Writers, Awards and The Journey

James Scott Bell

This past week TKZ blogmate John Gilstrap and I received the lovely news that we are finalists for a 2012 International Thriller Writers Award. Even lovelier, we are not in the same category, so we can root for each other without tight smiles. John’s novel, Threat Warning, is up for the Best Paperback Original. I’m up in the short story category for One More Lie.
Which prompted a few thoughts on awards, kudos and the writing journey.
Of course, every writer––indeed, anybody who does anything––likes awards and recognition. That’s our nature, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Used rightly, it can be a motivation to good work and striving to get better.
But it should never be a dominating drive, in my view, or it might become a snare and a distraction.
One of my heroes is the late UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. When I was in high school I got to attend his basketball camp, and talk to him a bit. Coach Wooden gave all of us a copy of his Pyramid of Successand taught us more than just the fundamentals of the game.

“Individual recognition, praise, can be a dangerous commodity,” Coach Wooden once wrote. “It’s best not to drink too deeply from a cup full of fame. It can be very intoxicating, and intoxicated people often do foolish things.”
He was just as clear about losses. Never measure yourself by what you lost, but by how you prepared. That’s the only thing within your control and the only thing you can change.
“I never mentioned winning or victory to my players,” Wooden said. “Instead I constantly urged them to strive for the self-satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could do to become the best of which you are capable.”
That’s his famous definition of success, and it’s rock solid. When we work hard and know we’ve taken whatever talents we have and pushed them further along, that’s achievement. It’s one of the reasons I teach writing classes and workshops. I love helping writers get to their own next level, whatever it may be for them.
So regardless of what happens at this year’s ITW Awards, I will be happy for the trip to New York with my wife, for hanging out with John and other writers I admire, and appreciating the privilege of being included in such august company.
But then it will be time to come back to L.A. and hit the keyboard again, working hard to be the best I can be. It makes each day its own challenge and, in striving, its own reward. Don’t miss that by letting an inordinate desire for recognition mess with your head.
“I derived my greatest satisfaction out of the preparation, the journey,” Wooden wrote. “Day after day, week after week, year after year. It was the journey I prized above all else.”
*Quotations are from Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Courtby John Wooden and Steve Jamison (Contemporary Books, 1997)

14 thoughts on “Writers, Awards and The Journey

  1. Congrats to both you and your blog mate on the nominations. My husband bows his head at the mention of the great John Wooden. Fabulous advice and perspective, thanks for the pep talk, Coach!

  2. My favourite flowers are the Pansy and the Dryas octopetala, aka Mountain Aven. The Pansy because it is a bright and fairly delicate, yet every summer it spreads its beautiful petals in my arctic flower beds after enduring the deep freeze of winter, even though they’re supposed to be annuals. They strive and survive.

    The Mountain Aven because to get one you have to go to the arctic, climb a mountain above the treeline, pick it then go back down. These beautiful little white flowers strive and grown among the rocks enduring wind, and rain, and twenty foot snow piles yet to stick their heads up high and shine with beauty for their days in the sun.

    While anyone can buy a pansy I love these flowers because I have shared in the storms, slept in the snow, and climbed the rocky crags to be with them.

    Indeed the beauty and the fun come along the journey.

    Congrats on the awards, may they bloom to more and beyond

  3. Congrats to you both. WOOHOO!!!!

    Perhaps it’s easy for me to say now, while I’m unpublished, but to me the joy is in the journey.

  4. James, congratulations, again, to you and to John. You will be delighted to know that the line about the “tight smiles” made me choke coffee through my nose.

  5. Jim, Congratulations to you and John for this recognition. And thanks for sharing wise words about awards.
    A friend, mentor, and recovering lawyer whose initials are JSB once told me that comparisons can be death for an author. I appreciate your giving me that advice–it’s a piece I trot out and examine every once in a while when I find myself resenting someone else’s success. Happy for yours.

  6. Well, living your passion for your craft by philosophy derived from Coach Wooden explains why you are up for an award, James. Congratulations on living and succeeding well!!

    (I hope you and John win. If I’m able to be at the conference, you know I’ll be cheering for you both!)

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful words. You rock, Sir Author!

  7. This post is Permanent Bookmark worthy!! And the comments are pretty cool, as well.

    Thanks so much for this post and everything else that you offer up to other writers, in a wide variety of ways.

    May you enjoy the ride of this wave!!

  8. Awesome post, Jim and congrats to you and John. It’ll be fun hearing all about the trip. Get some good pics. 🙂 It’s so weird that your talking awards and such. I finaled in the Wisconsin RWA Write Touch Reader’s Award yesterday. It’s my very first final since getting published and means a lot to me. It meant even more yesterday because I’ve been sick with some horrible virus for ten days. Awards can help you feel better.:)

    When is the 2012 International Thriller Writers Conference? I loved this:“Instead I constantly urged them to strive for the self-satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could do to become the best of which you are capable.”

    That’s what I want to hear about when you come to Cincinnati.

    Happy Easter!

  9. Another great post, Jim. Great advice from Coach Wooden. And congratulations to both you and John. How cool you can both win and congratulate each other without those “tight smiles” LOL

  10. Congrats, you two. Well deserved!

    I think back to the short stories you wrote in Fresh Kills, Laughing Matters, by JSB, and In The After, by John Gilstrap, and I understand why you’re both up for these awards. We’re rooting for you both.

    I keyed in on one part of Coach Wooden’s quote: “Never measure yourself by what you lost, but by how you prepared.” I like that part of the post the best.

    Tuning into TKZ to listen to the posts here help so many of us prepare in so many ways. Thanks for helping writers along in this journey, guys. You’re the best.


  11. Just happen to be looking at a copy of They Call Me Coach on my desk right now 🙂 Quote him quite often.
    Congratulations to you both, and your advice? A slam dunk.
    Gary VanRiper

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