I’ve received awards before. I’m proud of the Citizenship Award I got back in junior high school. Being nice is a skill, isn’t it? Anyway, that wasn’t the only one. I remember getting the award one year for the “Most Improved Player” on our basketball team. Maybe that award also emphasized that I really wasn’t that good to start, but I persevered and I achieved some recognition. Then there was the “Razzberry Jam” award for my jazzy skill on the trombone, which I never picked up again after high school. I guess those were the glory years, as far as awards are concerned. There were maybe a couple other awards along the way, but none of them feature too prominently in my resume.
Of course, when one aspires to be a writer, perhaps the most meaningful award, at least informally, is good feedback from a reader. Sure, the true artist gains deep satisfaction from merely engaging in the creative process itself. But most artists also thrive on some feedback, some reaction, preferably positive. It means something special to have your craft acknowledged as a unique gift or skill. Especially when you’re starting out, a little encouragement can go a long way.
For the first time in my writing career – a career that is not yet paying significant dividends – I received an award for my writing. It was a small award, in my mind, but an award nonetheless. Those who bequeathed it to me, however, are not so small. They aren’t the authors of any international bestsellers, but they are people who are not only writers, but they are making a decent career of it. I guess that makes them professionals. When professionals speak, people listen. Or at least they should, right?
Come to think of it, I’ve had a couple other professional writers encourage me. My own mother is a published author, and she loves my writing. She happens to be a very intelligent woman, not to mention a good writer, editor and proofreader. She has given me some valuable feedback and coaching over the years. But she’s still my mother, and she believes that I could succeed at just about anything.
Another encourager came along in my early college years. I was studying Communications and she was the guest lecturer for a module on writing. She was a very engaging teacher and full of encouragement for everyone, although she did single me out and told me to keep writing. She believed in me in a way not unlike my mother.
If there was perhaps one author whose brief words of encouragement sank deepest into my writer’s soul, it was a man named Eugene Peterson. He is widely published in Christian circles and was a professor of mine for a time during my graduate studies. His most well known published work is a contemporary paraphrase of the entire Bible called The Message. His comments at the end of one of my papers were simple and straightforward, but they clearly commended my writing ability. My friend, Larry, insisted that I frame the encouraging words from Peterson, saying to me, “Mark, he knows what he’s talking about. He wrote the frickin’ Bible!” Larry wasn’t struck down by lightning, nor did I follow through with his suggestion. However, I took Peterson’s commendation to heart and took courage to keep writing.
When I got the phone call today to announce the award, I was happy to hear it. Afterward, I opened the website to see it in writing. I was awarded the “Best Overall Writer” at a Travel Writing Workshop in Delhi. The workshop had taken place on April 25th and was sponsored by one of India's top travel magazines called India Today Travel Plus (my prize includes a one-year subscription). I had participated in the one-day seminar after hearing about it through the grapevine a couple months back. It sounded interesting. I love traveling and I love writing. Good match, right? What could sound more exotic than being a travel writer? Who wouldn’t jump at the prospect of getting paid to travel and write?
Well, I didn’t land the dream job at the workshop (not that I was looking for a new job). But I did have the opportunity to learn a lot about opportunities in travel writing and to meet at least 25 other writers who are at various stages along the way of breaking into the travel writing industry. I also had the opportunity to have some of my own travel writing read and evaluated by those who lead the workshop. We had been asked to submit some of our own travel-related writing prior to the workshop, and then we did several other pieces on the spot that day.
I don’t plan to put the award in a frame on the wall in my office, so I'm not sure yet how much it means to me. In the future, I may take greater risks at developing my career as a writer, but for now I'm content to earn my living from other ventures and to write when I can. But today I’ll receive the award gratefully and take it as one more encouragement to keep writing.