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Monday, March 19, 2012

An Author's Journey

I am hard at work on my first novel.  I've actually been hard at work on it for well over a year.  It has been both the most frustrating and rewarding writing experience of my life.

I first came up with the idea for the novel about five years ago.  I wrote up a chapter on a laptop that soon died on me.  I was able to recover the file, but life intruded and I practically forgot about my little writing project.  Then, a couple of years later, I noticed it on my desktop and thought it might be fun to see how awful it was.  Looking it over, I suddenly got the urge to add a few short chapters because a colleague at my job had irked me and I wanted to work it out of my system.  With no publishing goal in mind, I started posting my 10,000 words or so on my Myspace page.  One of my followers took the amazing trouble to read it, and made some very generous comments.

Well, Myspace was replaced by Facebook, and a couple of more years went by without any progress.  Then, one day, I realized I was never going back to Myspace and thought about the stub of a draft.  I went in and looked it over.  A change here, an addition there, and pretty soon I was writing again.  I haven't stopped since.

I now have a complete first draft - though whether anything ever is really "complete" in a draft is a sort of metaphysical question - and am slowly, laboriously and painstakingly going through and editing/paring/expanding it.  When I told one fellow at work that I was done and that the word count was 180,000 words, his only response was to ask why I used the word count as some kind of measuring stick.  Of course, he's absolutely correct, for a true work of art the word count is irrelevant.  However, in the real word, Microsoft Word is very helpful in keeping you constantly aware of how many words you have down, so it simply is a convenient shorthand to use.  The story is complete, or at least this volume of it is, and in a fairly standard length.

One day in February 2012, I saw a solicitation for horror short story submissions.  My work was neither a short story nor a work of horror, but that didn't deter me!  After making a few revisions to the first chapter to make it "horrorific," on a lark I sent it in for consideration.  Not hearing back for a month, I began to despair.  Then, an editor at the magazine e-mailed me that he "thought the pacing was awfully slow, so I think we'll pass this time."

Now, many authors might take that as a knock.  To me, those words were music to my ears.  My first rejection!  An editor who must read hundreds of short stories actually read my hastily prepared work and did not reject it out of hand.  All right, it wasn't right for his magazine's pacing.  I can see what he means about the pacing being slow - but I can work on that!  Cut here, combine there, and it will be your standard fast-paced thriller.  The truth is, I was raised on the classics like Dickens, Austen and Twain, and they influenced my own creative writing style.  A hundred and fifty years ago, an author could get away with spending an entire chapter on the whiteness of a whale.  I may not be that ponderous, but he saw my natural writing vulnerability right away.

As my first outside editorial input, it was invaluable.  Maybe I'll go overboard and my next submission will be rejected because it isn't reflective enough or something like that, but every bit of feedback gives me ideas for improvement.

I recently saw another call for submissions for short stories on a romantic theme.  I'm adapting another chapter for that and will submit it once it's done.  I expect rejection, but I need feedback.  The bottom line is, I'm hopeful and working hard on my novel.  Life is good.