Put Your Writing Awards in the Bathroom

Published about 2 months ago • 2 min read

Hi Bookfoxers,

Patricia Highsmith, who wrote "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," used to hang her writing awards in the bathroom.

She'd won the award of the year from the Mystery Writers of America and the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere from France, and she hung them in the bathroom because she said they "looked less pompous there."

I love that humility.

She didn't hang the awards over the mantle or in the foyer for all visitors to see, she hid them in a place where people pooped and peed.

It was a way to keep her feet grounded.

Now, you might say -- but John, I haven't won any writing awards.

I'd say to you: Well, not yet.

Really, what Patricia Highsmith was doing is something all writers should be doing: keeping their ego in check.

To "hang your awards in the bathroom" is shorthand for making sure you don't think too highly of yourself.

Which is a temptation for all writers, whether you've won awards or not.

  • The reason we get offended by feedback about our book is that we believe the book is above criticism
  • The reason that we're disappointed that an agent isn't picking up our book is because we believe we're good enough that it should be published.
  • The reason that we're disappointed that our book didn't sell more copies is that we believe more people should experience our story.

Now, I'm not saying ego is bad.

In fact, a certain amount of ego is necessary in this business of writing -- you have to have enough ego to say, listen to me for a couple hundred pages.

But there's always the danger of inflating our importance in the writing ecosystem, and believing that we're getting shafted, when really, it's just a busy marketplace.

Anyhow, I want to say that I'm on this journey with you, but before I tell you about that, let's have a word from our sponsor.

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Here's where I am in the journey:

I finished my third book last year and this year I've been sending it to agents. And even though I have a great platform and a good publishing history and I've won writing awards and I believe it's the best book I could create, there's no guarantee that this particular novel will land an agent.

It's a weird book that doesn't fit into any genres and agents have already told me they're not sure who to sell it to.

But I'm not complaining. I'm putting my awards in the bathroom and putting my head down and doing the heavy labor of trying to find the right agent and the right publisher.

And when it sells (positive thinking) ...

And when it wins awards (still thinking positively) ...

I'll hang those awards in my bathroom. Where they belong.

And knuckle down to write the next book.

Happy writing,

John Matthew Fox

PS. I'd like to start a "Mailbox" feature where I answer readers' pressing questions about the craft or life of writing.

If you have a sticky problem, an ethical quandary or a general question about writing or publishing, please hit reply and ask away!

Don't be afraid to take a couple paragraphs to frame the question -- I'm all ears.

I'll do my best to answer in a future newsletter.


John Matthew Fox helps authors write better fiction. He is the founder of Bookfox, where he creates online courses for writers, provides editing and offers publishing assistance. He is the author of "The Linchpin Writer: Crafting Your Novel's Key Moments" and “I Will Shout Your Name,” a collection of short stories.

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