why awards don’t matter (and also why they kinda do)

’tis the season of awards nominations. at least, for the film industry. it’s also a great time of the year for you screenwriters out there to be able to download for free some of the best-written screenplays of the year.

i honestly think that every writer should at least dabble some in the screenplay form. there’s something about the strict formatting rules that makes you become a better writer, especially in the re-writing process.

but back to the topic – do awards really matter?

don’t lie. you’ve done it too. you’ve sat on the toilet squeezing out a #2 (not the pencil) and practicing your acceptance speech for your crappy screenplay you just started on. then you’ll get writer’s block and never finish it and six years later wonder why it’s still on your hard drive and ask yourself if you should just delete it once and for all.

but anyway, people like winning things – we just do.

but should winning an award be the mark of success?

i don’t think it should be. after all, there have been some pretty crappily-written things that have won awards. The Old Man and The Sea won the Pulitzer Prize and it’s about as shitty as a major work of fiction can get. true story: i’ve met huge Hemingway nerds who don’t even care for it. our conversations go something like this:

Hemingway Nerd: what?! you don’t like Hemingway?! why?!

Me: the old man and the sea.

(a beat)

Hemingway Nerd: yeah, well, okay, that shouldn’t count.

but on the other hand, awards can help bring notoriety to a work that has been neglected by the greater populace. it certainly doesn’t hurt the word-of-mouth effect that is so important for a writer’s success.

for example, i probably never would have read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius if it hadn’t been recommended to me by a friend who only read it because it was a Pulitzer Finalist. the title alone was too pretentious for me to naturally pick it up off the shelf, not to mention the fact that it’s considered non-fiction/memoir (blech). but now i’d list it among the best-written books of this century, non-fiction or otherwise.

but if you’re trying to write something that will win awards, chances are it will not turn out well. putting that kind of pressure on yourself just isn’t fair and it won’t translate well onto the pages. when revisiting old works, i’ve found i now much more prefer my writing in my “writing it for the fun of it” pieces than my “writing it for an award” pieces.

if you can win awards, great. but they don’t always amount to much. the first time i won an award for one of my plays, i thought, “awesome – this is how i’ll get published, produced, and then it’s a clear shot from here on out!” and – for whatever reason – it just didn’t work out that way. nor did it the second time i won an award for one of my plays. (spoiler alert: i’ve not won any awards since then)

contests in general tend to be very subjective and it’s kind of the luck of the draw in terms of who judges your work. that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter them, but also don’t fall into the trap of believing that’s the only way to go.

with the falling cost of digital video cameras, editing software, the advent of e-publishing, etc. it’s getting easier for you to produce your material yourself. you don’t have to wait for the recognition of others to “do your thing” – whatever that is.

so what if this rant didn’t go the direction i originally thought it would? i don’t care. just go write something – whether it wins awards or not. but don’t forget to learn a thing or two from the award winners along the way.

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