poem Winter Shadow had been short-listed and I was invited, along with the other short-listed poets, to a reading of our work where the winners were announced. The second cost me quite a bit as it was for a poetry pamphlet competition and I idly wondered how much time and money I have ‘wasted’ sending work off to competitions. Quite a lot I think. But is it actually wasted?

The Oxford English Dictionary definitions of waste are: 1. use to no purpose or for inadequate result, 2. extravagant or ineffectual use of an asset, time etc. In previous blogs I’ve asserted that nothing is really wasted, that all experiences have value because we learn from them and as writers we can use them as material for our work. But what about sending work out that gets rejected? How does that fit in with my philosophy?

In his final months, Dr. Oliver Sacks reflected on his life and impending  death in a series of essays in the New York Times , posthumously published in  Gratitude (public library). In it he says:

“I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not travelled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.”

His cancer was the wake up call we all dread. Yet he goes on to say:

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.”

He has seen the sum of his life and all the parts, none of which have been wasted. But he also recognizes the need we have as humans to connect with others as well as to integrate all the parts of ourselves in order to live fully until we die. This connection is not always felt in the hurly-burly of meeting deadlines, writing synopses, creating new work and keeping up with social media. Yet in submitting our work to competitions and paying our fees, we connect with other writers and support them by contributing to the reward for their success. When we win, they contribute to ours.

Nothing is ever wasted, we just aren’t always the ones to directly benefit.


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