your favorite inept aspiring writer is back...
October 25, 2021 3:07 PM   Subscribe

... with some good news and also a question!

Ok so when it rains it pours - as you can see from my last question I am about to embark on a major PR campaign for my debut record coming out in January. Within three days, I found out that one of my creative nonfiction/memoir pieces is going to be published, and that another story I've had published at a different literary magazine has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize! I'm honored and kind of speechless at the nomination, and the night I found out about the nomination me and my COVID pod literally stayed up all night drinking and celebrating the nomination and also the impending album release party that will featuring a live performance of the album (my COVID pod is also my band).

That said, the morning after the celebrations, I started Googling to learn more about Pushcarts, who has been nominated/who has won, etc, and I found the following link that made me feel kind of foolish and lame for having stayed up till 5 am celebrating the nomination: Open Letter to Pushcart Nominated Folks. I also found this link that only sort of made me feel better, but not by much: What do Pushcart Prize nominations really mean, anyway?

I honestly had no idea how many people get nominated until I read these two articles - I just know in the circle of writers I run in, the Prize itself is kind of a big deal. Learning more about how many nominees there are kind of diluted my excitement and now I feel sort of ashamed for how excited I was about it. Like, I was going to announce it on Facebook and now I don't want to lest I be sneered at by the likes of the author of that first link, or in the way the author of the second link was sneered at when she announced her nomination.

The publication that nominated my piece is fairly well respected in the niche world of small press writers but hardly a household name. At the same time, the editors have repeatedly told me how much they loved my story and that they really feel that it is exceptional work. (They accepted it for publication less than two hours after I submitted it - not trying to humblebrag, more trying to convey how committed they are to getting behind this story I sent them.) I want to be proud of that, but I feel incredibly pathetic and naive at the moment.

Is my shame warranted or am I being too hard on myself? After years of struggling to make it as a writer the nomination felt like validation that I do have talent, but then I found those articles basically mocking nominees and I feel like a hack again.

I'm especially curious to hear from anyone who works in publishing here at Metafilter. I know the second of the two articles talked to some folks who were nominated and who won and some editors but I have the deadly combination of anxiety, low self esteem, and imposter syndrome (fun sidebar: I'm also terrified that everyone who listens to my record is going to think it sucks, my nerves are fried trying to do all of this creative stuff and it's happening all at once and I probably should be happy but instead I keep thinking maybe I'm just an idiot who should stick to accounting) and I also trust Mefites in the publishing world to be kindly honest (honestly kind?) in giving me a reality check right now while I'm in the depts of Sad Writer Feels.

posted by nayantara to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
Best answer: That open letter article seems awful, IMO. I don't work in publishing and did not know enough about the Pushcart to know how many nominees it has, only its overall standing, but I have a couple times gone on a tear and skimmed like 500 SF/F stories in just a few weeks to find favorites I can nominate for a Hugo that year and/or post to Metafilter. Maybe I don't pick 6 from every venue, but I think 6 from every venue is a very reasonable number to contemplate as standouts in one year. You should be proud of that, let everyone know, and at most ease your sense of modesty by just saying you were selected as one of 6 nominees from whichever venue.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:04 PM on October 25, 2021

Best answer: I don't work in publishing. I have had friends who've been nominated for a Pushcart. They definitely got very excited and celebrated! Publicly! All over social media! I was definitely happy for them! Also they did not win, and that was OK. Be happy. This is an honor and a compliment and you get to enjoy it and be happy about it.
posted by shadygrove at 4:24 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are so few opportunities to celebrate when trying to find success in your art, so take this one and run with it! Hell, if you wanted to stay up till 5am celebrating merely the acceptance of a story after 2 hours, I would say to do that as well. These moments are really helpful in building your confidence in yourself and to help sustain you through more fallow periods.

posted by you'rerightyou'rerightiknowyou'reright at 4:27 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Well, I’m not in publishing but I have a friend who was recently nominated. He has had a long, solid writing career, been widely published, sought after as a writing teacher, etc., and he was delighted to be nominated. And my partner is a writer who was delighted for the friend who was nominated. Nary a dismissive word was uttered by anyone. If not for the nasty article you linked I would have no idea that anyone didn’t think it’s a perfectly worthy of celebration.
posted by HotToddy at 4:48 PM on October 25, 2021

Best answer: I've never been nominated for a Pushcart, and I'd be very happy if I were.

