I realised I messed up today.
Moments after sending off a review for a show I saw recently, I got the urge to look back at another review I wrote a few years ago. Back in the Dark Ages of the pandemic I came across two things: the TV drama Des and The Observer / Anthony Burgess prize for arts journalism.
Watching Des felt like watching a pattern repeat itself. How the economic downturn of the 80s, austerity measures in public services, and the idea of sexually deviant ‘Out Groups’ created the perfect hunting ground for people like Dennis Nilsen, and still does so today. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Meanwhile, The Observer / Anthony Burgess prize was calling for short reviews of anything arts-related that had come out since the end of 2019. I was searching desperately for a job and opportunities to increase my writing portfolio.
I got to work.
I researched, I planned, I drafted, I edited, I edited again, and again, and again. The deadline grew closer. My review of Des was done. And yet I never sent it.
Because a part of my brain saw something in that review that wasn’t, in its words, Good Enough. Silly me, deluded, twenty-two-year-old me, thinking I could send that to the judging panel and think they’d be impressed. I’d probably hear their laughter all the way from London.
So, I didn’t send it. I set it aside. I carried on with other projects.
I find the fact I kept this review relieving but frustrating at the same time. Because when I decided to read it again, four years later, what I found was…
There’s a few words I’d change. But it’s certainly not kindling material. It links Des to events in the 80s and the pandemic, analyses specific moments, mentions the good work of the actors (David Tennant and Jason Watkins can do no wrong). It might not have won grand prize, but it wouldn’t have been an embarrassment to send it out into the world.
You know what is embarrassing? Realising this four years too late.
You know what’s worse? I’ve done this before.
My writing past is littered with opportunities I’ve let wither because I didn’t believe I deserved them. That my writing was too mawkish, too childish, to even be considered. Never knowing was better for my fragile little ego than hearing ‘no’.
But is it that bad to hear the word ‘no’? Now I’ve gotten over myself and sent more of my writing out, ‘no’ has lost its power over me. All it is is a generic email in my inbox every now and again, saying they’re passing on this submission, or I haven’t placed in that competition. No wonder – everyone and their mum must have sent their story there!
At least I tried. At least I’ve got something I’m proud of.
Not Good Enough isn’t good enough anymore. Any feedback I give myself these days needs to be solid, based in craft knowledge. Maybe the pacing is a little slow. Maybe the dialogue doesn’t work from that character’s mouth. Maybe This needs to happen Then, not Now.
These are issues that can be fixed. Not Good Enough can’t be reasoned with; it’s a feeling, mired in imposter syndrome and self-doubt. It won’t help you get better at writing; in fact, it might be snatching opportunities away.
Believe in your writing, so others can believe in it too.