Nobody takes fiction writers seriously.
That’s what I used to think. As a volunteer journalist and editor on a small non-profit press for more than ten years, I snorted at the suggestion I should write fiction. Why, if I wrote something as superficial as a novel, no one would ever buy my non-fiction books, which simmered happily on the back burner of my creative imagination. (Still do, actually.)
Then our family income level dropped, and I had to go back to work. Standing for 6-8 hours behind a register in a retail chain clothing store has its charm, I’m sure, but it was completely lost on me. After more than a year of dealing with thoughtless, sometimes even hostile customers on a daily basis, I revisited the idea of fiction. Maybe I could write a short story. I knew absolutely nothing about writing fiction or, more importantly, what it took to get my work to market; but if I could get one published, it would be a small income. Then I could write and publish others. Repeat as necessary. Really, how hard could it be?
If you’re a writer, you’re probably laughing your tuchis off right about now. How hard indeed.
That little short story became the manuscript that ate New York. Running about 800,000 words, it would still be going if someone—an agent at a writer’s conference who, to her credit, did not laugh in my face when I quoted my word count—hadn’t stopped me. I’ll talk more about that in a later post.
My point is that the fiction bug infected me with its fiery allure and ardent expression, because let’s face it; you can’t write good fiction if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing. My characters came alive in my mind, spoke often and loud about what “they” wanted to happen, and endeared themselves to me almost as much as the “real” people in my life. I understand from other writers that this is common; fictional characters, especially protagonists and antagonists that drive the story, demand your focus. If you don’t give them 100% of your attention, they can’t fully manifest into three-dimensional beings that live and breathe in the reader’s imagination. Who would buy a novel without that?
I sat down to write that “short story” in 2008. Here it is, early in the year 2017. I’m not yet published, but I’m so much closer than I was, and what a ride it’s been! Just as with any newbie, I devoured one book after another about story structure, publishing, and the art of writing in general. I sought advice from one advisor after another. I attended classes and conferences in an effort to find the “right” way to write. What I’ve discovered so far is that everyone has an opinion, sometimes at opposite ends of the spectrum, and most of them insist theirs is the only “right” way.
I’ve come to believe that ultimately it’s up to the writer. As long as our methods work for us, and we’re able to get our work out there to our readers, I’m not sure it matters whether we follow methods of a writing guru or create our own path to success. Besides, with so many ways to publish these days, options are unlimited. I’m currently trying the traditional route. We’ll see where it goes.
But hey, like I said, I’m new to this business, learning as I go. Who am I to say what will or won’t work for you? (I’m not even sure what works for me, yet.) I’m sure I’ll hear comments from both sides of the argument on that score. I will say that most agents I’ve heard from tell me that publishing is a very subjective business, that what works for one agent or publisher won’t work for another, and that you should keep trying and don’t get discouraged.
Never give up, never surrender!
My adventures in writing have all proven educational; I don’t look for that to change any time soon. Now that I have a website and am seriously querying and branching out in my writing endeavors, I want to journal about them here, so that you can follow along, if you wish. Keep in mind as you read that I am a new writer, and am writing from limited personal experience. Your mileage may vary, and I encourage you to share your own constructive or helpful input here in the comments.
So come along for the ride! I hope to share my discoveries so far, as well as my ongoing adventures into the realm of traditional publishing (as they occur) in coming posts. Stay with me, and we’ll find out what happens together!