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.
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.