Friday, 3 July 2009

about being A FAILURE

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece entitled "The Shaving Tackle Box" which was inspired by a picture that had been posted on The Elephant Words burst culture website. I posted the article on my blog and was OVERWHELMED by the response it received. The lovely people who read my blog regularly and a lot of virtual Twitter friends sent many comments to me - both to the Blog and via Twitter - saying how moved they'd been by the article. One of the comments I received was from the friendly journos at The Bournemouth Echo who told me that I really should enter the competition that was being held to find a new columnist. The criteria for entry into the competition was that the article had to be between 450 and 600 words and one could write about "anything" - so I did.

The competition closed on 1st June and from Monday to Thursday this week, the Echo has published runners' up entries. I was not amongst the runners up. Today the Echo has posted the winning entry. I am not the winner. You can read the runners' up entries and the winning article here: Bournemouth Echo Columnists.

So I am a failure! But just in case you'd care to see what a failing article looks like, this is what I wrote:


What is different about this piece of writing from anything else I’ve ever written in previous years?

Nothing really, because prior to embarking upon anything I write, I deliberate and worry, fret, write, re-write and fret again. I count the words and have come to the conclusion from counting very many words that the length of article I am happiest with and write most easily is between 750 and 800 words and I find it very hard to edit down.

So there IS a difference. This piece of writing must be between 450 and 600 words because if it is longer perhaps the Bournemouth Echo won’t read it. Or, if they do read it, a large red pen may strike out all words that come after the 600th. And that would be dreadful because that might mean that my entry into the paper’s competition to find a new correspondent might be void or disqualified.

Now that would never do. How awful would it be for me to screw up the opportunity of perhaps winning a competition which would allow me to be who I actually am?

I have always been a writer – but have only recently dared to start thinking of myself as one – let alone calling myself one, but I have always been one. Even at a very young age, I was the kid whose Mum didn’t have to nag her to write thank you notes after birthdays and Christmas. I would write lengthy tomes describing my glee at having received a hand-knitted cardigan from my Grandma (she had no reason to know that it had been placed in an out of reach cupboard and would never be worn), or expressing my severe disappointment that my second cousin had not been able (thank heavens) to attend my birthday party but who had sent me a truly vile set of handkerchiefs with her card. Words just flowed from my pen onto the paper – sometimes I wouldn’t even know how they got there. So I have always been a writer.

And these days, what is it actually that I do that’s so very different? Nothing really. I’m still writing letters ... perhaps not to individuals and maybe not to say thank you for anything – but letters to a wider and unseen audience are what I send when I hit the “publish” key on my blog or the “reply” key on Twitter. And the pressing of those two buttons is a two-edged sword. It brings with it a huge sense of freedom that I can say exactly what I want to say (and with that a great sense of gratitude that I live in a country where I still can say what I want to say – because so many people in the world can’t). I also have a huge sense of trepidation because what I am saying is right out there – straight away – in the public domain for anyone to read – and for anyone to comment upon. And, oh – that is just SO frightening. But it’s what I do and who I am.

Now there is the opportunity – however slim – that a newspaper may read what I have to say and choose me to make my lifelong dream a reality. (Only a few more words in which to convince you that I AM your new correspondent). I need to tell you something memorable, don’t I? I not only believe that you would be making the right choice in selecting me, but please also consider that I am very hungry and would greatly appreciate having lunch with your Editor. Thank you. [600 words].


  1. 'Failure is but a different type of success.' It sounds very philosophical, don't it? But I just made it up...

    All I can say, Karen, is 'it's their loss'. Your article displays a great sense of humour, something sadly lacking in some quarters these days. Don't be downhearted. Keep writing and we'll keep reading!

  2. Such a shame, Karen. But I've looked at the runners up and I must say these decisions for or against a particular entry seem highly subjective to me. Of course, I'm not at all biased myself ;-) I sincerely hope you'll go on giving us joy with your very perceptive and sometimes hilariously funny blogposts!!

    Love from Julia xxx

  3. You are not a failure at all, Karen, and I'm sorry to see you see it that way! Perhaps it's just that you set your sights too low, aiming at the local paper!

    Perhaps you could write half a dozen articles of that length and submit them to the national papers and to the major magazines and even if they don't immediately have a slot for you, they will, at least be aware that you're around.

    Perhaps you could write a book so that those of us who recognize your talent as a writer can promote it to a wider audience...

    Whatever you do, keep on writing - you have 'it' whether those who were in charge of judging entries for the Bournemouth Echo recognized it or not!