This is going up without the million edits I usually do, so hang in there with me…(Tyler will come on and edit later 😉
Once upon a time…no wait scratch that, too cliché.
It was a cold dark night.
Also cliché, but much better, because what writer hasn’t experienced the cold dark? Or maybe it’s not just reserved for writers–the waiting, the wondering, the plaguing doubt. This story actually does start on a cold dark night. I curled up in my hospital bed after having our son. Doctors had just told me they didn’t know why I still couldn’t feel my legs. We’d done a number of tests and it looked like I’d be in for a long recovery. I lay there and pretended not to hear my husband fighting tears.
I stared at the plastic press-board siding in my room and focused on what I could do and they thought I could make a full recovery and I vowed I would. And I did. I also made a different vow that night and I vowed to write. See, I’d learned during graduate school the reason I was so awful and struggled so much was because I was dyslexic. I now had a degree to diagnose and treat disabilities in children, so why not fight and overcome it myself? I then wrote something that did get published on its first try. I think it gave me a skewed idea of publishing. I got a bunch of rejections after that. Isaac is five and a half, so five and half years worth of rejections. I took writing lessons. I attended workshops. I never felt there yet, but I was so incredibly excited to take off on this journey. It felt so right for me. I wrote non-fiction at first, but I wanted to write fiction. So I gave up non-fiction and focused only on that.
I got rejections. I never even got a personal rejection, no “good try.” I entered the Writers of the Future contest as a goal to get a story done every three months that I could then send off to sell later. Then I made friends on Writers of the Future. Friends that didn’t look at my rejections, they looked at me. They looked at my writing. They gave me honest feedback and it’s hard to take, but the road to getting published doesn’t have an extra lane for ego. One rejection was particularly hard, I don’t know why any more. It halted me. Made me question my goals.
In that moment of fog, Tyler suggested I give it my all, no holding back one last push forward before I start writing in another genre or go back to non-fiction. He told me I needed to meet, in person, other writers. This has meant everything to him in business and it made a lot of sense. I signed up for a workshop with David Farland, because it was close, it was on a topic I knew I needed improvement. It was within my price range. I spend every penny I’d ever made writing non-fiction to go.
Pumped in my new decision, I celebrated by writing a story that I’d started almost a year ago. I’d convinced myself I didn’t have the skill to pull it off yet and in that moment I told myself “you now have the skill.” I wrote it in a few days, edited and edited and edited like a mad person. Tyler read that story just as many times. I sent the first pages off to WOTF friends. Kary, who pointed out some inconsistencies, Rebecca, who made a character suggestion that just blew the story to a new level and Dustin, who pointed to a paragraph and said “Pretend this is your new first line and write from here.” I finished the story a few days before the deadline. I spent the entire last day (New Year’s Eve) moving around commas and fretting over sentence structure. I worried that I’d have grammar and spelling issues that would ruin it. We had my sister-in-law, Tammy, over with her parents to celebrate the New Year and the whole time I kept thinking about that story sitting on my computer waiting to be sent. In fact, I snuck off several times to check it.
After 8pm our family left and Tyler and I went to send the story and the contest was closed. CLOSED! My perfect, wonderful, amazing story would have to wait a whole extra quarter to be judged! It was supposed to be open until midnight, but through some snafu, it was closed.
I got online, trying to tamper down my disappointment, tried to ‘act like a professional’ and buck up and own my mistake. I should have submitted early like everyone else on the board, who reported sending the story off and then gone to party for the New Year. I posted my problem and instantly a forum member I consider to be a mentor of sorts**, figured out a solution. Paper submission. He even looked up the local all night post offices. We reformatted my story to fit the paper submission guidelines and Tyler rushed it off to the Post Office and my story was post marked at 11:30pm. Just in time.
I then focused on writing my first chapters of my novel to submit for the Farland Workshop. I fretted over those as well. At the workshop we had a German translator, a retired air force colonel, a former NASA mission controller, my buddy from the WOTF board who was working on her Ph.d, an actor, Grammar girl (to name a few)…oh and me. I then worried about my chapters of the novel– these guys were going to rip me into shreds!
But something magical happened. Every person who read my story loved it. They *loved* it. They LOVED it so much they were picking out movie actors to play my characters. I fell in love with their stories too. One person wrote such an encouraging review that I kept it folded on my bedside, so I could read the first line: “Tina, you have got the gift of storytelling and the craft flows smoothly in your first two chapters.”*
I now had an instant support group along with my online Writers of the Future friends. I was jazzed for another five years of rejections. And in the coming months I kept writing and sending out. I had strange and crazy dreams about being close to breaking the rejection barrier. I had dreams about the contest I’d entered.
Remember my sister in law? The one who came over for New Years? Twelve days after we partied in the New Year with them, her father suffered a major stroke. He faded and suffered, until June when he died. I cried for my sister-in-law. She helped take care of him with her mother. Tyler was a pall barer in the funeral and after he’d loaded the casket into the truck for the graveside service his phone vibrated. We’ d gotten a message from Writers of the Future.
I was a Finalist. I did it. My big push after being in the dark hole of doubt? — it could win the largest science fiction and fantasy contest in the world.
And there it is, my story about a story. The best stories never start at the beginning. It never ends at the end.
Thank you for reading,
*Dean Kody was the man who gave me that critique that I kept by my bedside. He died this May, hiking in Utah to watch the eclipse.
**Martin L. Shoemaker is another writer who I consider a mentor of sorts. He not only generously encourages me, but our entire online troupe. He makes our online writing group a community. He’s a talented writer and is also a Finalist.
I love comments! Every time you comment someone will get encouragement exactly at the moment they needed it most.