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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).