Recently, on Unclutterer,* Erin had a post on being the best. In it, she talks about how, after years and years of studying ballet, she quit because she realized she was never going to be the best, and how much she regrets that decision now, along with the other decisions she's made not to do things because she's not going to be the best.
I think all people, especially creative people, have made decisions based on that criteria. (Or have considered making them on that criteria, at least.) Our culture, after all, is a culture of winning, where people say things like "second place is first loser" and "if you can't be the best, why bother?"
That kind of attitude, in my opinion, is bulls##t.
Sure, winning matters. If you play a sport, for example, it's important to know who won at the end of the game. Any kind of competition, really, should have a winner, I think. I'm not one of those touchy feely people who thinks that everyone getting a "participant" ribbon is good enough. There a different levels of "participant" and people who excel should be recognized. Just because everyone plays doesn't mean everyone wins.
But, to quote a cliche, winning isn't the only thing that matters, not even in competitions. An example--recently I took up walking half-marathons.** I am not good at it. I finish and everything, but I don't keep track of my times when I train, and I don't use those speedwalking techniques, and I don't always do all the training I'm supposed to do all the time, and sometimes while I'm training I will stop and get a bagel. And then I go to races and come in tenth in my division (which sounds pretty good until you realize that my division had, like, 15 people in it). In other words, I'm never going to be the best.
But I don't care. It's possible for me to compete in those marathons and enjoy it without having to come in first. I like walking. I like talking to people along the way, and seeing the sights, and being out in the fresh air, and getting the medal at the end (which is a participant medal). I just like doing it.
And if you like doing something, then it shouldn't matter if you're the best at it--you should keep doing it.
So, Jay, you're thinking, how does this relate to writing?***
I've seen a lot of people get discouraged in their creative endeavors (especially writing) because they're not the best (however you define "best" in your corner of your creative world). They aren't going to win every contest. They aren't going to get a million dollar advance. Their critique group isn't going to love every word and say "don't change a thing." Their wives or husbands aren't going to like the new story.
It's happened to me about a billion times. Sometimes, not only am I not the best YA writer in the world, I'm not even the best YA writer typing on my computer at the moment.
But that doesn't matter. I like it. Maybe I'll get some of the outward trappings of success, and maybe I won't.**** I may never be the "best" YA writer in the world (how would we decide that? Round robin? Survivor-style voting off? Writing challenges--"quick, 250 words on an outcast in love with a popular girl without using the words 'loser' or 'cheerleader'!"), but I'm a participant, dammit.
Now where's my medal?
*Unclutterer is not a blog about writing, it's a blog about decluttering and living a simpler life. It's pretty entertaining, and always reminds me to clean out my desk drawers. If you're into that kind of thing, I recommend it.
**I can't run long distances anymore--old cross country injury. Getting old rules, kids!
***Or maybe you're not thinking that; the parallels are pretty obvious. :)
****I TOTALLY WILL. :)