I’ve been throwing a lot of literary seeds to the wind lately in the hope that a few will germinate into something fruitful. In a happy coincidence, it appears that many national short story competitions have a May deadline and these have given me a much needed push to get cultivating. When I find checking my emails and Submittable account becoming a five-times-a-day compulsion – much like watching grass grow – it has been helpful to instead turn my attention to growing and pruning my entries. Remember, I don’t drink coffee so the small entry fees are my happy little vice.
You see, I had a smug start to this writing adventure because the first two stories I ever submitted received either a prize or were included in the competition shortlist. I also had a few articles happily accepted in years gone past when I wasn't really serious about this writing gig. Buoyed on with dreams of hitting it big in the literary world, I then suffered the indignity of thirty rejections for my first novel manuscript, forked out a terrible amount of money to an editor who did a fantastic job and taught me how to be ruthless with both words and commas, and interminable worry over whether I’d ever get published again. Through this roller coaster of rising hope and swooping ego there is one thing I have decided to do in my quest to be a successful author and that is continue to write. Oh, and not give up my day job, yet.
As a result I find myself delighted to have now developed a regular writing discipline. Much like the couch potato who reluctantly signs up to run a charity half marathon I, too, have experienced procrastination, self doubt and injuries from inadequate warm-ups. However, now I look forward to the adrenaline surge of getting stuck into the zone and knowing what I’m doing is ultimately good for me in so many ways. It’s starting to pay off.
For my second manuscript I knew I was getting closer. Instead of form rejection letters dropping into my inbox after six months of impatiently waiting, agents were actually agreeing to read my script… before giving me rejection letters offering constructive feedback for improvement. Rather than being too disappointed, I’ve used these interactions to finesse my stories before sending them back into the hemisphere for another shot. A recent email received advised me one of my short stories is still in contention for inclusion in an upcoming anthology. A different message from an agent said she thought I had talent but my protagonist was basically a bitch (it’s true, she does have some character flaws but that’s because she’s just trying to make the best of things after a less than perfect start to life!) Although they may not look like much, I’m counting these milestones as progress.
I’m actually being fearless now and not holding back with what I want to say in my stories about things that we all relate to but no one wants to say out loud for fear of being judged. I love that fiction is a form of escape yet connects us with the human condition. I want the reader to resonate with the experience because they know all about it and will be nodding their heads throughout. I’m trying not to seethe with envy when I find myself standing in a bookshop in front of the Top 20 shelf and, while not smothering my dream of having a novel with my name on it, I’m not making that the focus of why I’m writing either because that’s a lot of unnecessary pressure for a reforming perfectionist. Who knows what Chapter Two or Three or Four will bring next but the imperfect protagonist needs to overcome great adversity so their true strength of character can be revealed. I don't know about you but I’ve always been a great fan of the page turner.