Learning to Be Satisfied

You know, I never know how to deal with the news of winning an award after I’ve placed in a writing contest or some other thing.

My reaction always comes in two stages: first, of course, there’s always that sharp intake of air followed by the jolt of adrenaline and pride. I always do it in private as I’m always afraid that if I open up the email with another person it’d be really awkward if I didn’t win anything. After a moment of private celebration I’ll slowly descend from my happy perch and usually run to tell my mother or sister. But I feel like after I’ve told someone and in doing so “concretized” the news, that’s when the dreaded stage two deploys. Stage two is the moment when I start doubting my accomplishment, when I began asking, How prestigious is this competition? What’s the ratio of entries received to entries accepted? Will this really look good on my college app?

Instead of being satisfied with the fact that I’ve successfully written something that I’ve labored over and polished and which has a message or a style of writing that resonates with someone, that a writer-to-reader relationship is established (this sounds so oddly deep), it’s always about making sure I’m better than someone — which when laid bare sounds really pretentious and sad.

I guess in part this ceaseless craving for approval stems from the highly competitive teen writing world that has emerged lately, a world that I’ve only just begun to explore, which at this point may already put me at a disadvantaged position in some people’s eyes. At the same time as I began to discover a community of teen writers, a group of people that tore down my long-held misconception that writing was a lonely endeavor, I discovered just how stressful and prickly the writing world could simultaneously be. I mean I’ve hinted at this already in my last post. I’ve begun to recognize the names of people I see in a dozen literary magazines, the National Poet semifinalists, the YoungArts winners, the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship students. And I know I should be glad for those people, to look to them as fellow young writers intent on sharpening their craft, but there’s always the faint vein of jealousy and inferiority, especially when getting published and winning awards are seen as valuable ways to pump up college resumes to get into Ivies.

Last week actually I attended this webinar hosted by the Adroit Journal called “The Art of Losing: Reimagining ‘Teen Writing’ Culture.” At a time like this, I found it to be a gift from God. Now it’s probably because I don’t sleep enough so I don’t exactly remember everything that was discussed, but the panelists gave some really good advice and life experience on how to deal with the pressure cooker of teen writing culture and how to develop a healthy relationship with writing that isn’t hinged on contests and getting published. I jotted down a few quick points which struck a deep chord within me:

  • “I don’t always like writing but I’ve always loved being a writer.”
  • Don’t just read high school lit mags; read beyond them
  • Involve yourself in writing communities that aren’t solely composed of high schoolers, in other words connect with adult writers who you know probably won’t quit writing in two years
  • You don’t have to win in Scholastic and YoungArts to meet great writers and friends
  • Sometimes it may have been better to never have known about lit mags and big writing competitions

To elaborate on the last bullet point, one of the panelists mentioned how freeing she felt after not having the pressure to keep submitting to lit mags which I do agree with. I found it really insightful on how the panelists shared how they continued to pursue writing after “evolving out of the teen writing world.” I think it’s really easy to forget who you’re writing for, that at the end of the day it’s for yourself.

Anyways, until next time.

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