Last night, my writing group went along to the FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) Awards night. We had received a Commended in the community writing group section for our group novel. Of course, we thought we would have won if we'd been able to submit the whole book! The rules said only 30,000 words, so we had to cut it off halfway and say it was only Part One. Mind you, as someone in the group said, if we'd been able to put the whole novel in, we would have been struggling to finish it in time! As it is, here we are at the end of March and we're still about 10,000 words away from finishing (we think).
Still, the competition was a great impetus for us to do something different. We have all created characters for the novel that now seem real - we sit around the table, plotting what comes next, and refer to each other by character names. Plotting is such fun, with everyone throwing in ideas about who will do what next. At the function last night, another writer asked me how we did it, and then seemed amazed that we managed to plot and write without huge arguments.
I think the key is ego. None of us want or need our part of the novel to be "the best" or the biggest or the most exciting. We're more interested in enjoying the process and seeing where it will lead us. One of us has developed a very snooty, nasty character and is now loving being able to write in her voice and "let it all hang out". Another writer has created a male character and is practising her skills in terms of voice - making sure he sounds like a male. We intend to self-publish the novel when it's finished, just for ourselves.
The great thing about the Awards night is seeing so many people so excited about winning or receiving acknowledgement that their writing has been judged as darned good. In many ways, our society hates high achievers and likes to cut them down to size. The FAW Awards give prizes and commendeds to more than 100 writers, and it's a celebratory occasion. Some people come from interstate to receive their awards, and it's lovely to share their happiness. The awards also are for younger writers - one young man who won a poetry prize said his English teacher had told him that poetry was obviously not his strong suit, and it was good to have another educated opinion on that! No doubt he'll take great pride in showing her his certificate.
There are always writing awards around. The new Prime Minister has announced two major prizes for fiction and nonfiction writing worth $100,000. Yes, that's nice, but wouldn't it be better to spread it around a bit more? Sometimes you hear people say that there are too many awards, but I think it's great to have many rather than one or two. Judges differ widely in their choices (just look at the State writing awards for children's and YA books compared to the CBCA choices for their awards) and it means more books get promoted and praised.
We writers tend to tuck ourselves away in the back room and write, hoping for publication and recognition, hoping we'll find readers who love what we've created. Prizes and awards, both large and small, help us to feel validated, help us to keep persevering, just as much as actual publication does. Every bit helps. And I can't say enough good things about my writing group (go, girls!) - their encouragement and critiquing skills have kept me going over the years, more than anything else. If you can find fellow writers who understand what you are trying to achieve, and who can offer you (and you, them) that vital support, that's a prize in itself.