My Success…What a Mess

I could have been writing

Blogger Fransi Weinstein (Three Hundred Sixty-Five) recently posted: “Yesterday’s Word Press Daily Prompt really caught my eye. The theme? “Success.” “Tell us about a time where everything you’d hoped would happen actually did.” And she did, quite eloquently.

So ok, let me begin by saying I know I’m lucky to have had success in my passion: writing short stories. Let me also say, unlike Fransi, my success has been sketchy, plus I have never made much money at it. In fact, just for fun, let’s do the math:

In-coming:

  • New Millennium Short-Story Story Contest: $1000
  • Illinois Arts Council Fellowship: $5000
  • Illinois Arts Council Grant: $500
  • Some literary mag, don’t remember which: $50 (I’m not counting the copies I received in lieu of payment, the typical literary mag ‘payment’)
  • Part-time teaching adult ed in creative writing: around $300 a semester – yes, 300 – not a typo. (I feel I need to count this, even though I am not a teacher at heart, nor a very good one, but it seemed to be part of my passion while I was doing it.)

Out-going:

  • B.A. (English & Psych) $$$$
  • M.A. (English) $$$$$$$$$$

The total, of course, is a total bust. But who’s counting?

I’m not. Honestly, who regrets getting an education? Especially when loans are finally paid off.  🙂

So, back to the subject at hand: my passion for writing short stories. Long story short, my love of short stories began with J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. One read, and I was hooked. Then when I was in college and majoring in Psychology, my love of literature drove me to accumulate hours in English. I just needed a few more hours and I’d have a double major.

Ah, but all that extra reading! Did I have energy and time for it? Then one day I discovered they offered a Creative Writing Workshop. Well, ever since I was a kid, stories seemed to pop into my head. I had written some stories, though none of them had really ‘gone’ anywhere. Still, why not? I thought. What did I have to lose but perhaps my pride? One or two semesters of this, and I’d have my double major.

Looking back, I see it was no accident that I ‘happened’ to choose a college that offered a writing course (in those days, college writing courses were few and far between). And there I met an amazing writing instructor, and ended up writing a story that was published in a fine literary magazine before I graduated.

And here’s where the tale twists. This first published story got a lot of praise. Success, right? Follow the momentum, follow the passion, keep on writing, right? Well before you can dedicate yourself to your passion, you have believe in it.

One part of me always knew I was a writer. Another part of me – well how to put it – was scattered. Not focused. Not sure what to do with this first success, which a large part of me did not really believe I could ever duplicate.

So I directed my energy elsewhere: raising my family, making money, etc. Oh sure, every once in a while, I couldn’t stop myself from writing a story. But despite my early success, these efforts rarely came to anything. And I guess I thought of these writing efforts as just a creative outlet, a pipe dream, or simply an anomaly.

So, that’s the short of it. Although I started making up stories from an early age, I allowed a lack of belief in myself to get in my way. In fact, I didn’t really start focusing on my passion until somewhere in my 40’s when, kids grown, husband removed from the scene, I remembered I had one.

But that’s another story…. 🙂

Buck Up and Take It

 

Rejection Sucks          It hurts. I admit it.

Over the years that I’ve been writing and submitting my stories for publication, I’ve received hundreds if not thousands of rejection letters and emails, and I’m still not immune to the sting of rejection.

I have enough rejections to line the walls of my dining room. Stuff like, “not for us,” “thanks for submitting, but we’ve decided….” or the worst one: “not funny and not fair.” Yikes!

It’s hard enough to put yourself and your work ‘out there.’ Still, rejection comes with the territory. And of course, one can always rewrite (or not) and re-submit someplace else, move the story to an archive file, join a writing group, or simply rationalize: They wouldn’t know a good story if it hit them in the arse.

In my heart of hearts, I’ve never quite believed that once your writing has reached a certain level of competence, it’s a matter of taste. Still, this is what other (more accomplished) writers have been telling me.

And then this happened:

My story 13 Rules recently won first prize in the short-short story writing contest run by  New Millennium Writings. At the same time that I submitted 13 Rules to NMW, I submitted it along with two other flash fictions to Fiction Attic Press. (Yes, multiple submissions are ok, particularly if a publication’s guidelines say it is.)

When 13 Rules won, I was so bowled over I forgot to notify Fiction Attic and withdraw it from their consideration. Bet you can guess what happened next….

A few weeks after I won the NMW fiction contest, Fiction Attic emailed me to say it wanted to publish two of the three flash fictions I submitted – and the one they didn’t want was – ta da! – 13 Rules.

Which just goes to show:

1)    One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

2)    After a certain level of competence, it really is just a matter of taste.

Of course all of us who have had our work rejected are in really good company. Here are 30 famous authors whose works were rejected (repeatedly, and sometimes rudely) by publishers

p.s. Coward that I am, I never did tell Fiction Attic the story they rejected just won 1st prize somewhere else.

🙂