I have a confession: I sometimes get discouraged with this writing quest. The epic battle for me commenced some seven years ago when I finally sat down with my weapons: computer, paper, pens; and a notebook to scribble writing-related-to-do lists, ideas for stories, and sometimes a part of my in-progress manuscript. (Oh, how I love thee Staples, supplier of writing essentials!) I had decided that was it: I was going to commit to writing.
In my early twenties and early thirties, I picked up writing a few times and then quickly threw it aside at various points in my life foregoing the writing adventure because it seemed impossibly difficult with a zero chance of success. I did not have a Journalism Degree. Neither had I majored in English Literature. Those were the people who wrote books: Not Administrative Assistants. So I focused my aspirations on my full time job and with making time for family and friends.
By my late thirties multiple personal struggles had battered me but did not break me: changing jobs multiple times, my father’s death from lung cancer, and my brother’s accident that left him paralyzed transformed my outlook on life and made me realize whatever you want to do – do it now. Tomorrow is always the unknown.
After that, I diligently plopped my butt in my chair in front of my computer and within a year I produced a manuscript. I sent the manuscript to Literary Agents and some Publishers. They all rejected it. Then I thought perhaps I needed some help and recruited an Editor.
I thought I was on to something. I thought my stuff was funny and brilliant. My husband never finished reading the draft copy of the manuscript I gave him. That should have been a clue. And what did the Editor say about my version of the next Time Travelling Best Seller? Well, it was far from being a Best Seller with more comments and red through the Word Document than I care to mention in this blog post.
What little ego I had, was bruised. (I swing wildly between 5% of the time thinking I’m the next J.K. Rowling, to the other 95% of the time wondering: What the heck am I doing?) Discouraged, I stepped back again. I spent some time licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself. But oddly enough, I never stopped writing.
Then, I began writing short stories, accumulating a few, and then thought about creating a manuscript based on the stories that I’d created. I put a collection of short stories together and once it was complete, I went through the time-consuming process of researching Publishers that might consider it. I tailored each package based on the submission guidelines, shipped off the packages, chewed my fingernails, and waited. My second attempt to be published with a Publisher and I was rejected. Repeatedly.
BUT. There’s always a BUT. One Publisher sent me a hand-written rejection and the part that I (perhaps naively) focused on in the letter was this:
“But I would encourage you to keep working on this, and to keep showing it to other publishers.”
I received his letter around Christmas in 2014. When I read that part of the rejection, I danced around the dining room table. I’ve never been sure if my writing is good or not. And even today, doubts still linger. However, from the Editor’s hand-written few words on that note, I decided I would pick the strongest story in 1500 Words or Less: A Collection of Short Stories and send it off to a neutral third party (the Editor I had used to review my first manuscript was a friend) to get an honest opinion of my work. I paid for the review, critique, and revisions that came with it.
When I received the detailed write-up from this neutral third party I noticed she pointed out flaws in the story: incorrectly chosen words, punctuation errors, and she provided recommendations on how to improve the story. Overall though, she loved it, and thought I was a good writer.
The validation from the Editor provided some confirmation that I should continue with my writing. I would love to say that 1500 Words or Less was published by a big name Publisher. But that would be a lie. And above all else, I pride myself on telling the truth.
After more than a year of submissions, I decided to self-publish 1500 Words or Less. I would like to say my self-publishing endeavour became an overnight success and I became a New York Times Best Selling Author. But that would be the Fiction Writer in me that wrote that line in this blog post.
What have I accomplished in my quest to write? I’ve written MANY short stories, some better than others, and some of those tales even found homes in Literary Journals. I’ve created two different blogs with one that ran from 2016 to 2017 titled, Pushing Boundaries; the second is this one, Tortuous Tales. Then there is the research I’ve had to do on each Publisher, How to Draft Cover Letters, Synopsis and Query Letters. Finally, while my knowledge in this area is very limited: I’ve learned a little on how to market my stories. I’ve self-published three short stories on my own, and the collection of stories titled, 1500 Words or Less. I’ve learned a lot.
A couple of months ago burnt out and high-strung after facing an onslaught of personal upheaval that lasted for nearly six months (because that’s the way it goes), I placed twenty pieces of paper in a hat. There were ten pieces of paper that said, “QUIT” and another ten that said, “KEEP WRITING”. I know this next part sounds ridiculous. But I took the hat and shook the pieces of paper around. While I was doing this, I was emotionally distraught with anger and sadness at finally slamming the door on my impossible dream. With twitching fingers, I grabbed the piece of paper and opened it to crinkled words expecting to see the word: QUIT.
But that’s not what it said. I breathed a sigh of relief when the Universe said, “KEEP WRITING”.
I know the Universe hasn’t decided that I’m a super-talented writer weaving magical words together that will reshape borders and save lives. But maybe the Universe knows what I might have already known before I reached in and grabbed that piece of paper: that for me quitting is no longer an option. My life has already been rewritten, and I must KEEP WRITING.
I kept that rejection letter from the Publisher from 2014. Occasionally I’ll pull it out and read the words again. I also kept all the other template rejections as well as the ones that said, we enjoyed/were impressed by your writing. The template rejections remind me of how hard I’ve already worked, and how much time I’ve already committed to this endeavour. On other days when I doubt myself, I’ll find and read again the personally written rejections where the Editor ultimately rejected the story, but thought my writing was still good.
I also kept that piece of paper that said, “Keep Writing.” It’s taped on a wall next to my computer. It serves as a reminder that I had one day where I thought of giving it up and how unhappy that thought made me feel.
It also encourages me to always: keep writing.