October 26, 2009

Growing Up Writer

My writing has come a long way since the days of El Nino. It’s been an interesting road, with many interesting steps and stops along the way. There were countless poems and short stories – as L.M. Montgomery would put it, “yards of trash” – and even several works that I had the audacity to call novels. Naturally, I considered all of them to be masterpieces. My poem “Shadow Women” was destined for the Pulitzer Prize, I was sure. I patiently bided my time, waiting for The Long Way Home to be discovered by a director and made into the next blockbuster. Coyote Hill would certainly make the best-seller list as soon as it hit the market.

Then I grew up.

Recently, my friend Heather and I were sharing stories about how we became writers, and how our writing has matured over the years. Heather described how her writing had matured gradually, getting better and better over the years. For me it was a little different: it seemed like one minute I was a kid who liked to write. The next minute, it clicked, and I was a writer. My writing style changed overnight – literally – just as I was ready to begin my first novel … my first real novel.

I lost the ‘to-edit-this-would-be-a-desecration’ attitude (yes, I was one who suffered from that affliction) and buckled down to editing with a vengeance. Within a few months, however, I had discovered that editing-as-you-go is very poorly named, because you don’t actually go anywhere. Editing-as-you-go should actually be called ‘editing-as-you-sit-in-place-and-make-yourself-miserable’. So with that lesson learned, I started a new battle: learning to silence the inner critic.

That, I confess, is a battle that I am still fighting. Just when I think she’s silenced and locked away, I hear her naggy little voice over my shoulder…

In October of 2008 I began a new quest: seeking publication. My novel was still in the first chapters of the first draft, an infant still in need of shelter and nurturing, but I had several poems and short stories filed away in my collection of work. A good bit of the collection consisted of the aforementioned “yards of trash” that, for sentimental reasons, I had not parted with. But there were a few pieces that showed some promise, I was sure of it. So, I selected one and sent it off. Nine days later the rejection came back. I had told myself all along to expect a rejection, but I hadn’t really believed that I would get one. However, after recovering from the three-month-long funk brought on by that first rejection, I sent out another piece. And received another rejection. But this time I fired back the very next day with yet another submission.

And this one was accepted!

The acceptance letter could have been the Pulitzer Prize itself and I would not have been more ecstatic. The $5 check that came in the mail could have been $5 million and I would not have screamed any louder.

But most importantly, the next time I told someone I was a writer and they responded by asking “Have you published anything?” I could say “YES!”

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