So much is changing around here, perhaps it’s Spring, but I feel I don’t know where to begin. It’s tempting to write this in dot point, but it assumes a certain domesticity – an intimacy which I’m not entirely comfortable with, like a shopping list of gloat – so I won’t.
This post is about why persistence pays off with writing.
At the start of this year the idea of freelancing filled me with an overwhelming feeling of nausea, as did the idea of trying to write a manuscript. The idea of me emailing my half-formed ideas to editors who are complete strangers – without knowing if I was approaching the right person, and without knowing if my work was good enough, but full of hope that it might be – was too much to bear. Likewise, the idea of me sitting down every day and churning out 500 words in the hope I’d bash a story out scared the absolute bejesus out of me. I wasn’t ready. If I failed, I would have used that rejection as proof that I shouldn’t write and torture myself for the rest of my life.
I felt so eager to be published – to be acknowledged – and yet I was also terrified of it. What if I wasn’t ready?
In the past month I have sent 5 pitches to editors, had 2 acceptances and landed some regular writing work. I also applied for an online writing job, and received an incredibly encouraging rejection letter (hereby known as Best Rejection Letter Ever), which may well lead to future writing work.
About a month ago I received an email from Writers Victoria announcing that my short story St Andrews was highly commended in the Grace Marion Wilson Short Story Competition, this despite me submitting it as a long shot just hours before we went on holidays back in June. I had been focusing on an entry for the non-fiction section. I didn’t know I could write fiction. Apparently I can. Who knew? This week I submitted two other stories to the Overland and Wet Ink Short Story Competitions. I’m not optimistic I’ll do as well this time, but both stories were really polished, and carried with them a feeling that perhaps I should give fiction writing a red hot go.
On the home front, Mr Karen will this week reduce his working hours to part-time. His being home more – albeit running his own business amid the chaos that is raising our three boys – will mean I am freed up to write more. Yes, it will probably be between 5 and 6am, and 8 and 10pm, but it comes at a time where my writing is starting to get some glue, stories are sticking, and I’m happy with how ideas are forming up and gaining momentum of their own.
The upshot of this tale is if you want to make writing more than just a hobby, you do need to put your work in other people’s hands. It’s when someone else is holding it you see its value, or its frailty. Prior to my recent (very small, but significant to me) successes, I’d entered only one short story competition. It was way above my head, and when I deservedly heard nothing, I began to see all the problems with my story, namely that it lacked imagination. From this experience I learned that you need a certain distance – not just an arm’s length, sometimes as much as the length of another person’s arm – to be able to critically assess your writing, and to identify its strengths and weaknesses.
Don’t share your work until you think it sings. Then share it with someone you trust and respect, someone who reads, and listen to what they have to say with an open heart and mind.
When you’ve honed your craft and you begin to own your voice, start submitting stories and pitches. Put your eggs in different baskets, and keep laying. I have five different pieces out at the moment with various literary mags and competitions, and while I know rejection is likely, having my work out there already makes my horizons feel so much wider than just the width of my desk.
When I first sat down to write regularly, nearly three and a half years ago, I’d often wonder what to write. The most important thing is not what to write, but the actual decision to write. Once you make the decision to write, the rest will come with persistence.