Writing Awards Make Me Crazy.

Much has been written about writing awards: if they matter, why they matter, why they’re helping writers, why they’re hurting writers, who wins them, who doesn’t deserve them, and why no one should give a crap about any of it. This is not one of these articles. I’ve read all the arguments, all the careful disassemblings, and, you know what? I still give a crap.

Yesterday marked the official opening for nominations for the 2011 Million Writers Award. This year, I actually have a story that fits their somewhat stringent criteria (appeared on-line in 2010, over 1,000 words, never published in print), and all I can do when I sit in front of my computer is open the nominations page and refresh, refresh, refresh. I read every nomination as it rolls in, obsessing about who’s nominating who, who’s nominating themselves (totally allowed), who has clearly asked their buddies to nominate them so they don’t have to nominate themselves, and, of course, when the hell someone is going to nominate me. If it doesn’t happen, will I bravely self-nominate, sending the message that I believe in my story and the editorial vision of the magazine that published it? Or will I chicken out and ask someone else to do it so I can feel more like it’s a “real” nomination? Or (gasp) will I do nothing and let a shot at this award just float quietly away?

So, yeah, it’s only been a few hours and I’ve already obsessed myself into an infinite mind loop of writing award madness. Why? I fancy myself kind of a veteran of this writing game. I take my rejections with grains of salt. I’m brilliant with disappointment. I don’t even get excited about rewrite requests anymore. Editors, if you want to dampen my spirits, you have to try really really hard. So why do writing awards still make me go all pins and needles?

As far as I can tell, it’s some combination of the following thoughts:

  1. Awards are good for my (writing) career. The more impressive the “bio” section of my cover letter gets, the easier it is to place a story. Now, it could be that my writing is improving at the same rate as my cover letter, but it could also be that a strong bio gets you a more generous read. I don’t feel bad about that; I earned that. And I’d like to keep it going.
  2. Awards are good for my (teaching) career. It’s not the most important thing to me, but I really like teaching. I want to keep doing it. Like it or not, writing awards look good on the CV.
  3. It’s fun to just be in the game. I’ve been nominated for a couple of Pushcarts, the Micro Award, and while I never delude myself into thinking I’ll win any of these prizes, it is fun to have the possibility out there for a little while. I like googling previous winners and counting down to announcement day, when I valiantly shrug off any disappointments and get psyched for next year. It’s much more fun than not playing at all.
  4. I hate being left out! My Facebook community has reached a critical mass of writers so that now, when something writerly is going on, my Facebook feed buzzes about it for days. And when it does, I want to feel like I’m part of it, sitting at the big kids’ table with other writers I admire. A big part of that is having my name in the hat.
  5. I need this kind of reinforcement to feel valued as a writer? I put a question mark here because I’m not sure this is true. In fact, I hope it’s not. I do think I’m a good writer and that what I have to say is worth something. But would I still feel like that if magazines and awards constantly overlooked me? If I were producing the exact same work, but was never published or rewarded, would I have just given up by now? Shudder.

Probably all of this makes me seem hopelessly codependent on external reinforcements. I think maybe I am. The good news is that I am a freaking good-news camel. One bit of positive news—an acceptance, a particularly kind rejection, a rave review from my brilliant partner—can last me for months. Maybe even years (but I hope not to find out).

9 thoughts on “Writing Awards Make Me Crazy.

  1. Interesting post, Aubrey.

    I guess my take on the awards thing (as someone who, for some reason, has only ever entered a couple myself, is that it depends on which they are and what they represent. And they are a very small part of this very broad thing of writing. It is nice to be recognised, but that recognition can take loads of different forms and I think the most important thing (or things) is to be read, and enjoyed, and to keep on learning.

    Glad I found this blog, by the way – it’s ace!


    1. Thanks, Nik. Your attitude is right on. I guess I still look at “being published” as a kind of literary award all on its own. I just don’t know if I can ever be one of those people who’s like, “It’s the quality of work that matters, regardless of whether anyone is reading.”

      1. I’ve got to say (and I may be being overly naive here…) that I do believe that good writing does and will get read, because it is good; it’s what publishers and readers want…

  2. good for you for having the balls to say some of this stuff. i think most of us are on the same page. i watch these things closely. while i always nominate the work of someone whose story really stood out to me, i always consider that for a moment. my motto in life’s always been “someone’s got to entertain me, it might as well be me” and you could easily substitute “nominate” for “entertain,” haha.

    last year was the first time i had something eligible. and for a second i was really excited this year because i had a story out recently i felt had a chance of a nomination, until i realized it went online the first week of january, haha.

    i think even on a base level, part of it is just a connection. a feeling that yes, someone did read what i wrote, and it stood out to them. there’s nothing better than that feeling.

    anyway, sorry for the longwindedness. i love when writers get to this sort of honesty. i have no doubt you’ll be nominated. keep rawking.

      1. Aw. Thanks, Ryan. It’s been awesome to hear that other people have the same crazy feelings I have. I guess we’re all in this together.

  3. I’m in an interesting position, I think, because I look at all these awards from an editor’s perspective. In fact, I’d rather see a piece published in decomP do well than something of my own.

  4. I love hearing your perspectives on publishing. You aren’t afraid to talk about it like it really is: a game. But not always in a bad way! It’s fun to be a part of a community that always has something to say.

    I worry about the external positive feedback feeding my self-esteem and confidence as a writer too. I’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback lately, but again like you, I know I’m a good writer and I’ve worked my ass off and I deserve it. Some forward-thinking companies allow employees to nominate themselves for promotions. Some employees are frustrated by these policies; they feel they should be noticed by the hirer ups and that somehow makes the promotion more valid. But that’s BS. People should believe in themselves enough to put themselves up to be evaluated. The writing field is competitive enough. If we aren’t willing to self-promote we won’t get anywhere.

    That said, I’m glad you were nominated! But next time, you shouldn’t be hesitant. Submissions are the same. Entering a contest is the same. Someone does do that for you. You do. You decide you are worth consideration. Go you!

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