A piece of poetry I wrote last year (and then modified), and submitted earlier this one, has also just been picked up and published. Who would have ever figured that one out? I have to admit, it’s a pretty nerdy literary piece.
At the start of the year I challenged myself to write more; not just to slam more words onto paper, but to get my writing out there and evaluated. This would involve not just working on pieces, but completing them (which was a big issue for me); and then once complete, sending them off to publications, contests and festivals.
Ultimately, the goal of all this would be to get at least one piece of mine published.
I suppose I could say that I inspired in large part by Stephen King and Robert A. Heinlein’s rules on writing.
For King, I recalled in On Writing his struggles with getting work accepted – King, the bestselling author of, well, ever. From him, I learned that rejection notices are just part of the craft. You get some, you do better, and then you write some more. Nobody is born as some kind of “hero” author with the perfect tale. To be a good writer, you have to get there by writing a lot.
From Heinlein, his philosophy is that one should finish everything they start, and then try to sell everything they complete. Don’t judge yourself, just keep working. Seemed to me like the perfect mantra for a challenging year to come.
And so I set out, in the final days of December 2015 (I cheated in that sense, by starting early), to write as much as I could in my spare time, complete as many of the pieces I began, and submitted everything that I completed to some place somewhere.
What a year it’s been.
I was definitely able to maintain a stronger pace during the first half of the year. My creative juices were flowing, I was unhindered by style and structure, and was writing roughly one story every 2-3 weeks.
Of course, the work I produced during that time was not exactly my strongest – definitely ambitious, with some enjoyable sections, but structurally a complete mess. Still, I kept myself to my word, and submitted everything I cranked out. If anything I was happy to have those ideas complete, fleshed out and on paper, as it opened the door to moving onto the next.
My rhythm slowed down during the summer (as it always does in the dog days), and then just about bottomed out in the Fall – which I was thinking would be my best month in terms of productivity, but in fact turned out to be my better months in terms of quality.
I don’t feel ashamed to admit that everything I’ve written in the second half of the year turned out better than everything in the first half. A craft is something that takes time and requires effort. Failure makes us stronger, and lets us learn from our mistakes.
So, as of this week, I have sent a total of 27 pieces for consideration to various publications and festivals. I should note that several pieces were submitted multiple times (consecutively, not simultaneously – always wait for an answer before putting it back into circulation) so that inflates the number of total pieces slightly.
Out of 26 submissions, I received 17 rejections as of today. 6 are pending and 3 came back with acceptance notes.
The rejection notices, at first, were difficult to read. Nobody wants to know that they were rejected for anything. Especially, in my case, since I began with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder thinking it would be easy if I put my mind to it. Rejection notices act to ground us and remind us that no, just because we want something to succeed, doesn’t mean that it should.
It was a good reminder of fallibility and a charge to do better and try harder.
Interestingly, all my early rejection notices came with the usual copy-pasted text with token words of encouragement. However, more recently I have been receiving personalized remarks along with the notices:
Twice, I was informed that my piece made it to the final round of consideration. Positive feedback followed with some constructive criticism for refining the piece.
Two other times, I was informed that my piece was rejected (no mention of how far it got) but feedback and other remarks were included.
I should note that one of the publications that sent out the cold rejections to my early attempts, was one that sent me the feedback when I finally submitted a stronger piece.
If anything, I feel that this is what has filled me with the most adrenaline, and joy at my craft. The realization, that I have been improving steadily and my work is being more positively reviewed than it was 12 months ago.
Returning to my initial goal, I did, however, partially succeed with the following good news I received during the year:
One flash fiction piece accepted for publication (Paid too! but yet to see print. Backlogs, I hear, can be from six months to a year or more).
One 1st place festival win for an original Horror screenplay.
One 2nd place festival finish for an original Thriller screenplay.
I suppose it won’t really feel real until I see that piece in print, but combined with the festival progress and better and better feedback, I’d say it’s been a decent year all around.
Here’s to the next, and a busy holiday season behind the keyboard.
It’s 5:00AM and raining. I sit crouched under a tree by the side of 18th Street waiting for my ride. I see his Toyota pull up around the bend and I rush over.
Emmanuel helps me with my bag and I hop in. We take off towards the airport. He introduces himself as an Ethiopian American. From our destination, he knows that I’m a tourist or a visitor. He asks me how I enjoyed the city.
I had a great time. One of the things that stood out the most was the food. During my week here, I was able to go and try out easily a dozen or so good to great restaurants.
At that his interest is piqued.
“Have you tried any Ethiopian food while you were in DC? There is lots.”
That I had noticed, and while it had been on the radar, it never materialized.
“It’s not matter,” he says. “Next time you are in town, you will try it out.” He pauses a moment, realizing something. “You like spicy food right?”
I love it.
“That’s good,” he seems relieved. “Our food is a lot like Indian food when it comes to spice. Not everyone is able to enjoy it the first time, but they come back and it gets a little better each time.”
I point out that I was amazed to see so many Ethiopian restaurants in one place. In the neighbourhood where I was staying, there were no fewer than three.
“DC is our second country,” he explains. “Back home we have 90 million citizens. Here in Washington DC area, there are 250,000 Ethiopians. That makes this one of our largest cities.” He laughs. “It is a good place to move to. I plan on bringing my family here later this year.”
I tell him that’s great news.
“It is. I haven’t seen my daughter in four years, but this year I will. This year we will all be reunited.”
He quickly cuts into a different comment, asking where I’m from. Canada.
“Canada? I wanted to go to Canada, but they would only let me work one job at a time. How is a man supposed to make enough money with only one job? Here, I worked three for the first six months. It was good. Made lots of money.” He flexes his arm. “Now I only work two. Much more manageable. I get free time now.”
We take an exit that leads towards the airport, but we’re still a while away. He points to the road ahead.
“People, they always talk about the Egyptian pyramids. Any time someone talks about engineering, it’s always pyramids, pyramids, pyramids. But how many people have ever stood and stared at an American highway? I think these are just as impressive.” He pauses, then adds, “and they actually do something. They don’t just sit there in the desert. They move people from place to place.”
I take a moment to admire the highway. I can’t say that I ever thought about it that way before, as something to admire. Mostly just something we take for granted, being able to travel from one state to the next in a matter of minutes.
“All these roads were built by somebody. A generation ago, many of them weren’t here. I wonder what this area will look like one generation from now. The next generation,” he sighs. “I think it’s no good. When I was growing up, things were different. Kids had discipline. You need discipline to get somewhere, you know? Otherwise you are just a kid your whole life. It makes me worried. The worst part is all these things kids say to each other. Bitch, mother fucker… these are silly words. I don’t see why they love them so much. When I was growing up, you see, Ethiopia is a very religious country. No one would go around saying those things to their sister or father or friends but they do here. It must make them feel bold.” He laughs. “I was never so bold back home. No way man.”
We near the airport. It’s still raining. He pulls over to the departures gates.
“Planes too. I suppose those are marvels too aren’t they? Something someone else invented is going to take you back to Canada. Have a good flight.”
I wish him well.