I submitted my first story on or about December 20th, 2003. That means that today marks the end of a full decade of writing and submitting! Probably the easiest way to sum it up is to just give you the numbers:
These numbers are clipped straight from my Excel spreadsheet, so there are some disclaimers. The numbers for 2013 are only for the year to date, of course. I only started tracking daily reading time and writing time in the middle of 2012, so the numbers for that year don’t cover the full year. The rows that say “120”, “240”, etc refer to the number of days in which I wrote for at least that number of minutes.
I wish I could write a really cheery decades-end post about this, but I just can’t. It wouldn’t be honest. You know, every time I read on someone’s blog that they’ve turned 30, the post is always, like, “Yepperee, I feel great about this!” But sometimes you reach the end of a decade, and you don’t feel great about it. On a day-to-day level, I generally feel pretty happy. And I enjoy writing, it’s my passion and my vocation and what gives my life meaning, etc, etc.
But when I think about my writing career, I do not feel good. Until now, at the end of every year, I’ve always thought, “Wow, I did a lot of work this year. And since these stories (or this novel) are gonna hit the slush piles next year, then it’s totally possible that next year will be the year that I really take off!”
But that’s never happened. At best, I’ve only ever had incremental progress over the year. The only story of mine that even came close to breaking loose was “What Everyone Remembers,” and I sold that two years ago (almost to the day). My career (such as it is) peaked two years ago. Since then I’ve actually gone backwards. Something’s wrong, but I have no idea what it is. I’ve produced some of my best and most interesting work–stuff that’s much better than what I’ve sold–in the last two years. And it’s all been rejected. It’s not the fault of editors. No one owes me a publication. But, at the same time, a person who’s put in as much time as me should be having more success than I am. If I was someone else, and I looked at the stats above, I’d wonder what that person was doing wrong.* Most writers don’t get rejected as much as I do when they’re at this stage of their career.
With regards to myself, I don’t know. The only thing that occurs to me is that I’m too productive and don’t revise enough. But, if anything, I revise much, much more than I did two years ago. It’s not out of the ordinary for me to go through ten drafts of a story.
I don’t know. I just don’t know. In my opinion, the stories I am writing are much better than what gets published in the magazines. But the results speak for themselves. If you send out your stories again and again and again and people don’t respond to them, then the problem isn’t with them, it’s with you.
It’s a very strange feeling, to write a story that makes you so happy and to know that it’s better than anything you’ve ever published…and to look it over and then force yourself to accept that no one is ever going to read this story, because the thing that you see is something that’s not apparent to anyone else…
You’re not supposed to admit that you feel that way. It’s pathetic. Because that’s the delusional thinking of a newbie writer. I felt that the very first story I ever wrote (back in 2003) was a magnificent achievement that was destined to sell to a big magazine and win awards. Now I can’t bear to read it. And whenever I talk about my failures to any of my writer friends, I can always hear them thinking, “Oh, well, I guess you’ll have to try harder. The story probably isn’t that good.”
But I can’t help it. Because the story is that good. Oh, it’s not Tolstoy. But it’s good enough to be published in a big magazine. I know it is, because I know the difference between good and bad. I can accept that editors don’t see it that way….and I know that just means I’ll need to be better: my stories need to be so good that they teach people to recognize the good that is in them. But it still sucks. A person’s aesthetic faculty is what they use to write stories. If my aesthetic faculties are this out of line with the general tastes, then it’s going to be a hard road ahead.
Despite it all, I still believe, deep in my heart, that next year will be the year when I take off. But, at the same time, I keep telling myself, “No. That’s a stupid belief. It’s exactly what you believed in all those other years. You just need to accept that that’s not going to happen.”
Anyway, this is not some kind of “I’m on the verge of quitting writing” post. I’m going to keep writing. But this is definitely one of the dark times.
*Note: If you chime in with some smarmy suggestion about what I could be doing wrong, it will make me so incredibly angry that it will seriously damage any friendship we might have.