In March of this year I told myself that it was time to face facts. I’d always written casually — it’s been a favorite hobby of mine since grade school — but nothing had ever come of it. I’d started novels and given up. I’d written short stories and let them collect dust in the deep, untouched folders of my laptop. I’d entered writing contests, wasting 15$ a pop to hear someone say “Sorry, this just isn’t what we’re looking for.”
There were plenty of negative thoughts overwhelming me. “This is a waste of time,” “You’ll never be successful,” “There are probably millions of authors out there who are better writers than you.” This all may be true. Actually, the latter is absolutely true. But I read something very interesting in a short story magazine. One of the authors of the short stories stated “I often find that hopeful authors don’t lack talent or ability. They simply lack doggedness.”
So I made myself finally commit. I wasn’t going to half-ass it anymore.
The deadline I set for myself was August of 2013. I wanted to be published – I didn’t care how or in what, but I wanted my name in a magazine, a blog, a quarterly… something… anything. I joined an online writing workshop. I started reading books focusing on what I was interested in writing and books focused on creative writing and editing. I took down every idea that came to my mind, morning noon and night, in a journal. And I wrote. Nearly every day I either wrote or conceptualized.
Months passed. I started with magazines like Clarkesworld and Asimov’s. That was a mistake. I now know that my manuscripts were, more than likely, relegated to a pile filled with unwanted stories and never really given a chance. They probably never were even read. The rejection letters came in faster than spam emails. No critiques or feedback, just pure rejection. I started a collection in a folder titled “Motivation” and put every rejection letter in there. I think there is at least two-dozen.
Just before Summer, I started casting my line out a bit farther. I’d started with the most popular publications with the greatest circulations. Perhaps this was vanity or maybe laziness, but I realized that, barring a miracle, I was never going to get noticed. I started looking for every single SF and Horror magazine I could, joining mailing lists and finding out who was holding open submissions.
By early July, I realized it was going to take me a lot longer than six months. Most publications were taking 12 or more weeks just to get back to me, and all of them were bluntly saying “No thanks.” I had an interesting decision to make.
While my ultimatum had been completely unrealistic, it was an ultimatum. I promised myself I’d stop wasting time if this didn’t work. I promised myself I’d make it just a hobby and quit pretending that I’d like to write some day. But then I got an interesting comment on my online workshop.
I’d posted the second draft of a short story titled “Farsider” on the Online Writing Workshop for Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. The story revolves around a woman named Kendra that flies a cargo ship far in the future. I wrote it from personal experience, to a degree, since I’m a pilot, and tried to make the writing simple, crisp, and similar to what I was reading in SF magazines. The third review simply said “Please contact me, I’d like to talk with you more about your story.” It was the publisher of “Misque Press” and an accomplished author, Tara Maya.
For some time prior I’d be insistent that the style I’d grown to enjoy writing was what I was going to write. Period. Changing wouldn’t be true to myself. Now, when I hear some of my friends say they don’t want to “sell out,” I sort of chuckle. I realized, after receiving the email and the praise for the piece, that I wasn’t “selling out.” I was just writing better.
I look back at what I wrote as little as twelve months ago and cringe. The sentences are long, confusing, and filled with useless adverbs. The past tense is wordy, inefficient and boring (sort of like this blog post). The descriptions were lengthy, cliche and useless. I could pick out a pitfall that every young writer falls prey to in each and every paragraph. It had only taken me six months to completely improve my writing style just by reading, learning, and listening. And all that junk I used to write in, all the fluff and “style” I thought was part of my writing, was just my misconception of what people thought was good writing. It was bloated, it was boring, and it was stupid.
So now, if you’re reading this still, my word of advice would be: stick with it. As long as you enjoy it, don’t let anyone tell you to stop. Join work shops, listen to critiques, and keep writing. But, most importantly, don’t think you’re anything until you’re something. You may think the 3000 word piece you finished last evening was the best thing you’ll ever write. You may tell yourself “If this isn’t it, than nothing is.” But I can tell you, with near certainty, that there is probably no author on the entire planet that has ever finished his first work and realized it was a manifesto, a gift to humanity, or the apex of his career. That piece will only be your best piece if you settle for continuing to write what you’re still writing, which is probably crap (just like what I write).
Perhaps this will be the only thing I publish ever. Perhaps when you google “Ethan Samuel Rodgers” the piece “Farsider” will be the only one that pops up. Perhaps I’ll look back when I’m older and wonder why I wasted so much time on such a fruitless hobby.
But my deadline was August 2013, and today I received a contract to publish my first short story in a Science-Fiction magazine. And if I can do it, anyone can.
- The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate by Tara Maya (heidicvlach.com)
- 23 Tips from Famous Writers for New and Emerging Authors (aerogrammestudio.com)