Sunday, April 14, 2013

Waiting for Godot

Friday was April 12th, the day the list of semi-finalists for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was supposed to be announced.

All day I was on tenterhooks. I had been named a quarter-finalist for Catch the Sun. Would I make it to the next round? Would I be a semi-finalist? I kept checking my email. I probably checked it every five or ten minutes all day long. By mid-afternoon I decided I probably hadn't gotten an email from the contest because I hadn't made it. Probably they just let the successful entrants know by email. The rest of us shlubs were expected to just check the list of semi-finalists on the website to discover we were not on it. Which didn't make much sense since the emails I had gotten after the first two rounds of the contest simply announced that the list was available on the website for us to peruse. And that meant those who were on the list as well as those who were not must have gotten the same email.

Finally, around ten o'clock that night, I went to the website only to discover that the list was not there yet.

What a relief! I wasn't a loser! At least not yet. 

And that got me thinking: just why should my peace of mind, my sense of myself, my confidence in my writing be dependent on awaiting the outcome of a contest? Why do I need to wait for the verdict of anonymous readers to know how to feel about my writing?

What would change if I became a semi-finalist? Or, more unbelievably, a winner?

The answer is NOTHING. I would write my novels and stories just the same, either way. Of course, being a contest winner helps a writer get noticed by agents and publishers. And that's no small thing. We all want to be read. To be read, we must be published. And we need people to find out about our books. But sometimes I think we writers are too focused on achieving recognition and not focused enough on getting better.

I've had many conversations with writers over the years about this. "When will I get noticed?" most of us ask. "How can I keep writing if no one thinks well enough of my writing to give me an award or a contract or an advance?"

We all need encouragement. And none of us can exist very long in a vacuum. But I've been at this long enough to know that I will write no matter what. It's what I do. It's how I express myself.

I've heard writers declare they will wait for only so long, and if nothing happens, they'll give up. They'll stop writing. They'll do something else that gives them a sense of accomplishment, achievement.

But what about writers like Emily Dickinson who never achieved success during their lifetime?

The truth is that the process of writing and the results of writing are two very different things.

The process is about being in the moment and existing in the world created by the imagination. It's about trying to achieve an effect, or a mood. It's about testing our skill against the intransigence of language, about expressing what is sometimes inexpressible, about bringing a whole world to life that has no real existence.

The results are about how others view what we have done. If they like it, we get paid for our efforts. Perhaps we even become well-known. Our readers may think of us as better or worse than we are because they judge us through our work. If we write about lovable people, our readers see us as lovable. If we write about scoundrels, they may think we are unpleasant people.

The point is that the results have no connection to the work as we experience it!

Waiting to be validated is exactly the wrong approach to take.

Still. I wonder if the Amazon Breakthrough Award semi-finalists will be announced tomorrow.


  1. Very thought-full post, Kathleen. Validation is an interesting thing. I believe that inside each one of us is a little child waiting to be noticed. As adults we can do some self-talk and try to not let the "need" or "want" capture us, but I can understand Sally Field's outburst..."you like me! You really like me!" As for me, I am standing in your wings, clapping!

  2. Ha Ha ,now Baby Girl thats the spirit.The jury is in,weather,you become famous,well known or unknown,you are indeed a superb writer