On the Winning of Awards and Prizes

I’ve been hearing a lot of noise lately (for noise, read bleating) from people who’ve not won the competitions they entered or not been short-listed for something or other. The fact that I’m annoyed enough to write this should tell you how often I’m hearing this!

Yes, I understand there is disappointment when you don’t get what you thought you might like. What I don’t understand is anyone who thinks they deserve to be on a short-list or they deserve to win something … or someone who trumpets “When I win a Hugo/Booker/Nobel Peace Prize” and then is surprised when they don’t.

You don’t know who the competition is. You don’t know what the judging panels’ tastes are like. You don’t know what’s going to happen when each of those judge’s tastes are combined in the melting pot of the decision-making process. And, perhaps most cruelly of all, you don’t know if your work is good enough to blow the judges away – you may suspect, you may like to think, but you do not know.

Who the hell assumes they are going to win? All you can do is try your best and hope the gods like you, but you cannot prepare for every eventuality, you can’t knobble all other competitors.

Similarly, I’ve also been hearing some whining noises from people who’ve actually won things or been short-listed and are now complaining about the prizes. Okay, you entered the comp and when you did, presumably, you applied sufficient brain-power to check out what the prize was going to be. For the love of Pete, it’s like complaining about the quality of something you got for free. Here’s a thought: if you didn’t pay for it, then your right to whinge pretty much ends there.

At the base of all this is the question: why are you writing?

If it’s for the fame, the glory and winning the fabulous prizes, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. I would ask that you hand your pencil in at the door and never write again. If you’re concerned with winning, then take up an actual competitive sport, like running or swimming or darts … chess, perhaps.

Competitions are crapshoots. You have the same chance as anyone else (provided you can manage to spell your own name correctly on the entry form and format the thing according to instructions). If you are writing in expectation of a reward you are doomed to disappointment. Enter the competitions by all means as it’s excellent to practise achieving deadlines, following guidelines, etc; be hopeful for all humans should have hope; but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t complain when you don’t win. And when you inevitably don’t win, try to keep the bitterness in check – sure, I think some talentless fools have won things, but their success does not lessen me. Other writers’ opportunities are not your losses. Gore Vidal famously said “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies” – Gore was, of course, a sad old git, and should be a role model for no one.

Be humble, be hopeful, be happy for your friends when they succeed and also for strangers, be kind to those behind you on the writing career ladder, for you may need their help later. But do not have expectations of winning; do not carry a sense of entitlement around with you and wave it like a peacock in mating season.

Here endeth the grump.

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