Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Award Season Depressive Disorder

NOTE: This is not to make light of actual mental disorders. I'm not even going to make too much light of this made-up one.

The curse of social media is that when you are scouring your timeline for therapeutic videos of a baby tiger beset upon by friendly otters, you will also be exposed to a gauntlet of distressing news items, from signs of impending dystopia to that violent shredder of self-esteem, awards season.
We're going to talk about writers other than you getting accolades! Quick, watch the tiger and otters video to brace yourself:

There will be some gentle mockery here, because it is coupled with self-deprecation. Two of my favorite writer people were asking if anyone was driven to succeed by spite. And well, you do what works for you, but as someone with a very unhealthy mental outlook when it comes to validation, even I think can't be good. But if it keeps you writing, I guess it's good.

I love awards season because you get to see books you loved get their just deserts. But know, as surely as there are people in the seats at a racetrack who are there for the crashes, that there are people who like to root against as much as they like to root for. (That's a clumsy sentence, but I have a hangover and the beginning of a cold, so go back and parse it.) Maybe you're one of those people. Maybe we all are? I like to think there are a few out there who don't have a secret nemesis they root against. Let's pretend there are.

Even if you don't root against a book that everyone loved but you found incomprehensible, you may feel like you're falling behind during awards season, when your book languishes in obscurity and some book you never heard of wins the triple crown. That's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? If you haven't read the books that the genre cognoscenti think are important, how can you expect everyone to have read your book? You can blame it on nepotism or some other bitter invention, but when it comes down to it, there are thousands of books out there, and even with a publicity team and word of mouth, not all of them can win or even be nominated. And then of course, maybe your book just isn't the best out there. There's no shame in that. Read books by writers who are better than you, and learn.

That may not work, either. You can watch LeBron James all day and still never win a game of HORSE.

Wait, don't do anything rash! Here's a baby giraffe!!!

This is why I loathe the "I hate writing and writing is painful" trope. Then why the hell are you doing it? You can like having written as the joke guys, but if this makes you miserable, maybe, like the guy who was hitting himself in the face with a hammer, if will feel better when you stop. Joe Lansdale gives some tough-love advice when he says, (paraphrasing) "if you can quit, quit." If you need spite to keep you going, cut that nose off, baby! But there has to be some joy in this beyond the fawning praise of friends and strangers, or what are you even doing?

There's no guarantee of success, even if you persevere. Because we tend to keep moving the goalposts of success. Remember when you wanted to have a short story published, and that was enough? I'm sure there are plenty of you still striving for that laudable goal, and well, keep at it. Read the mags you want to get into, that helps. (If you hate what they publish, why do you want to get published by them? Ask yourself.) Maybe you passed that, and want more. Probably what someone else has gotten, and you're judging your success against theirs, as if it's the only way to "succeed." What's success anyway? Do you want money, or fame, or both? The respect of your peers? Do you want the life of a writer as depicted on a TV show or in a movie you saw at a tender age?

(Personally, Throw Momma From the Train is my goal movie. And I'm the DeVito character).

Dreams don't need to be realistic, but don't let someone else's successes distract you from your own goals. As it has been said again and again, this is not a zero sum game. One writer's success does not take away from yours. Even if they won the award you were nominated for. (Or weren't nominated for.)  As I've said before, I'm very happy that there are now other people enjoying the stories I come up with. I'd be thinking them up anyway. That's my outlook, and it helps fend off the envy when great things happen to other people. But I'm not saying don't be spiteful, if that's what works for you!

Roxane Gay says she has a nemesis. She has multiple best sellers, half a million Twitter followers, awards up the wazoo, all in the few short years since I met her at the Sackett Street Writers reading in a beer garden basement. She's a rising star and a great short story writer, and she has a nemesis. So who says you can't have one, if it helps? I mean, don't go all Salieri on them, but if they drive you to work harder and get better, by all means, spite away, pal!

There are writers who win awards and never sell a lot of books. There are writers who sell plenty and never win many awards. There are some who do both or neither, and they have their fans, they keep writing. There are some who write one book because the awards and fame and money either satisfied them or soured them or daunted them into seclusion. The awards don't make you a writer. Writing does. And coincidentally, that is also the best treatment for Award Season Depressive Disorder.

To quote Marty's agent from Throw Momma from the Train:

Writers write!

1 comment:

Joe Clifford said...

This is one of those pieces that I needed to read today. Thank you, Mr. Pluck.