There are days where I spend my time marvelling at the coincidences of the universe. As I’ve struggled to turn away from my news feeds, to stop reading story after story of human beings being awful, to try to convince myself that art has value in a world filled with such suffering, I received a notice that one of my stories has been accepted for publication.
Just like that, I will go from being an aspiring writer to a published one.
The brain is a funny thing. I read the email with the understanding that it would be a rejection, because it was only my second response out of the submissions that I made last month. When I saw that it was an acceptance, the achievement suddenly became so much less worthy than when it was out of reach. It must be a terrible magazine, I thought, if they’re taking *that* story. They must accept just anyone.
But they are not a terrible magazine. It is not a terrible story. The magazine did not somehow adopt lower standards just because they want to publish my work. I worked hard for that 1,000 words of fiction, honing it and whittling it down into something much better than what I started with. I did the legwork and figured out a few appropriate markets, then worked to format it appropriately and submit. (Lesson learned: if your story is on the verge of being flash fiction, make it so.) There was quite a bit of discovery, which required new approaches and hard work. That alone is a reason to be proud.
Artists are, of course, famous for their struggles with self-doubt. What we do is so subjective that perfectly good pieces of work can be undervalued for centuries before they find the right audience. Likewise, we’ve all seen art with astonishingly poor craftsmanship become bafflingly popular. With the advent of social media, it’s certainly obvious that success in the publishing industry often is as much about having a magic number of followers than any inherent artistic merit. With the accessibility of self-publishing and the many online web magazines, it also feels like there is just so much more of everything already out there. If you go looking for books written around a certain person or topic, there’s likely to be five or more, published in the same year. I’ve often wondered if it’s even worth publishing, as much as I like to dream about a life where all my financial worries are taken care of by my writing. Is publishing just adding another voice to the already shouting crowd? Where does my voice fit in? How will I know if it’s any good, when popularity matters more than artistry?
Yet, I want to write as well as I can. I want to give back stories to the world, because I have enjoyed so many. The kindest thing that a stranger has ever done for me has been to create a three-hundred-page world where I can lose myself for a few hours. I want to pay that forward. I know that to get to that point, I need to start sharing my work with larger audiences, so that I get the feedback that I need to keep improving my storytelling.
This first publication is just a start, a small story in a small magazine, with a small payment. (More details to follow, when the work is actually in print.) But it’s more than that too — it’s a validation that my writing can be more than a hobby, that there are professionals out there that think it has merit. This is a tremendous thing. Later, I’ll worry about that dream of the luxurious house in the woods, where I sit in the loft in front of the huge bay window and write my stories, which naturally flow effortlessly into a perfectly complex first draft. It’s a beautiful daydream, but it is just dreaming. Getting my work out there, networking with other writers, keeping a blog — this is the reality of where I need to be right now.
The next steps are in progress. I’m already working on the rewriting of the next story that I’ll send out into the world. On Sunday, I’m meeting with a new writing group that focuses on literary fiction, which is usually code for, “No vampires or ghosts here, thank you.” (Will they love or hate my magic realism? I don’t know!) The meeting place is very nearby — my current favorite writing cafe, as it happens — and the group is new, so I am hopeful that it will become a regular resource for me. Certainly, it will be helpful for me to have the deadlines imposed by meeting with other writers, since finding time to write new fiction has been very challenging since Baba came along. And yet, it feels like years of work are finally coming together for me, as my daily life becomes so much more writerly.
And how will I celebrate my first publication? Well, I sure hope it’s by getting published again, very soon.