One danger of the awards season

[This post appeared on the LearnHowToWriteANovel.com web site in October 2019].

So award season is here, and our social media feeds are full of our writer friends dressed to the nines and smiling sweetly into iPhones at award dinners. It’s great to see everyone, so please keep the photos coming.

Behind our smiling friends is a stage, and a single lecturn on which is tacked the name of the awards or the association giving them. It’s a stage that some writers, in their more confident moments, dream of gracing. Other writers also harbor that dream, only for it to bring on waves of anxiety at the thought of having to make a speech in front of more than one person.

In talking to writers – both those who’ve won and those who haven’t – I’ve noticed something about the Awards season. And I’ve experienced it myself.

A few years ago I was nominated for the Genesis Award for unpublished novels. It felt like a big deal to be an Aussie author nominated for an American award. So I travelled over to Nashville for the ACFW Conference and Gala Dinner, feeling like I’d been validated as a writer.

And that’s what the danger is.

I had fallen for the trap of thinking that an award nomination meant I was a “good” writer.  I’ve spoken to a few author friends who’ve been nominated but not won. And the doubts have circled about their value as a writer.

Note: please don’t think I’m saying Awards are unimportant. They are valuable for visibility and also encouragement. They can bring new readers to your work and they do give your fragile writer’s confidence a boost to think that people are seeing you. They give us a chance to spend time focusing on some truly wonderful stories. Look, I’m nominated for a Christy Award in November and, honestly, there’s a part of me that hopes to win and my challenge is to not view the result as shifting me from the “good” column to “bad” or vice versa.

So, back to Nashville … I didn’t win. It was disappointing, and despite my best efforts I started to slide toward the “bad” writer column. But a comment from an author who is further down the writing road than me did win. And his speech left a mark.

James L Rubart had won what felt like his 1,000th writing award and in his speech he talked about validation. That winning an award wasn’t about being validated as a writer, because we’re validated already. An award meant recognition, but it didn’t mean identity.

That was good advice then and it’s good advice now.

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