I found out this week that my novel (yes, that one) placed second in the Utah Arts Council contest YA division! The prize for second place is $750! That's by far the most I've ever won with my writing.
It's weird to me to observe my own reaction to this. Because as recently as two years ago, I would be head-over-heels giddy ("ebullient," one of my new GRE words) with thrills over this award. But now, although I can't say that I'm not glad, it's not as exciting. Why?
I think it's because I'm stuck (again). This novel has some good writing in it (and that's probably why it won) but it just isn't where I'd like it to be and I CAN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO FIX IT. If it were published tomorrow, I would feel faintly embarrassed that it represented me and my mind and my skill. And yet I know it has merit (guess this contest proves it even more than the agent interest), so it irritates me to abandon it. I'm stuck in this place where I don't want to work on it and don't want to let it go.
The other reason that I am not quite so thrilled is that I've been doing this long enough now (and I have dear friends who are better at it and more published than I am who have shared their experiences) to know that in the end it doesn't matter if others like it, or how many others like it, or even if it does get published--at least, not in the long term. By "doesn't matter," I mean, no writing success is going to make me feel like a permanent writing success, or like a more valuable person. The same insecurities are still there, the same fears.
And, besides all that, the number of people who are impressed by such things is pretty darn small. Even in my extended family, who try their hardest to be happy for me, no one is going to keep mentioning it to me, keep being awed by it. The most I can ask of anyone is an "All right! Good for you!" or maybe a "Can I read it?" (which isn't always that great either, since it often comes from people who had no interest whatsoever in what I'd written until they heard it won something), which sentiments pass very quickly and then all is forgotten.
I can only remind people of my great accomplishments so many times. Thank goodness my husband doesn't mind my, "By the way, did you know I won 2nd place? And also got a 1450 on the GRE?" comments that come twice daily (or more). He even acts enthusiastic--but, really, how much can I expect of the poor guy who doesn't read poetry or literary fiction at all? That's a lot of pressure for one guy to carry--being my cheerleader.
So I've learned that I've got to be doing this writing stuff for my own satisfaction, for the enjoyment of the process, because in the end that will be my real, and perhaps only, reward. Although the $750 is nice. I'd like to spend it on a really cool couch or something but it'll go right into the grad school fund.