The Word Guild recently announced the winners of the 2014 Word Awards (you can read the whole list here: https://thewordguild.com/2014-award-winners-announced). My congratulations go out to all those who either won or were shortlisted. Over the last few years, I’ve had a chance to interview a number of them and, without reservation, can say they deserve the accolades they’ve received.
The announcement reminds me, though, of my own love/hate relationship with awards.
It’s not because I’ve never won an award. During my three-decade-long career as a journalist, I’ve entered, been nominated for, or placed, in awards from the Alberta Christian Writers’ Fellowship (now the Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship), God Uses Ink, The Word Guild and the Canadian Church Press, the Guelph Mercury Christmas Story Contest, Word Alive Press Publishing Contest, Fellowship of Christian Newspapers Awards and City of Edmonton Book Award.
And I’ve seen awards from three sides: as an entrant, as a judge and as a co-ordinator.
But I’m still ambivalent.
First, the hate. Awards can provide a writer with the biggest letdown possible. I’ve been shortlisted for an award and attended the ceremony. I’ve sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for my name to be called (try doing that in a kilt at a formal award ceremony) and then watching as another writer walks down the aisle to collect their award.
The feeling of impending loss is even more devastating when you’ve been given the evening’s program and you see who has been nominated in the same category. I can recall at least two times when I looked at that list, that I realized I was coming away with an honourable mention. And, to be honest, the works which were awarded, were better than mine.
I can’t let either a win justify or a loss negate my worth as a writer.
Topping off rejection experience at the award ceremonies are the emotions that arise from reading the judges’ comments about your entry. I’ve often wondered if the judges read the same piece I’d written, based on their feedback. At time it feels like you’re going through the five stages of grief in a matter of seconds because the heart and soul you put into your work has been ripped from your chest.
But, then there are the years when you’ve actually won, which brings the love. I recall, at one awards ceremony, sitting behind a writer whose name was called for one of the organization’s major awards. At first the writer sat in disbelief before saying “that’s me!” And in an instance, they were running towards the podium and tried to catch their breath to offer words of thanks and acknowledgement.
Winning an award, for many writers, seems like a validation of their choice to spend hour upon hour staring at a blank computer screen, fingers poised over the keyboard as they sweat drops of blood until words appear on the screen.
Even an honourable mention can be seen as a partial validation and the hope that, with a little more improvement, the bigger prize can be theirs.
Despite my ambivalence toward awards, what I have learned over the years is that I can’t let awards define me. I can’t let either a win justify or a loss negate my worth as a writer. Those of us who can’t not write know that awards are nice, but in the morning we’ll be back facing that blank screen, waiting for the words to fill it.