I’ve heard of a mythical thing that some writers get to experience: momentum. Like a heavy stone, a writing career starts out motionless and seemingly without hope of ever moving, but then it starts to roll, and, sometimes, builds speed. Momentum can happen to “good writers,” or so I’ve been told.
Up until recently, I clearly had no momentum. I was stuck in the slush pile, lucky only to emerge a couple of times a year. Just when I thought being published in a journal might get me somewhere, I would get another pile of rejection letters which confirmed in my mind that I was not going anywhere anytime soon.
Here is a brief timeline of my writing career:
When I first learned to write to 2000: Wrote when I had time because I liked to do it. Graduated with a useless liberal arts degree and went on to law school. Called myself a writer, mostly because people found me more interesting when I did. Unfortunately, my writing was terrible and haphazard at this point, so not even I believed I was a real writer.
2002: One of my short stories was published in a small journal which no longer exists. Now, I was a “writer,” at least in my own mind.
2002-2005: Lots of frustration at being rejected by journals. How dare they? So unfair. So arbitrary. I’m so much better than so many acclaimed authors, I thought. I was the only one who seemed to think so.
2005-2011: Published nine times by various small journals. Rejected at least 200 times (I stopped counting at some point). I was nominated for several writing awards and won a few as well. None of this led this to an agent or book deal. Often contemplated giving up writing for a more rewarding hobby, i.e. drinking.
December 1, 2011: Published in Ploughshares as the winner of the first ever Emerging Writer’s Contest.
December 2, 2011: Nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Aaduna Literary Journal.
December 3, 2011: Named Honorable Mention in Fiction Open of Glimmer Train.
January – April 2012: Blogged for Ploughshares. Have a few stories pending with prestigious national journals.
Will I finally get “momentum” now that I have a major contest win, some nice acknowledgements and a few publications under my belt? I don’t know. It might happen, but this might be another false start as well. In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me, because getting momentum is no longer one of my goals as a writer.
I had only one goal when I started this blog: honesty. I wanted to give Ploughshares readers a completely realistic look at the life of someone who writes, and is struggling in the slush pile, like so many of you are. So, over the last few weeks, I’ve admitted to: (1) not being confident writing from a women’s point of view, (2) doing the bulk of my writing while watching bad television, (3) not knowing when to stop revising, (4) having been a member of some of the worst workshops in the history of writing, (5) being rejected more times than I could count, and, perhaps worst of all, (6) being a full-time lawyer for a corporation, and not one who pretends to only be doing it until a cool job at the ACLU comes along.
Since this is my last post for Ploughshares, let me share with you a little bit more about myself. I don’t know many writers or academics. Most of my family and friends work in corporate America and live in the suburbs, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I am certainly no hipster and, though I have nothing against hipsters, I have no aspirations to become one. I don’t live in a big city, because I don’t like crowds, cramped apartments or smog. I am generally unaware of and indifferent to the latest trend or political cause being championed online. In the precious spare time I have, I watch a lot of football.
Many people I meet are surprised to learn that I am a writer, perhaps because I am a Silicon Valley professional and, admittedly, look and dress like one. That’s okay by me. I’ve been completely honest about myself and my life, because I’m not concerned with judgment.
I know that I am not like most writers, especially writers of literary short fiction. Through writer’s websites and organizations, I receive all kinds of reading material about which paradigm I should try to subvert, why I should become a vegan, how to expand my mind through a new trend in yoga, and why I should look down on what is popular with the rest of America. I also receive all kinds of unsolicited advice about the rules one needs to follow to become a “good writer,” what the purpose and aim of my short stories should be, and what role a writer should play in society. Generally, I ignore them all. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above, but I write the stories I want to write, the way I want to write them, and I don’t let other people’s ideas of what a writer should be affect what I do.
I’ve gone on and on for the last three months about what works and does not work for me as a writer. However, I did not intend for any of my posts to be general rules that I think everyone should follow. I believe there are no rules, other than what works for you. Fundamentally, I believe what is “good” is in the eyes of each reader, and every single reader’s opinion is as valid as any other. Sometimes, my writing hits the right editor’s eyes at the right time, and I find my way into a journal. That story gets read and, perhaps, resonates with someone I don’t know. That’s all I hope for as a writer, and all I seek from my writing.
Where I go from here, I don’t know, but even if the timeline of my writing career ends at April 2012, I will be satisfied. It will have been worth all those hours spent in front of a screen, because I loved what I was doing. I didn’t start writing to get momentum. I write because I love to do it, and I will continue to do so until that love fades.
Thank you for reading along. It has been a pleasure and an honor to blog for Ploughshares. I have greatly enjoyed and learned from each of your comments.