Shoot Your Shot: Fiction Writing Edition

 

The words 'I am a writer' on a white piece of paper, a pen finishing off the last r.

In January 2016, I came across a post on Twitter advertising a call for submissions for a fiction anthology from Seven Scribes. The deadline was March 1, and the word limit was 10,000 words. I’ve written 10,000 words in a single day. Hell, I’ve written research papers in a couple of hours. I could definitely write 10,000 words or fewer within two months.

But would I? Should I? 

Around the same time, I came across yet another Twitter post announcing an anthology, this time featuring stories of queer Black love. It had a similar word count limit, only it was due on March 31. I could write a story about Black queer love with my eyes closed.

But would I? Experience had told me the answer would be, “Hell no.”

Although I’ve had journalism articles, book reviews, and personal essays published before, I’d never had a fiction piece published anywhere but my own blogs, and that was short lived. Journalism is hard, but fiction was my first passion, and so letting those words out into the world is a million times harder. I’ve published literally over a hundred thousand words of fanfiction on fanfiction.net, and some of it was even…dare I say it, good. But with fanfiction there were relatively few stakes — I used a pen name and an anime avatar. No one knew how old I was or what I looked like, and most importantly, they didn’t care.

I wrote and published most of my fanfiction in middle school. I almost flunked algebra because instead of using study hour to…you know, study, I hid in the back of the classroom and wrote about Detective Conan. At first, I intentionally signed up for a less rigorous math class specifically because I didn’t want to learn anything, but then my teacher said, in so many words, “What the fuck are you doing in here,” forced me to transfer to the honors track, and stared at me in bewilderment when I got Cs on all my homework. I warned you, lady. I uploaded new fanfic chapters on time, though. (Not really.)

Then college sucked all the creativity out of me. Four years of five-page papers, research, “objectivity,” and the constant pressure of having to get a job meant fanfiction wasn’t “meaningful” anymore, because it couldn’t make me money. If I was going to be writing something, it had to be something that would make me money. Objectivity. Facts. Professional distance and citations. If I was going to dare to write a single word of fiction (and I didn’t dare), it had to be capital M Marketable. No “book of the heart” or “book baby” schmaltzy language allowed here. What were agents selling and what were editors buying? But I was so overloaded with coursework and dense, 30-page reading assignments that my lifelong love of reading sputtered and died. So if I couldn’t make time to read and enjoy a book, how the hell was I going to write one?

 

The Shot

Last January I told myself in so many words that it was time to get the hell over it. I still didn’t think I was particularly talented or that I “deserved” to be a published author of fiction, but I decided if I was ever going to get out of my creative slump, I had to try something new. So I decided to adopt the “throw pasta at the wall” approach, which meant: 1) If I start a piece with the intent of submitting it for a fiction call, I have to finish it — no exceptions, and 2) I have to submit it. Also no exceptions.

In 2016, that approach led to the creation and submission of two original pieces: “Blackout Day” for the Seven Scribes Beyond Ourselves anthology, and “Between the Lines” for Brown Sugar Griots’ First Bloom anthology. I freaked tf out pretty much the entire time, from writing to submitting to waiting for a response, and for “Blackout Day” in particular. It wasn’t a fun experience writing it, largely because I waited until literally four days before the deadline to do the bulk of the work. The night before the deadline, I stayed up until 3 in the morning trying to finish it only to eventually give up when I felt my brain melting. I sped through additions and proofreading the next morning and submitted it 15 minutes before it was due. 

 

WTF, It Stuck?!

I never expected the “throw pasta at the wall” to be successful, though, at least not at first — it was just supposed to get me used to deadline pressure and rejection as well as improve my discipline. But both stories were accepted. Then I freaked out even more while I waited for them to be published so The Flurry of the Hate Mail could begin.

To be clear, writing a 10,000-word short story in four days is NOT a good idea. It was bad, bad, bad. Do NOT do this. Although I’m proud of the final product, much of the anxiety I experienced after it was submitted could’ve been avoided altogether if I had planned accordingly. Instead, I had to rush to do research and revisions that I’m sure my editor, although understanding, would’ve preferred to avoid.

But The Flurry of the Hate Mail didn’t come, and I even got a few readers who reached out specifically to tell me how much they loved the stories. The pasta was sloppy and undercooked at first, but it worked out in the end. So with my fears eased, I wrote some more.

That led to the (considerably less anxiety-inducing) submission of three short stories and two sales in 2017:

I also wrote an essay for Hour Detroit magazine that appeared in the May 2017 issue (because I’m an employee of the company, it’s not a “sale,” per se, but it’s a clip nonetheless). I’ll also have another Hour Detroit article published in January 2018, for a total of 5 pieces written and 4 published this year (“Blackout Day” came out in January 2017). Pretty big improvement from “nothing.”

I’m sure rejection and Imposter Syndrome will continue to punch me in the face over my career, but I’m happy to say that I’m not letting it stop me anymore. I am a writer, even when it feels like I’m trying to make exquisite cuisine with lukewarm water and no seasoning.

Here’s to more success for all us crazy creatives in 2018.

Posted in Personal Experience, Writing Tagged ,

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