If you’ve ever felt there’s no point in applying for yet another writing competition or grant opportunity, because you simply never win, that was me last summer. Yet for Christmas 2018, I received an earth-shattering phone call that I’d been chosen for a £2,000 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, supported by Creative Scotland. I did feel that the ground had opened beneath my feet, because after trying for this award and failing five years running, I had been this close to not applying.
My 2018 wasn’t a pretty one. Was yours? A series of personal challenges, like body blows in a prize fight, left me in the unusual position of being unable to write. Outwardly I probably looked fine. But I felt as if the brain flesh that selected words and built sentences had gone numb. Starting a new piece of fiction was unimaginable: this wasn’t writer’s block, it was writer’s end.
A deadline to focus the (numb) mind
Yet the annual deadline rolled around for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and I figured, why not? By that stage I thought of myself as being out of the game, but my nonfunctioning brain had very, very recently kicked in again and I was just pages into a new piece of contemporary fiction that I saw as therapy: if I could write one sentence, and then another, maybe my brain would regain its sensation.
Those sentences had built up, and I now had something resembling chapters. The New Writers Award demands a synopsis, which was a laughable impossibility at that stage, but having written so many (rejected) manuscripts and read a library full of books, I thought about how a story like this would pan out and cobbled together a brief synopsis.
Anyway. The good news came last month and I’m reeling. I recognise how lucky we writers in Scotland are to have the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland supporting us, and I intend to relish every instant of the year, which will include a mentorship, a week-long writing retreat at Moniack Mhor, and a showcase event of live readings in January 2020. Evidently 2020 will arrive, at some point, although it seems hard to grasp now.
What if writing just stops?
If your writing ever grinds to a halt that feels like a total end, that’s okay. I think I needed to give myself permission to fall apart. The one smart thing I did was protect my morning writing time and use it for other things – sketching, learning Japanese, practicing old monologues from my time as an actor. When I felt able to look at a keyboard again, at least my protected time was still there, ready to welcome me back.
Find out more about the New Writers Awards here. Information on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a supportive tribe if there ever was one, is here from SCBWI British Isles. My writing sample that won the New Writers Award is here.
Sheila M. Averbuch is a former journalist who’s interviewed billionaires, hackers, and the guy trying to send humans to Mars. She writes fiction for middle grade and is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Photo: Rob McDougall for the Scottish Book Trust