It occurred to me this morning I might be thinking the wrong way about recognition. I guess I struggle with the fact in my day (think Jurassic Period) sports were competitive and you learned to well, compete. You learned about winning with humility. You learned how to lose gracefully. The thing about it was, back then there was always somebody who won and someone who lost.
If taught right and you practiced a lot you learned something when you won, and yes you learned something when you lost.
If you won, you learned what it took to make it happen. If you lost you learned the things you needed to do better, how to do them, and things you needed to not do. Most important of all you learned to never quit and keep trying.
You learned there was a trophy for the winners, a prize to be had for performing well. You learned if you didn’t perform well enough to win there would be no prize, no trophy. Period.
So that’s why I get all fussy and bothered when I hear or read about someone getting a trophy just for showing up.
A participation trophy.
Really? A participation trophy?
Imagine a world (as bizarre as it already is I’m about to turn it upside down) where all of us writers got trophies just for participating.
Jimmy the fledgling writer could hammer out terrible shit and send it to a publishing house, or a magazine and would he get mean, nasty rejection letters? Of course not. Jimmy would get a letter of congratulations because Jimmy took a whopping fifteen — maybe even thirty — minutes to participate.
The congratulation letter would offer titillating prose extolling Jimmy’s virtues, telling him how wonderful his writing is. It would go on to say though it might take some time to get published they want Jimmy to know he’s great and they are so glad he participated. It would tell Jimmy they were so happy to read his submission they included a gold embossed seal of participation at the bottom of the letter with instructions on how to frame it and hang it on the wall.
Congratufuckinlations Jimmy, you got a participation trophy! How does that make you feel? You want to do it again?
Of course you do!
In this dystopian Bizzaro world Jimmy never has to feel true pain and angst of a writer’s life because Jimmy got a trophy just for showing up. His feelings weren’t smashed by a ten ton ball of steel because he never bothered to pour his heart out or bleed over a screwed up manuscript. Jimmy never received rejections in the hundreds or has doubt whether he has what it takes to write.
On his first at bat, Jimmy got a participation trophy just for trying.
Okay here it is in a nutshell Jimmy. Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there aren't participation trophies in writing.
You need to suck it up like the rest of us and learn your freaking craft. You need to lose, and lose, and take a butt whipping, and lose again until you start to win. You need to feel the shame of a poorly written article and the exultation of somebody accepting your work as pretty damned awesome.
No Jimmy, you don’t get a participation trophy in the game of writing. You get something much, much better.
You get to learn what you’re made of.