Yeah, a new year, and another awards season. I gotta say I hate it. And this year, I swear, I won’t look to see if I’m nominated on Goodreads, or who won at Divine magazine, or anything, anywhere. It’s not good for me. And here’s why, which will no doubt ensure I never win another 🙂
You see, to be a self published author who hasn’t yet attained big time success, to fight against the tide of overwhelming competition for reader eyes and ears, to beat back the disappointments and depressions that hit every time Amazon changes the rules, to ignore every statistic on the likelihood of failure, to watch your latest magnificent creation greeted with public indifference… It requires a certain characteristic, which very few successful writers will admit to out loud. And that characteristic is the absolutely true knowledge that you deserve every prize ever awarded in the history of everything ever.
If you don’t wake up in this business with a Napoleon Complex on Monday, you don’t get out of bed on Tuesday. If you don’t believe that you will someday be worth $400 million, just like Stephen King, forget it. Get a job. Because only massive levels of delusional thinking will keep you swimming against the tide.
Now, let’s qualify that. Lots of people write for fun. For pleasure. To express themselves. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about doing this for a living. A lot of writers will say, and mean it, “I just want to tell a story and make people happy.” Great! I want to tell stories and make people happy, too. But I do it for a living now. The pressure is on.
In my heart of hearts, I know Muhammad Ali shouted “I am The Greatest!” in his pre-fight press sessions because he had to convince himself. He had to walk into that fight believing it. People didn’t hear that. They heard, “I’m an asshole.” We all know that it’s one of those things you may believe, but it’s not polite to say it out loud.
But, the downside is, when you go into that fight, or that awards competition, all psyched up like that, and you lose…well, you’ve been proven wrong. You aren’t The Greatest.
And what you need to do then is to restart the Delusion Engine. To convince yourself that someone made a mistake, to rebuild your certainty that you ARE The Greatest. So you can get up on Wednesday. And do it all over again.
I used to hate Serena Williams. I used to see her at a press conference after she’d lost a match – lost a match – and she’d shrug and say, basically, I don’t care, I’m still #1, I’m still the greatest. The nerve! I used to think. You just lost!
Now I get it. You have to do that to keep going. You have to have what people said Steve Jobs had: a “reality distortion field” that simply did not accept facts that interfered with what he wanted to accomplish.
If I’m ever really seriously in the running for a prize, I’ll never put my hand to my fluttering heart and say, my goodness, it’s such a shock, it’s an honor just to be nominated! I’d be lying through my teeth. I know it’s the “right lie to tell,” the lie that helps you win, but still. I can’t do it. I’m not going to raise the trophy over my head and shout “Suck it, beeyotch!” But I’m also not going to pretend I haven’t worked my ass off to deserve it…or deny that in my heart of hearts, I always knew this day would come.
Because only being absolutely sure, every day, that I deserve every prize ever, can I get up the next day and do this again. Without a prize, without another sale, without another review. Again and again and again.
Now, the downside to all this is that, if you’re actually paying attention to the course of events in a prize competition, your delusional thinking can let you convince yourself that oh my god I really am going to win this time! And that is absolutely the worst thing you can do. Instead, you have to put your mind on a tightrope – I deserve every prize ever, and I’m a goddamn fool if I get my hopes up.
See, the problem is, book prizes are completely subjective. Serena and Muhammad can visibly, tangibly prove they were better than their competition. Steve Jobs can beat the pants off every other computer and phone maker and prove he’s better. But there are a million reasons a novelist will or won’t win a prize. Book prizes are about quality, but also about popularity, and controversy (which can hurt or help…), and luck. So they mean everything…and nothing.
My goal is to ignore the whole thing. To award myself every prize ever and close my eyes and refuse to believe that some other people won them. This business runs you through enough cycles of hope and despair without any added worry about whether or not you’re going to win an award.
And now, I’m going to close my eyes, and stand on stage at the Dolby Theater, and I’d like to thank the Academy for this honor… 🙂