I have been fortunate. My books have won awards. Most recently, my novel A Well-Respected Man was honored in the adult fiction category by The Society of Midland Authors, a storied and deep-rooted Midwest literary organization. It is a great honor to be even mentioned alongside any of the previous winners and honorees. The Chicago Writers Association has honored one of my memoirs with a Book-of-the-Year Award in Indie Nonfiction and The Royal Dragonfly Awards have recognized two of my books. It is a beautiful thing to win and be noticed. Every writer, every creative needs support, a pat on the back, encouragement to keep going, keep creating. Awards will do that, certainly. But along with the beauty of such recognition comes the beast.
This is not to say winning an award is a curse, the cliched whine of the artist who sees recognition as a burden. No. Nothing like that. This is about a deeper question: What is the benefit of praise?
Looking around the room at the awards dinner at The Cliff Dwellers in Chicago, at the brilliant minds and literary talent, I was certain that any of those writers with the right book at the right time could have won the award I won. The subjectivity of a creative endeavor was then and is now evident and is never out of focus for any of us who create. Any of those writers at one time or another needed supportive praise to keep at it. They all needed someone to say. “Your work is worthy, that project you are embarking on is worthy, you are worthy.” We all need that. Even those not living in the creative world—the truck driver, the mailman, the teacher.
But with that praise, and the recognition of an award, in slithers the monstrous beast and the inevitable questioning: Can I do this again? Can I replicate that lightning in a bottle? Is my work really that good?
What to do with that?
In my estimation, it is best after being so recognized to savor the sweetness and then burn off those empty calories by getting back to the work. Let the award fade to the corners of your mind. Certainly place it in your bio, on your website, enjoy the congratulatory handshakes, but then forget it.
After the awards banquet, my wife and I, feeling wonderful about the night, exited the city parking garage and headed west on Adams Street in Chicago. And just as we made the turn, I heard the crash of metal, glass breaking on pavement. What was that? I said. I pulled the car over to be sure I had not hit debris on the street. Behind my car on the pavement in the shimmering lights of the city night was my award, shattered on the ground. In my haste, as I had removed my suit jacket to take the driver’s seat and had placed the award on the roof of the car and had forgotten it was there.
The award can be repaired. It certainly was not ruined. But the accident was a clear reminder of the fleeting beauty of recognition. Once the award is back in good shape, I will place it on a shelf in the writer shed, let it sink into my memory, and then try my best to keep it from crashing to the floor.