Milestones

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After nearly three years of struggling to be published, I was finally accepted for publication, mostly through persistence and not over-rating myself. One editor asked me to do a re-write of a piece, pointing out several errors I should have caught (a blow to the pride of any former intellectual).

A paradigm shift has occurred in my writing over the years. I used to write unpaid nonfiction, and was fairly good at it. I had articles in a few local and regional publications, and wrote an article for a publication in another state.

This was years ago, before children and major illness, yet I assumed I’d be able to jump right back in to non-fiction writing. I was wrong.

The non-fiction market was flooded, or I just trying the right publications. I was heavily critical of my own writing. I would look it over and find it trite, facile. While I reasoned that other pieces published by the editors were every bit as mundane, it is entirely possible my contempt for the subject matter dripped through. I could hardly bring myself to compete in the modern miasma of insightful but self-reproachful parent anecdotes, lists ten things you must have or do or know…I actually managed to publish a gluten-free recipe that was promoted with as much tepid enthusiasm as I felt about the prospect myself.

I attempted to hop on a bandwagon or two, and fell flat before I really tried, and wondered—why?

It was a waste of time, and I was attempting to write about things I had no interest in. Why? To feel useful while bedridden, to make money while unemployable and waiting for disability (and afterwards to fill in for the low monthly compensation that is SSI disability): to contribute to my family when I felt I was worth nothing to them. To feel like I still had something to offer.

My spiritual director would probably tell me those were still prideful thoughts. No doubt they were. It was a dark time in my spiritual journey. And yet I kept trying.

But I switched genres. I dug through old writing files which were filled with dark and spooky and whimsical and thoughtful and sometimes passionate stories…and I had to admit, some of them had potential. Further, I had to admit, these were what I enjoyed writing. Even more than the literary highbrow stuff I couldn’t find a market for even if I had the political view to fit it.

So I dug up my ghosts.

I submitted and was rejected a few times, when I lighted on Weirdbook: a dark, varied, quirky collection of fiction published quarterly. It didn’t pay much, but I thought maybe it was better not to shoot too high. Besides, they had a submission call for stories about witches. I immediately had a story for a behind-the scenes of MacBeth, and hit the keyboard. Editor Douglas Draa emailed me back suggesting the changes I mentioned earlier, and I was both embarrassed at my mistakes and relieved to be on the right track. He accepted the finished story with good grace and humor, and asked for more. I sent more.

In the meantime I was accepted by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, whose editors are more reserved, though equally quick to point out flaws (which I appreciate, in spite of the sting). And so it has gone…To date I have made $50 through my writing this year. And it’s just as hard or harder to get a story accepted for print. I have probably a 80% rejection average (at a guess). Some stories have been rejected two or three times and are now shelved.

Family and friends see my first contributor copies of Weirdbook and are at first excited (but notably say nothing after they have read the 3-page wonder I like to term my “one night write” to save face). I’m actually hesitant to show and tell. It feels like so little after so much work. And yet it is a start. And an honor to be included in the “good enough” category. I notice in the proofs for next quarter’s Weirdbook my name is on the cover. Again, pleased but nervous. I don’t really want to be noticed now that I have my work “out there.” And yet I do want it to be noticed, because I need to keep pitching.

Though I must keep asking myself the reasons:

Why? What drives me? What motivates all this work? Self-expression? The hope of “making it?” Or is it really what I like to tell myself: That I’m doing it for my family, to help us achieve a better life?

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