I’ve been working on my application for the Writing Excuses Retreat Scholarship that’s set for late September, and it’s gotten me to asking a few important questions. This isn’t the first time I’ve applied to the cruise, and (if it isn’t obvious), I haven’t won any scholarships… yet.
The application process is simple. You write a personal essay about your merit and why you deserve the scholarship, then attach three letters of recommendation and up to three writing samples (to a max of 10,000 words). I tried to be cheeky (and thus memorable) last year by writing my personal essay in prose, in which I talked to one of my main characters about myself and the book I was writing. His book, actually. Since that didn’t win, I’m taking a more traditional route.
My first essay sucked, and I wasn’t surprised when my writing group said so. They said it sounded as though I had already lost, which is fair, because that was pretty much exactly how I wrote it. I don’t know how many hundreds (or thousands) of people apply for the scholarship each year, but can I really expect to be one of the three best, most qualified applicants? Brimming with confidence as I may be, I wouldn’t presume to think I’m anywhere close to the best of the best.
So I knowingly gave my group this awful essay, and one person in my group said something that was really profound.
She asked if I thought I deserved to win.
And I didn’t have an answer. The more I thought about that question, the more I had to ask myself. Objectively, of course, a panel of judges will be reading the submissions and picking who is the most deserving. But on a deeper level, what does it mean to deserve something? Potential isn’t enough. Confidence isn’t enough. Tenacity isn’t enough. You have to have the exact right proportions of each.
Somebody too poor to afford a proper education is already at a severe disadvantage, for example. If they can’t afford the schooling, they won’t be able to write a strong enough essay, let alone the fiction to back it up. So a minimum threshold of disposable income is all but required. Writing isn’t simply an innate art, but a skill to be practiced and trained. Better training and teaching will simply yield better results.
Somebody too arrogant to think that they can have whatever they want simply won’t come across as deserving. Nobody wants to give a jerk money. Not even a smart one that can do a lot with it. But you won’t give somebody riddled with insecurities money, either. There’s no promise that they’ll grow into somebody that can work despite failure, which is something that this industry is practically characterized by. You have to find somebody that believes in themselves, but not so much as to bridge into arrogance. Somebody that can press on in the face of adversity and has the courage to keep going even though success is never guaranteed.
Somebody too stubborn to give up when they aren’t learning isn’t suitable, either. Rejection is a tough thing to handle, sure. A budding writer might hear about how writers get rejected dozens of times before they can be successful, and submit hundreds of times to compensate. They don’t understand that perseverance isn’t the only requirement. Sometimes, a rejection doesn’t simply mean that you’re knocking on the wrong door. Sometimes it means that you’re not selling the right product, and what a lot of writers don’t understand is that the product isn’t the book you’re holding. It’s the author. Products don’t sell if they don’t have a strong name to back them up, and it’s the same way with books. If you’re rejected, that could just mean you haven’t grown enough as an author and a person to be worthy of that sell. So a person that doesn’t realize this isn’t deserving, either.
I’d like to think that I have enough schooling to be competitive. I’d certainly expect my writing to be of a higher caliber than most people my age. I’d like to think that I’m confident enough to know where I am. I can see just how long and arduous this road is. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if anyone can do it, I can. I’d like to think that I’m determined enough to succeed in the long run. I fully expect failure, but instead of letting that stop me or ignore my failures for what they are, I’ll treat them for the learning experiences they are, for nobody has led a life of pure success.
Do I deserve to win? I really don’t know. But in the end, the answer to that question isn’t up to me. I just have to put my best foot forward, and if its not good enough, I’m going to have to find some new feet.