As a fledgling writer, I was desperate to be read. After posting an article, I stalked the page hits for hours hoping to see a spike. I remember the first time I wrote an article that received over 1000 hits in a day—I was shocked. Like so many beginning writers, it’s not always about the money or the hope of fame—it’s about knowing that someone read something you wrote and they liked it, or it touched them in some way. Don’t get me wrong, the whole “broke writer” thing gets tiresome, and we eventually need to take ourselves and our writing more seriously. We need to write what we know. We need to search out literary agents or publications that accept submissions in the categories for which our writing voice comes out naturally. For me, that was poetry, memoir, and creative non-fiction.
I tried writing fiction, and in terms of that genre, I’m good with short stories, but a novel length story hasn’t come out of me yet. I had written many blog posts, essays, short stories, and I had even self-published an eBook and a trade paperback that together sold about 1200 copies; however, I was beating my head against the wall. I wrote for “content mills” and did some freelance editing and book reviews—with an emphasis on FREE. I was trying so hard to get my name out there, create a brand name, or just simply find someone that wanted to read my work. At this crucial point, I even considered writing a steamy romance (as if I could) or a vampire novel (choking). Hell, everyone was doing it and selling books. The thought made me want to puke.
Next, I tried Wattpad.com because I had heard about the tremendous followings that some writers were gaining on that platform. I had some success, but it was there that I realized I was not yet a fiction writer—and I may never be one. Besides, most of the audience/writers on Wattpad are kids writing horrible poetry anthologies about their suicidal tendencies or their latest broken heart. I just didn`t fit in with the crowd. I’m a creative non-fiction guy…and that`s okay! That’s the genre that best suits my writer’s voice.
A massive turning point came for me when my wife said to me, “Scott…write what you know.” She went on to tell me the story of Little Women and how the character Jo learns from a professor about how to “write what she knows.” It was at this moment that I realized each one of us has unique and personal experiences in life that only we can give voice to. This was my turning point as a writer. Taking your life experiences to the keyboard can also work for fiction genres as well.
I was finally traditionally published in the genre of poetry. It took me six months to write the poem that was eventually published. When I was accepted, the editor went to work chopping the first stanza and pushing me to write a better opening for the poem. I knew deep down she was right; the opening stanza was too cliché, but it’s so hard for us writers to chop into our own flesh and blood—our writing. Thankfully, the poem had some lines in it that caught the editor’s attention, and she felt it had possibilities with some tweaking. In fact, in her email to me accepting the poem, that was her exact statement, “this poem has potential” and “we may be able to use this with a little work.”
I cannot express the feeling I had the first time someone said YES to my work. I was reminded of a story someone told me years ago about a guy that was mining for gold. He mined the same shaft for years. He went broke digging in the same hole. Finally, he sold the land. The guy who purchased the land—not experiencing the same day-in-and-day-out exhaustion of digging in that hole—started to dig in the same shaft. Three feet down he hit a major vein of gold. I’m not sure if the story is real or metaphorical, but it sure fits for us writers. Keep digging, keep writing, and keep querying agents, magazines, and journals until you hit that vein of gold.
I’m currently working on a memoir and still querying poetry and short stories to magazines and journals. I encourage you writers that have not taken the step of querying your work to take the plunge! I’ve had my share of rejections—my favorite was from The New Yorker. At least, the editor emailed me back. The general rejection of the industry today is no response at all. I wish you all much success!