This coming Saturday is my 41st birthday, which also means I’ve hit the one-year mark on my writing journey. It was on my 40th birthday that I finally decided that I was a writer. I jokingly refer to that moment as “The Best Midlife Crisis Ever.”
I’m not trying to minimize our craft or pretend you can just flip a switch and be a word-weaving superstar. But I had spent the previous 20 years saying “I want to be a writer.” It wasn’t until I decided to say “I am” instead of “I wannabe” that I actually started to write.
A lot has changed for me in that year. I am now both published and rejected. Instead of having a few fitful half-starts under my belt, I have several completed short stories and a novel in progress. I still have a semi-dreaded day job, and I still want to stomp my feet and cry when I get rejected. But in spite of that, so much has changed for the better in the year that I decided “I am.”
Below are 3 pivotal moments in my first year as a writer. I share them to remember them myself, but also for any encouragement and ideas they can offer to others on the same journey.
1. Going “Back to School”
In the spring, I took an online course called “Creativity Training for Writers,” taught by author Eva Shaw. I wasn’t sure I was spending my money wisely. I have a ton of college coursework in creative writing under my belt. But in spite of a score of “As” in courses like feature writing, fiction writing and “the art of the essay,” I have always suffered long periods of succumbing to writer’s block. When I’m on I’m on, but when I’m off, the lights are out and nobody’s home. This course seemed like it might offer some needed advice on keeping the lights permanently ON.
It did that, and ever so much more. It was Eva’s suggestion that I polish an exercise I had submitted for class and enter it into the annual Writer’s Digest contest that gave me the confidence I needed to start putting my work out there. I took her advice, and once I had done so, submitting to smaller venues wasn’t quite so terrifying anymore.
2. Discovering eFiction
Any fiction writer who says that their first acceptance wasn’t a pivotal moment in their career is probably a big fat liar. For me, it was no exception. When I opened an email from Doug Lance saying they’d love to publish my “A Wingding and A Prayer,” I squealed and did the clumsiest happy dance in the universe. Well, maybe not. I’m sure some of you other writers have your own clumsy happy dances too. For the most part, we aren’t a very graceful bunch, are we?
When you are a 40-something who has wanted to be a writer since you first learned the alphabet, there is something incredible about reading your own work on your Kindle. The magazine gave me that, but so much more as well. I have discovered so many other indie writers through my involvement with them. For authors who want to participate, eFiction is so much more than a place to submit your work. It is a community of writers who brainstorm novel ideas, workshop each other’s shorter pieces, and come together to proofread issues of the magazine.
As any publisher should, eFiction will only accept quality writing. But unlike so many others, the eFiction community truly wants to support authors who are working towards that level of quality.
If you’d like to give me a birthday present, check out eFiction. If you like what you see as much as I did, consider subscribing. If you write, consider visiting the author community and getting involved.
3. Getting Bucked By One Buck Horror
Unless you only self-publish, there’s no getting around the “R-word.” You’ll have to learn to deal with rejection at some point. I knew that, but it didn’t mean I had to like it.
I’ve always read just about anything I could get my hands on. But the stories that kept me up at night were always the weird and terrifying ones. Stephen King has been my hero since I was young enough to have my grandmother yank “Salem’s Lot” from my hands and tell me I was way too little to be reading that “scary shit.”
My college advisor used to say my writing reminded him of a young Erma Bombeck. But I didn’t want to be Erma and make you laugh at life’s trials and adventures. I wanted to be Stephen, drag you down into the sewers with Pennywise, and scare the piss out of you.
So when I got serious about writing, the first things to pour out of me were what I thought were creepy tales. Elevator ghosts. Demented grandmas. Evil arachnids.
The elevator ghost and the demented grandma weren’t half bad. But they were much longer than One Buck’s 3,000 word submission limit. I sent them the arachnids. The arachnids sucked. They said “no thanks.”
If I had been writing about mosquitoes or vampires, that might have been okay. But spiders aren’t supposed to suck.
So what in the hell could I have possibly learned from that, other than to avoid sending editors sub-par work?
First, I learned how to tell when my writing IS sub-par. I didn’t realize how sucky my spiders were until I read One Buck’s premiere issue and saw the stories that HAD made the cut. When I saw the difference in those tales and my own, I knew that my horror writing left a buttload to be desired.
What I learned from that isn’t that I’m a bad writer, only that I’m not the best horror writer. I may be weird, but I’m not creepy, chills-up-your-spine weird. I’m more of the odd, off-the-cuff, funny, sometimes borderline South Park variety weird.
When I write the funny, sometimes I shine. When I try to write the creepy, I’m on the average side of “needs work.” There’s no shame in that. Just because Stephen King is my hero doesn’t mean I won’t be a successful writer if I can’t be him. I don’t have to be Erma either. I have to learn how to be me.
Sounds like a simple lesson, but it took submitting to One Buck to learn it. I subscribed after they rejected me and enjoy the delicious creepitude they’ve given me in their first two issues. Then I put down my Kindle and go to work on my own thing.
I love spooky. I’m good at funny. So I’m putting it together in a novel about a dead naked Manwhore. He won’t give you icy chills of terror, but he might make you laugh. This was the year I learned to incorporate “writing what I’m good at” with “writing what I want to be good at.”
I could go on and on and on. There was starting this blog, several other stories, and The Life List Club. But if I had to pick just three, there they are.
Who would have thought birthdays in your 40s could be so much fun? I can’t wait to do this again next year, when I’m even further along on this writer’s adventure. In the meantime, what are some pivotal moments of discovery in your writing career?