Monday, May 12, 2008

My Love/Hate Relationship with Awards - Lindquist

I hate awards. Most of the time. Except maybe when I win one. Then they aren't so bad.

The shortlist for the Canadian Christian Writing Awards will be made public soon. All across Canada, people will read it and sigh or smile; burst into tears or do a little happy dance; vow to never write another word or race to their computers to begin a new manuscript....

Awards are emotional. No matter how much your brain tells you "There were a number of entrants"..."We can't all win every time"..."It's just someone's opinion," not being shortlisted - or not winning - hits you right in the solar plexus. You think "I'm not good enough"..."They hate me"... "I'll never be any good"..."I may as well quit now."

Of course, sooner or later, most of us eventually talk ourselves out of the negative feelings. And we commit to trying one more time. Or perhaps we get that dogged "I'll show them" look in our eyes and not only decide to keep writing, but to keep writing until I win one of those stupid awards!

Like most people, I see the value in awards. Five reasons to enter awards contests come to mind.

1. Primarily, they're great for promotion. You can call yourself an award-winning writer. You can add the award to your resume, where it looks pretty good. You can put a photo of yourself getting the award on your website. If you're an author, you may be able to put a little sticker on the cover that says "Finalist" or "Winner."

2. They can also help keep you motivated. You can hang the certificate on your wall and look at it in times of frustration or writer's block and remind yourself that someone once thought you were good.

3. A bigger benefit in my mind is that they provide a standard of excellence. How much money one makes or how many copies of the magazine or book are sold aren't necessarily measures of greatness. There are beautifully written things that few people ever see. Awards can provide a way of recognition for work that is well-done but doesn't have a large audience.

4. Awards can also provide a guide for aspiring writers - something they can read and study to see what something "good" looks like, and know what to emulate.

5. If there are comments from the judges, while they can hurt, they can also help you grow as a writer and improve your work for the next time.

But there is a negative side to awards.

1. They are exceedingly subjective. While there are set standards, and judges are chosen for their expertise, the final decisions usually come down to personal preferences. And everyone needs to keep that in mind. While it does occasionally happen that a particular writer's work is at a completely different level than the other entrants, and ten judges out of ten would always pick that writer to win, more often there are two or three or even six entries that are very close, and given a different judge, there might have been a different shortlist or winner.

I recall a time when I was helping with The Word Guild Awards when there were two judges. In the short story category, the two judges had ranked the 6 entries exactly opposite. So the story that was the best in one judge's mind was the worst in the other judge's, and vice versa. What to do? We enlisted the aid of a third judge, added up all the marks, and awarded the prize to the one with the highest score from the three judges. Was that fair? Who knows? Would a different third judge have altered the results? Probably.

2. Competition can be divisive. And it can create a barrier between people who might be friends but find it difficult when they are writing in a similar area and therefore have to compete with each other a lot - especially if one tends to always win over the other.

3. Whenever there is a winner, there is by definition a loser. And I hate that. I wish there was a different way to acknowledge those who do well without seemingly putting down those who don't. But I don't have the answer.

Personally, I hate competition. I'd like to just erase it totally from the world. But it seems to be part of human nature to compete. And we do need a way to acknowledge that which is well-done and beautiful and inspiring. So I guess, for now, awards are here to stay.

What should you do when you see the results?

1. Ask God to help you react the right way, so you don't get a swelled head if you win or go to pieces if you don't.

2. Don't take them too seriously. In my experience, you win some, you lose some. And life goes on.

3. Don't ignore the judges' comments if/when you get them; study them and try to understand how you could improve. Yes, occasionally the judge might have totally missed what you were trying to do, but, normally, the judge's comments will help you if you think them over.

4. No matter what you do or how many awards you win or don't win, continue to do your best each time. You'll be rewarded some time, though maybe not with an award.

5. Keep asking God what he wants you to do, and do that. Obedience is far better than any award.


Dolores Ayotte said...


Very good article! You certainly touched on a lot of relevant points.

Thank you for sharing your insight with us! :)

Marcia said...

Good thoughts and so true, Nancy.

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