Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Writing: Denial

A couple of days ago I was digging around in boxes of old paper work and I came across some old receipts and correspondence.

They were from the two (at the time) of the biggest magazine publishers in New Zealand.  There were a few rejections, but mostly they were my acceptances and receipts for short romance story sales for lady rags Women's Day and New Idea.

Yes, that's right. Sales. In the plural. I thought I'd only sold two stories, but these receipts tell me I sold five. Yes, FIVE stories. At $NZ200-$NZ300 a pop. I earned pro-rates on my first sales. In the mid-90s.
This was back in 1995-1997, and the dates cover an eighteen month span when I was 21-22, just before I went off to do my degree.

Somehow in the intervening decade plus, I've rationalized these successes, these baby steps into publishing, as something unworthy. I denied them as anything relevant or useful. They were flukes - bad writing published in magazines I don't believe in.

When in discussions about Being A Writer, I've spent ten years or more hand waving these minor successes away as irrelevant. "Oh it was just stupid women's mags", "It was horrible writing", "You'd have to be a fool to like those types of stories", "It wasn't sci fi or fantasy".

But here's the thing. It was horrible writing THAT WAS GETTING ME PUBLISHED. It was horrible writing THAT EARNED ME MONEY. It was horrible writing THAT WAS TEACHING ME SOMETHING.

I just wasn't listening to the lesson. That lesson? Hell, Stephanie Meyer ain't so dumb, ya know?

Perhaps it's just as well I didn't carry on down the path of being a romance writer. Perhaps the fledgling feminist in me was screaming STEP THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD TOOTS. If I didn't believe in the medium or the people I was writing for, how could I be honest in my writing?

This stuff was too easy and an insult to my and a reader's intelligence. I have more respect for intelligence than that. Pretension alert: I believe in the art of writing, and I didn't want to become some hack churning out the same story for the rest of my career. There are many amazing romance writers out there, who know the nuance of the genre better than me, and many people make a damn good living out of it.  But it's not my bag, baby. I always knew I wanted to write spec.

So I walked away from that starting point of my writing career with the intention of writing spec...and stalled.

What happened? I chickened out. I've talked about this at length before, but Life happened. Doubt happened. People sneering (erroneously) at my writing happened.

Denial happened.

Why?

Fear.

Of?

Failure.

I feel like such an idiot now for not teaching myself about failure at an earlier age. No one else was going to do it, and since I had never really stumbled in my life, I didn't understand failure as a teaching tool, even though I paid lip service to it. Stupid, privileged little girl.

Amongst this paperwork was also the correspondence from the one time I entered the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition in 1999, where I reached the semi-finals. Anne McCaffrey and Larry Niven were judges. Annie Frickin Mac, y'all, read my story and thought it worthy enough of ENCOURAGEMENT. The woman who introduced me to dragons, who I can point to as the writer who made me want to become a writer!

I am such a fool.

I guess I've been a bit embarrassed by this one because I stopped writing not long after this (the "person laughing at me" incident) and I was totally sketchy about  Scientology (I have my ethics, yo). Of course these reasons seem completely ridiculous to me now (the former more than the latter, because I'm not sure if I'll do this competition again yet), but hey, I didn't have a writing mentor, I didn't have an Internetz to talk to, I was completely on my own. I'm an independent wee tyke, sometimes to my own detriment. I talked myself into thinking I sucked.

But now, on the other side of things, I look at those receipts and I look at that one-time competition entry and recognize my denial.

My attempts to be published, to be a writer, didn't start in March last year. They started way back in 1995 when I sat down at my old PC and said "Let's give this writing thing a bash, shall we?" My first acceptance didn't come with the sale to Semaphore, it came from Woman's Day magazine.

To deny where I started is to deny that there was, and is, a glimmer of ability.  I'm rather behind most writers, and I'm working on my Million Bad Words right now.

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. But I'll get there eventually, and I hope the regret doesn't drag me down.

Patience doesn't seem to be working...

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