So, twenty six years ago I was living in Jamaica Plain with my girlfriend who would become my wife and I decided that rather than just talking about writing fiction I would actually sit down and write some.
My early efforts… on typewriters… had been pathetic. Typing on a typewriter felt like work. I didn’t like it. The idea of producing stacks of manuscript on a typewriter gave me nightmares. I was shitty at spelling; not exactly dyslexic, nothing worthy of a name, just hopelessly shitty. I recall dumbing down my vocabulary, when writing school papers, because I couldn’t spell a fraction of the words I knew.
But in 1990, I had a goddamn Macintosh personal computer. Spell check, yo.
So, I banged out a novella. The plot was vaguely Phillip Jose Farmer meets Roger Zelazny as written by someone who couldn’t write very well and six weeks after I dopped the manuscript in the mail to Analog magazine, I got back my SASE with the unsigned rejection slip.
The slip was a page of snarky reasons they rejected stories, pre-printed. It was humiliating.
I’d grown up on the myth of John W. Campbell writing letters of critique back to Asimov and Clarke that were longer than the stories themselves. I knew Campbell was long gone. I knew I wasn’t Asimov, or Clarke.
So this is the thing; this is common; this is cliche. We all know that this is what happens when you start out trying to do something. But, until you have done this thing and had this happen, really, you don’t know shit about how this feels.
Until you have been the man in the arena.
You don’t know what it feels like. It feels bad. Depending on what kind of person you are, it can be enough to stop you cold.
How many dreams die in that moment, in that first flash of the cold light of day? The short, sharp shock of your own ineffable crappyness?
Intrepid hero that I am, or was, at age 27, I collapsed like a house of cards and didn’t write or submit anything for a year.
A friend of mine sold his first story to a magazine for fifty bucks. (He thought he did anyway, the magazine folded before it published the thing or paid him, but who cares. It happened. A friend. Of mine. SOLD A STORY.) And I realized, I wanted to write. I met a man in a used bookstore in Harvard Square who became my lifelong friend and wrote with him and a few people he was writing with, and when that group disbanded I found another group, which I stuck with for years.
Until I lead it.
I went to Clarion West, the six week writing workshop that makes or breaks people, and….It broke me. I quit for eighteen years. Again, heroic me, folding like some kind of cheap, easily foldable thing. (What do things fold like? Write much, writer boy?)
And then I started up again in 2012, with a new workshop, new friends. I sold nine pieces to Asimovs, two to F&SF, and to Interzone and Galaxies Edge and Fantastic Stories, and this afternoon, twenty six years later, two stories were accepted at Analog.
Depending on where you are in life, I am either an inspirational story (if you’re older and hoping for a second act) or a cautionary tale (If you’re younger and you have a tendency to quit like a little sniveling bitch.)
Know this; the sensation of success is fleeting, behind every success in writing there are a series of disappointments. (No award nominations? No anthology interest?) You better love doing the thing itself, because mostly the thing itself is it’s own reward.
But, that moment of success, that instant, that feeling, reaching a goal, it’s good.
You carry it with you forever.