Trying to enjoy second place

silver-medal-hiSo, first of all, yay, I won the honor award in the Tu Books contest. It’s always good to win things. Also, I’d like to congratulate Valynne. We’ve corresponded a bunch and she is wonderful in a number of different ways: a truly rare person and one who is very deserving of this award. Despite her modesty, I have no doubt that her novel is excellent. Also, I’d like to congratulate the other finalists: Ibi, Ailynn, and Akwaeke. I’m glad of the chance to (virtually) meet them, and I’m sure that they’ll be successful in their writing endeavors as well. And I’d like to thank Stacy, the editor of Tu Books, for, you know, making me a finalist and reading the book and doing all that other good stuff.

However, I think I will have to break from the normal triumphalism of these sorts of posts and say that I was a bit disappointed at not winning. Being runner up is good, but if I’d won, my book would be getting published. It’d be in stores (well, like two years from now). That’s a concrete accomplishment. A runner-up prize really isn’t. It’s definitely a sort of triumph, but it’s also a sort of loss.

So for a few days after this happened, I was feeling a bit disappointed about it and I was finding it hard to concentrate. I can’t say that I felt poorly done by. People have to publish who they want to publish. But still, I was just really wishing that I’d won.

However, eventually, during one of our classes, I had a sudden realization. I thought, “You know, I better enjoy this, because this is not going to come again.” And I immediately felt much better.

Now, this realization makes perfect sense to me, but no one else seems to understand it. Here’s how my conversations about this tend to go.

Me: So I decided that I better enjoy this, because it’s not going to come again.

Other Person: What? No! Of course this will happen again! You’ll publish a book someday!

Me: No, no, I just mean this…this thing…placing second in a contest…being so close but quite there…that is never going to come again.

OP: Err…well…I guess that’s true. But every moment is kind of like that, right? I mean we’re never going to have this conversation again, are we?

And then I just throw up and my hands and say, “Sigh! I am so misunderstood!”

Because this is not some kind of zen thing. I don’t mean that I need to enjoy this moment because you need to people to enjoy every moment because every moment is special and beautiful and wonderful.

No. I mean that every phase of a writing career has its own joys and sorrows. When you’re starting out, the sorrow is that you’re getting rejected everywhere, but the joy is that you believe so strongly in yourself and the writing is so easy and so confident. Then you get slightly more encouragement, but you drop into the pit of self-doubt once you see how far you have to go. And eventually you get to where I am: a place where you really don’t have much in the way of concrete success or status, but you’re  finally able to successfully execute at least part of your vision for a story.

Right now, I have tremendous artistic freedom. I’m not (too) hampered by my own inability and I’m not at all hampered by external constraints: marketing, agent expectations, editor expectations, deadlines, the public’s perception of me. Right now, there are no risks. Nothing I write can hurt me. The moment you publish a book, that stops being true. Your next book needs to improve on the performance of the last one.

And I’m not terribly far from selling a book. It might not happen this year, or next year, or the year after, but it’ll happen eventually. And when that happens, I’ll be on the rollercoaster. It’ll be great, but I’ll also have so many new worries and new anxieties. There will come a time in my life when not winning an editor’s approval will be a real tragedy—something that will throw a severe wrench into my career.

So yes, I do want to enjoy the good things that come my way right now, because I’m never again going to be on the verge of selling my first book, I’m never again going to be such an unknown quantity, I’m never again going to feel the momentum gather around me in quite this way.

Also, I won $500.

(As a P.S. I believe I’ve never mentioned what my eight-day novel is about, but the press release for the New Visions award unfortunately let the cat out of the bag.)


6 thoughts on “Trying to enjoy second place

  1. Widdershins

    The question you’ve got to ask yourself at the end of this is … (at the time you wrote it) was this book your second best effort or your first best? If the answer is first best, then that’ll take some of the sting out of it.

    … still, that $500? Not too bad at all!

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      I think that’s a dangerous question to ask. That way lies perfectionism and obsession. At some point, every work must be not so much finished as simply abandoned.

      1. Widdershins

        I don’t mean perfection or obsession, but the kind of peace that we can find when we know a thing is done, and we have moved beyond it.

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