Won Or Lost
I interviewed Nicole Krauss on Monday. Her latest novel, Great House, was nominated for the National Book Award, and tonight she will find out if she won. Since she’s the only one of the five finalists I’ve interviewed, I’m pulling for her. I think writing awards can serve a very practical purpose. If Nicole wins, her publisher will be able to slap a gold seal on her book’s cover, which might garner her another 10,000 readers, give or take—though I suspect Great House will do just fine however tonight turns out. Likewise, contests like those sponsored by the PNWA at its yearly conference give new writers a chance to catch the attention of agents and editors. So bravo for contests. Every little bit helps.
Awards are tricky, however, as they suggest that there was ever a competition in the first place. No one is ever in competition when they sit down to write; to compete requires comparison and there is no one for you to compare to when you write. You are alone and meant to be so. Thus, for those nominated, the challenge of the winner and loser alike remains the same: forget it.
The moment you move your attention from what you want to say to what other people think about what you have said or might say—you are lost. And I mean, completely, and thoroughly lost. You will either not know what to write, or you will write something and dislike it and perhaps even eventually yourself. I say this with complete confidence because unless you know what it is you want to write, you don’t have anything to write.
Not to worry, what you want to say will never leave you, no matter how long you stare at what you think other people think. What you want to say doesn’t care if you won and it doesn’t care if you lost, it only wishes for your undivided attention, for as long as you can give it. And when you can’t give it any more, when you absolutely have to look at the trophy case, be it empty or full, what you want to say will wait still more, wait for you to return and feel the difference between an idea of what you were, and the knowledge of who you are.
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