Yesterday at coffee, a friend and I discussed writing. During that conversation, we talked about the worth and/or worthiness of what we have written. Obviously those two terms – worth and worthiness, are objective and subjective. What is a smile worth? What makes a gesture of kindness, worthy? Is a book worthy only if it sells 100,000 copies? Does a poem only have merit if it is recited at a Presidential Inauguration? The answers to those questions must be answered privately and based upon our individual way of measuring worth and worthiness.
To date, I have submitted thirty-nine short stories and poems for publication. Eight are still under consideration by magazines and on-line publications. Two have been accepted. One short story was submitted fifteen times before it was taken. That is a 6.4% acceptance rate. That batting average would not get me into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This small account of my publication progress is given because I think it touches on the issues of worth and worthiness. Do I think any of my tales are worthy of the Pulitzer Prize? Of course not. Do I think any of the poems or stories should earn a Pushcart Prize nomination? No. Are any of them perfect? No. Are any of my stories, my poems, worthy? Yes, I believe they are. Do they have value? Yes, I believe they do. Is my Ego out of balance for thinking this? I hope not.
Now I return to the idea that worth and worthiness are individual concepts. The notion of what I or you think is worthy does not eliminate the need for some realistic manner of determining value. A crust of week-old bread has great worth to a starving man, while a 2018 Honda Civic may have little to no value to a billionaire. And then there is the painting completed by an amateur artist that may appear to be the work of a 3rd grader to some, while it is beautiful to the husband of the painter. It has enormous worth to that singular man and therefore is worthy.
Still, I believe there must at some point be an objective assessment of value. I would not attempt to defend one of my doodles as having the same economical value of a Monet painting. I may like my cartoon character, but I’m not so foolish as to put a $1,000,000 price tag on it and hold my breath until the check clears. The same holds true with our writing efforts. Jack Kerouac may have been able to write On the Road with little to no editing, (which I think to be more myth than reality) but I’m not that skilled. I still occasionally write set instead of sat and spell your when it should have been, you’re.
I’m no different from my writing friends, no different from the millions of women and men who have put pen to paper. I suggest we all have occasional doubts about our abilities and labors. We want others to appreciate our efforts. I believe writers want to know the work they’ve completed, the time they’ve devoted to writing, has some worthwhile meaning. We want to matter, and we want what we do to matter.
So where does mattering begin? – It begins with us.
Two weeks ago, a writing friend sent me information about the Writer’s Digest Competitions–Self-Published Book Awards. For the winners, this is a big deal. $8000.00 as a grand prize. A featured article in Writer’s Digest and a paid trip to next year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Placing first in several categories is also significant. What jump-started my ego boost was my friend’s suggestion that I enter my novel, The Unusual Man in the competition. My first reaction was, yeah right. It costs $99.00 to enter. A price far greater than I’ve ever spent submitting any of my work for publication. Not only is it expensive, it’s also Writer’s Digest we’re talking about. There will probably be hundreds if not thousands of entries. So no thanks.
Flash forward to today. I’m proud of my book. Far more so than my first novel. It’s a good story, and a different tale than mainstream. Like most other serious writers, I poured my heart and soul into it. Would I expect it to win? No. Then why would I on second thought, consider entering the competition? Because sometimes we need to believe in something. Sometimes we need to believe in ourselves and in our efforts. We have to put our faith on the line and set aside all the negative answers we can present. My overstuffed ego? Maybe. But it may also be what is needed to keep trying. Maybe our success or failure to be worthy, to have our work have worthiness, is to simply try. I don’t have a great deal of regard for cliches, but in this case I’m going to use one. “One way of ensuring failure, is not trying.”
Every day presents each of us with an opportunity to try or not try. To risk or not risk something, and to make an effort or to walk away. I have taken the easy path many times in my life. I can’t remember an example where that has ever made me proud. Sometimes it is the sensible or reasonable thing to do. But it still evokes no pride.
There is a line in the movie Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carey’s character asks the girl he loves if he has a chance with her. She answers, “I’d say the odds are about one in a million.” Jim Carey beams his great toothy smile and responds, “So you’re saying I have a chance.” You gotta love that optimism.
So I’m going to ship off my book to Writer’s digest and pay my entry fee. I’ll wait several months looking for that e-mail notice that says “Thanks for your submission, but…” And then again there is that one in a million chance it may say something else.
Is it my faulty ego working overtime, or is it some blind faith that I should try? I’m not sure. But I am going to try. I have failed when I’ve tried and when I haven’t. I’ve never succeeded when I didn’t try.
When in my 30s, I played many tennis tournaments. I was a solid player, but never a great player. I saw humility as being a positive trait on the tennis court, still I entered tournaments with a desire to win. This is what I said to myself… “I am not predicting that I will win, but I am saying I can win.” I won a few tournaments, and I lost in many. Still, I never had to say to myself, “I wonder if I’d won had I tried.”
I believe that you, whoever you are, also need to find something to trust in yourself. To try. I wish you nothing but the best in your efforts.
P.S.—I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.
Go well, David.
“Maybe the hardest part of life is just having the courage to try.” Rachel Hollis.
“Not only try, but try your best.” Mehmet Murat Ildan.
Denni’s Wise Words
“I always try my best to be a good Princess. Louie, my brother, is a good lizard hunter because he tries his best. That’s just one of the many reasons I love him.”