Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Scrappy Writer

In order to be a writer, you have to possess a thick skin. Why? Because you will have your work rejected, over and over. Or worse, you'll have your work ignored. I can't tell you how many queries I've sent out to magazines that I've never received formal rejections for. I realize why, of course. Magazine editors are busy people, and I can't imagine how much their inboxes are inundated with the "next great article idea!" I get it.

It all boils down to this -- submitting is a numbers game. In order to find markets for your work, new job opportunities, publishing houses, or agents, you have to put yourself out there, regardless of how difficult it is. I promise I have a point here, but first I want to tell you a little story.

I really have always dreamed of writing fiction, but family members and a little voice inside my head told me that I would never be able to earn a living doing so, so I took the "safe" route in college. I longingly stared at the English and Literature courses while officially signing up for a major in communications. After I graduated, I took jobs in advertising and even found myself immersed in the world of media planning for awhile (what? work with numbers all day? I couldn't do that, I'm a writer!)
Somehow, fate steered me back on the right course with a layoff from the media planning job. That hurt, but while waiting tables at night and writing fiction during the day, I started to find myself again.

Soon I found a good paying job at a public relations firm and enjoyed the work and getting back to my journalism roots. Writing fiction would have to be put on back burner again because I had a mortgage to help pay for and bills. When my daughter was born in 2003, I began brainstorming ways I could make money from home and began teaching myself the ins and outs of the freelance writing business. Within a few short years I was making a decent part-time income by working as a stringer at a local newspaper and selling regional magazine articles. By age 34, I felt I had achieved a level of success in my writing career and decided to go ahead and get back to writing fiction on the side. I finished a novel, although I have to admit that I'm still revising it at age 36. I decided that because I had never had formal training in fiction writing, I would apply to two low-residency MFA programs. I knew it would be expensive, but for me, it seemed like the only way I could still work while taking classes. Plus, I could get feedback from peers on my book. This past fall, I spent a lot of time working on my applications, making sure my portfolio was polished, and realizing that my credentials looked great in the field of non-fiction writing, but weak on the fiction writing side. I have never had any fiction published,  earned any awards in that arena or received any grants. Still, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

By November I had two rejection letters in my hand. It was a difficult blow for  me, but I tried not to let it get me down. I thought maybe it was for the best, I wouldn't have a mountain of student loans to pay for after finishing an MFA program and I could keep working and submitting. In fact, by the end of November, I had finished my first draft of a middle-grade book, and I had never even considered writing for children before!

It is hard for me to admit that I was denied admission into two MFA programs. My confidence as a writer waned. But writers have been published before without fancy degrees, and I guess I'll just have to be one of them. By the way, I recently the thrill of recognition for writing fiction. My short story, "In the Depths" is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall 2012 Flash Fiction Contest. I've tried to turn rejection into something positive. I keep telling myself that one day, I'm going to be known as that scrappy little writer who refused to give up. 

Yes, one day I will.

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