Writer’s envy comes in many packages. Reading an alumni newsletter this week from the Squaw Valley writers’ workshop I’d attended a few years ago, I was blown away by the sheer brilliance and depth of accomplishment by many of my fellow alumni: National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35, National Book Award Finalists (plural), Whiting Awards, NYT bestsellers, National Book Critic’s Circle Award…the list goes on and on.
Nothing like reading about all the accomplishments of your classmates to get you feeling like an underachiever. I just went to the library to check out Joshua Ferris’s new novel, The Unnamed. Thankfully, he attended the workshop a year ahead of me, so I don’t have to rewind through all my memories to try to recall if I’d ever met him, what I thought of him as a person, and if I’d read any of his work-in-progress at the time.
Truthfully, I’m almost afraid to read his book. I’m afraid that the brilliance of the words on the page will somehow expose an intrinsic and irreparable weakness in my own writing. But such is the artist’s life.
Art, at its very best, is still subjective in nature. Too many times I’ve bought into the critical acclaim for a novel and ended up feeling obligated to finish a novel I hated just because literary critic thought it was genius. But genius, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
After I attended Squaw Valley, I remember having a conversation with my husband about what I really wanted to do with my writing. He said to me, “You can write to win awards, or you can write for the readers.” Do those things have to be mutually exclusive? I don’t think so, but there comes a point in a writer’s life (and in life in general) in which winning an award is less important than feeling good about why you’re doing what you’re doing.
To me, the point has always been to have as many people as possible read the story. You don’t need to win an award to do that, though I’m sure it helps. A story, to have power, must be shared. Granted, it’s been excruciatingly frustrating trying to make that pathway clear for the dissemination of my story, but my time is almost here. The best things in life are worth waiting for.
Sure, I’d love to win the National Book Award and Orange Prize. Who wouldn’t? But instead to have loyal readers and fans whose lives are truly touched by a great story: priceless. That’s what I’m aiming for these days.Read More...