I think the article is really more about putting it on your resume, not whether you're allowed to be excited about it. It seems like a strange thing to criticize people for. If you were applying for something where your publication record were pertinent, you'd put down that you were published in XYZ magazine - and they publish way more people than they nominate for Pushcarts.

But you're not asking about whether to put it on your resume. You're feeling a bit foolish because you were so excited and some anonymous person on the internet says it's not that exciting. So here's my anonymous post saying it is exciting. You don't need permission to be happy about good news. There's no level of accomplishment you have to achieve before it's OK to celebrate with your friends. It sounds like you have a lot to be happy about now - you're way ahead of so many writers. And it's especially important to celebrate now when there's so much awfulness in the world. Please don't let some random article spoil it for you.

In the title of your post, you call yourself an "inept aspiring writer." Consider just calling yourself a writer instead. Because that's what you are.

posted by FencingGal at 5:49 PM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Out of all the people who think they'd like to be writers, the majority don't even finish their first short story.

Out of all the people who write a short story, the majority never work up the nerve to send it out for publication.

Out of all the people who send short stories out to selective publications, the majority never get published.

Out of all the people whose stories are published in selective publications, the majority don't get Pushcart Prize nominations.

So you are now part of an elite minority within an elite minority within an elite minority within an elite minority. Congratulations! That is definitely worth taking pride in and celebrating with the important people in your life.

Why, then, would somebody sneer at your entirely earned celebration? Well, imagine that you encounter somebody celebrating that they wrote their first short story. Your reaction will depend on how they explain their excitement.

Suppose they said, "Now that I've written a single story, I'm basically a published author! I've accomplished just as much as you have!" You would probably take that as an insult. They'd be denying the incredible hard work you put in to get from where they are to where you are now. And you'd probably feel an urge to quash their excitement.

Suppose, on the other hand, they said, "I know I've got a long way to go, and I know how much self-doubt I had to conquer just to get to where I am, and that's why I want to celebrate every accomplishment on the way." You'd feel a lot more sympathy and kinship to them, and you'd be delighted to join in their celebration.

It seems pretty clear to me that you're in that second, self-aware camp of celebrating authors. So when you see people online saying "Don't celebrate getting a Pushcart nomination!"... you can basically assume they aren't speaking to you.

I'll also note that, for many authors, professional success and personal feelings get tied up in understandable but unhelpful ways. It is sadly easy to slip from "Mentioning a Pushcart nomination in a cover letter probably won't help your next story get published" to "YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO FEEL HAPPINESS ABOUT A PUSHCART NOMINATION!!!!" If you encounter people who have gone through that mental slippage, then by all means feel compassion and empathy for them. But don't let their psychological confusion interfere with your hard-earned excitement.

PS: Part of what makes a creative career so mentally unhealthy is that, no matter how many narrow gates you make it through, you can always look ahead and see what you haven't done yet. You haven't won a Pushcart Prize, and you haven't leveraged that prize to publish a novel, and that novel hasn't become a best-seller, and you haven't won a Nobel Prize, and so on and so on. And no matter what stage you arrive at, there's never a moment when somebody hands you an official Allowed To Call Yourself A Writer certificate.

So let me echo what FencingGal said: You may currently be an aspiring novelist or an aspiring Nobel Prize winner, but you are not an aspiring writer. You are a writer, period.
posted by yankeefog at 5:46 AM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

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