When I tell people that I love to write fiction, occasionally they ask me how I got started. I think what interests most of them is how I first sold a story, but I started writing years before that ever happened, long before I ever got anything published. The beginning, I think, isn’t the interesting part of that story. To me, since I’ve loved writing as long as I can remember, the noteworthy events led to realizing what about writing made me so happy that I embraced something terrifying: the prospect of releasing something I created to be judged by others.
There’s this magical moment when I finish writing something, when I experience a sense of pride, looking at a completed piece of fiction or poem. “This is the best work I’ve ever done,” I tell myself. Phantasmal rose petals fall at my feet to the sound of tumultuous applause. In reality, the sound is just lingering water in my ears after my shower. Within days, sometimes minutes, I revisit the work and wonder how I could’ve been so wrong. It’s not even close to good, I realize, but it’s got a beginning, a middle, and an end, which means I followed through and didn’t give up on it. Once edited, some of those things stuck in my mind as better than others, and I shared a scant few of them with friends. That was the first step, because those were the people who would generally be the most supportive of any readers. But I knew, deep down, that showing my stories to my mom or good friends wasn’t really much like overcoming real fear of rejection. It was more like risking rejection of my suggestion for a place to eat or a movie to watch.
On to step 2: sharing my writing with other writers. This first took shape in a writing group on Yahoo, about a dozen of us all writing speculative fiction. Again, I played it too safe. By mutual agreement, the group was a supportive environment, heavy with general praise and light on constructive criticism. Everybody was nice, possibly too considerate and sympathetic to fears of rejection and hurt pride. I had to read between the lines of the critiques I received, trying find hints of things disliked or general disinterest in the stories. There weren’t even any grammar Nazis to belittle my punctuation errors. At that point, I realized that I wasn’t really getting anywhere as a writer. I needed to experience some growing pains, if I ever wanted to be able to see over the walls of my safe zone, the place where I wrote things that nobody would ever pay to read.
Somewhere around the dissolution of the writing group, I knew I had to take a more committed leap. My fear of rejection was still prevalent. In the end, I made a kind of strategy to combat it. I stopped trying to write what I thought people would like to read and promised myself I would write what I loved. No more pretentious attempts at literature, strictly genre fiction of the kinds I enjoyed reading. No more inflated language and attempts to sound enlightened, just my own voice, telling tales the way I would narrate a ghost story around the campfire. If I was about to send fiction out to be rejected by publishers, I was going to send little pieces of myself. I had to keep reminding myself that they wouldn’t be rejecting me, just the way I wrote. It can still be heartbreaking when it happens, at least initially before I hunker down to more editing. Some pieces just need to be mourned and tucked away.
I’m better for the experience, rejections or not. I feel that the true start of my writing career began when I made that promise to myself and took that leap to submit my pieces. How did I get started writing? That happened a long time ago. How did I become a writer? That’s a tale in itself, one of heartbreak, growth, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s also kind of long, so make sure you use the bathroom and grab a snack before I get started.