Last week I was named as the recipient of a 2023 Literary Arts Fellowship in fiction, which I still can't believe. The email came in late January, and I sat at my desk that morning reading and re-reading it to make sure they sent it to the right person, which they apparently did because my photo is on the announcement. My first instinct was to downplay it, which is often my instinct, but I won't this time, as this is the highest point thus far of Dustin Hendrick the writer. I really am humbled and grateful and proud and all of the other things I'm always inclined to hide or make light of.
It happened at a good time. I spent the month of December at my in-laws' house in frigid Wisconsin attempting to get the first draft of a novel out, with mixed results. I got a good deal of it written, but I didn't get to the point I'd hoped I would, and I've struggled to keep the momentum going since I've been home. It turns out writing a novel is an insane amount of brain work that keeps evolving and requiring new things and different things the more you write on it, so this level of encouragement is much needed and very much appreciated. And now it's stated in my bio on the Literary Arts website that I'm writing a novel. It's public knowledge, which means that now either I finish it or I become the "still working on that novel a decade later" guy I'm terrified of becoming. I mean, it works for Donna Tartt, but I am not Donna Tartt (though that sounds like an absolute blast, at least while she's on tour.)
To every writer who applied and didn't get it this year: Just keep on going. Keep applying, every damn year. Send your most solid work, by which I mean the work you had to finish, which is not necessarily the easiest thing you've ever written, but is the story you were so passionate about and hungry for that you had to finish it no matter how grueling the process. This is the kind of work I used in my application, and this is the only real advice I have to offer. Revise it, rewrite it until it's "there," and keep applying.
This is my fourth year applying for an OLF. I'm easily discouraged (with apologies to my wonderful, optimistic husband who labors constantly to keep both of our heads above the emotional water), so after the first three years of not receiving one I had basically written it off as something that would happen for me. Ultimately, though, it costs nothing but a bit of time, so I said fuck it and applied again last summer. Maybe I only did it out of spite or defiance in the face of (perceived) certain failure this time, but it worked somehow, and I find myself feeling invigorated for it, and eager to prove myself worthy.