2013 OBA Aftermath: An Open Letter to My Writer Peeps 3

I’ve been kinda disturbed by the effect the Oregon Book Awards has had on the local writing community in the last couple days. While I heard it was a blast of a ceremony with plenty of “assholes” to go around, the aftershock conversations in person and on social media have been utterly dreadful.

Anyway, after listening to way too many of them, I just wanted to say this to all my peeps who are frustrated, outraged or sad because the pony they picked didn’t win or because the media ignored the other nominees or because Literary Arts overlooked your contributions in the first place — please remember:

  • You write because you love it.
  • Because it’s impossible for you not to.
  • You write to unburden your soul of the mistakes you made, to make sense of the chaos, to give voice to the darkness.
  • You write because your characters whisper at first and then scream late at night, if you do not give them your attention.
  • You write because you know no other way to begin to get the things that are important to you out into the world.
  • You write to connect and to communicate and to find your place.

Writing for the Spotlight

If you’re writing to garner the biggest spotlight or pick up some arbitrary fucking award (whether it’s picked by one reader, a panel your peers, or the “readers” themselves) or to make a shitload of money — then you will no doubt be greatly disappointed throughout your writing career. Popularity ebbs and flows, politics, favoritism, nepotism and the need to fit in, seem to live in and permeate everything — including the arts.

These issues are not unique to the Portland or Oregon writing scene. These same issues come up over and over again on the national stage. In fact, the Portland writing community seems to be one of the friendliest and most inclusive around and to their credit, the authors who won the awards have been very gracious, regardless of their placement on the winners list or the controversy that some outlets have tried to whip up. The same can be said of many of the nominees. But it seems to be the supporters of these authors, fans or local writers themselves, who have gotten caught up in the “unfairness” of the competition.

To quote one of the delicious Portland writers in my Facebook feed (Liz Prato), “I want to be around people who are kind and supportive and are doing the good work and who care about me.” I couldn’t have said it better — this is what we should all be aspiring to.

Writing is NOT a Competitive Sport

To me, competition has no place in the arts. It betrays the purpose, the craft and the joy of creating. Your job, as a passionate artist, is to transcend all the this-is-better-than-that bullshit. To remind yourself that we’re all hacking away on our own paths, dancing in the darkness, and wrestling with perspective in the hopes of revealing that sliver of light, that bright bit of truth or understanding that resonates and connects with an audience — even if it’s only an audience of one.

Support Local Writers (especially if you are one!)

Building a life for yourself doing what you love, earning a living with your writing, is one of the coolest things in the world but it is not without its challenges. Like any of the arts, it’s an uphill battle to make your dreams come true. That’s why, instead of worrying about competing, we should all be reaching back down to give our peeps a hand up. Haven’t we all been there once?

YOUR journey as a writer is so personal, so intimate, it cannot be scored or measured — especially against another’s. It is yours. No one can take it from you, unless you let them diminish you and all you’ve worked for by forgetting why you do what you do. Unless you buy into the bullshit put in place by all those who look to serve their own interests or make money off the backs of artists (no matter the genre).

We shouldn’t begrudge anyone their individual accomplishments (even if their work doesn’t speak to you) — in fact, we should celebrate them and cheer one another on, because the more attention our art form gets, the better. We shouldn’t be anti-literary star or anti-best selling author because their shine attracts new readers, hungry for more than one writer can hope to fulfill — their success an inspiration for your own path. You are no more or no less a writer, when handed an award or a great review, than you were back before anyone knew your name. And you will be no more or no less a writer, when and if they soon forget it again.

There is the act, process and satisfaction of writing.Then there are the critics and the lists, the sales numbers and the awards.These are two very different things — one is pure, it is art, it is love — the other is a game. Don’t get them confused and please don’t mistake one another for the enemy — there are no winners or losers among writers in this game. You are there to serve the game’s purpose and the Game Master’s whims.

We are all the same. We are the pawns.



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 thoughts on “2013 OBA Aftermath: An Open Letter to My Writer Peeps

  • Brad

    Well-written, albeit naive. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard writers sniping at each other behind each other’s backs in this town, while smiling and “supporting” them to their faces. This isn’t unique to the creative arts, it’s just people being people. And it might help to differentiate between “supporting” someone and offering creative criticism where their work is concerned. We don’t get a blue ribbon *just* for writing/creating. I would think people would welcome helpful criticism instead of wanting their fellow writers to just blow smoke. That doesn’t help anyone, especially the writer.

    And I’ll say it again: Storm Large is overrated. 🙂

    • Vanessa Nix Anthony Post author

      Thanks for the compliment on my writing and for taking the time to read and respond. Brad, you’re right, I think petty people will always be petty — there’s no doubt there and I appreciate your comment. But the point was to try and encourage folks who I think are otherwise good writers and good people to be their best selves and to remember what they really do this for. And no it’s not just unique to the creative arts but as the canaries in the coal mine for society and because we belong to an ilk that believes art is important and adds meaning to life, I hold us all to higher standard. Honestly, if we all just gave up and chocked up all bad behavior to just “being human” in this world, we’d never get anywhere now would we? Plus, it sounds a bit childish to say “Well, they’re doing it too,” doesn’t it?

      The point of the piece is to say, “Let’s all support one another a bit more and keep your head in your own game — don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.” I know that’s the way I roll and it’s never hurt me any to turn around and give another writer a hand-up, a supportive word, show up at a reading, or help them publicize their work. I don’t waste a lot of time being petty or putting others down to make myself feel better. I have too much writing to do!

      As far as creative criticism goes — I say have at it in your writer’s groups or classroom settings, in a review or when it’s solicited but sniping and griping behind people’s backs after an awards ceremony, that is not what I’d classify as “creative criticism.” It’s just engaging in pre-teen antics and it affects the trust in the writing community at large. No wonder people are “sniping” behind each other’s backs — it’s stuff like this that starts it all. My piece does not mention giving everyone a “blue ribbon” for trying, it just says we don’t need a golden trophy to prove anything about our work, especially when art and the yard sticks used to measure them are so subjective.

      When it comes Storm Large or any other writer or artist in this world — what you may think is overrated may be bliss city for someone else. You are obviously not Storm’s audience or ideal reader. No harm, no foul — you just don’t connect with her work. C’est la vie. No writer or artist will appeal to everyone – that was also my point. If your head is in your own game, you’ll find don’t feel so worried about what others are doing. That was also something pointed out in the piece.

      The last thing I have to say applies to the comment about my so-called naiveté — this is something people often trot out when they’re at a loss for an argument for why they don’t try. Being an optimist means that even when you know it will be an uphill climb, you still try. You still believe things can be better than they are — even if you know they’ll never be perfect. Allowing for human nature, momentary lapse and just plain old stinky people who want to be petty, I still believe there is room for improvement. I really enjoy the Portland writing community and find most of the folks I connect with and encounter to be earnest and sincere people who want to do good work but there are times when all of us need a reminder to be our best selves. This was a just a reminder. No naive visions of Utopia, just a call to act like the educated, passionate, kind, sensitive artistic souls I know most folks to be.