I Wish You All The Best—No, Really
On my way to work this morning, I listened to an old episode of WTF With Marc Maron in which Maron interviews fellow comedian Louis C.K. I have been listening to more podcasts than usual lately, part of a strange, semiconscious soup of mental preparation and professional dread that was left simmering in my mind after we recorded the first episode of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast, available now at pw.org/ampersand. (The only thing worse than seeing a photograph of myself, it turns out, is listening to my own voice. After all, if I try really hard I can appear smart in photos.) But Maron is a pro—albeit a rather neurotic and occasionally angry one—and the conversation he has with Louis C.K., with whom he has a long, loving, yet complicated friendship, is fascinating on many different levels. For one, it taps into the topic of jealousy—and not the anonymous, garden-variety “I want what Jonathan Franzen has” covetousness, but rather a kind of repressed resentment that can sometimes develop between friends who share artistic and/or career aspirations and who are trying very hard (and often failing) to be supportive during the good times as well as the bad.
Occasionally I hear from readers about the mental gymnastics they perform while flipping through the Recent Winners section of Grants & Awards (page 105), noting the new poet chosen for the fellowship, the fiction writer selected for the grant, and the essayist who won the award for which they, too, were in the running. On our darker days—and we all have them: those times when it seems like our hard work and talent will go unrecognized and unappreciated—one can feel like a glutton for punishment while paging through the listings. Of course, that particular editorial feature is designed not only to celebrate the worthy winners of writing contests but also to offer insight into a judge’s proclivities, a sponsoring organization’s choices, a competition’s track record. It is designed to deliver not only the news but also the trends of writing contests.
For this issue’s special section, we delved further into Recent Winners and asked six writers to share their thoughts on winning contests, as well as their take on losing them (60), something to which we can all relate. Their advice and perspective is invaluable and provides the perfect salve for any writer whose confidence may feel strained. And their refrain is music to my ears: Don’t give up; keep writing. So good luck, and I’ll see you in Recent Winners.