Thursday, March 17, 2005


Back in college, I wrote quite a bit short fiction, which is not terribly remarkable considering that I was majoring in creative writing after all (University of Illinois liked to call it "Rhetoric", but it was essentially an English degree with more classes in writing. I took all the non-fiction and fiction classes they offered at the time). By the time I graduated, I was getting tired of my own stories. I think the quality of the ones from my last class was a definite slip backwards from my earlier work. I don't know why this happened, but there it is. Maybe I was just burnt out.

So, I decided to take some time off from writing fiction. I gave myself a year -- I decided I wouldn't worry about writing any complete stories for an entire year. Instead, I would perhaps revise my existing ones, send them out to magazines, and do lots of "practice writing" to generate good ideas for once that year was up (if you want to know what I mean by practice writing, see here).

Well, you can probably guess what happened. I collected a handful of rejection slips for my stories (I still have them in my file cabinet). I filled several notebooks with lots of rambling. The year ended. And another, and another. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that twelve years passed and I did not complete a single short story.

I have lots of good reasons for this, of course. I was a bit surprised when I started my first job out of college and discovered to my dismay that I liked it. It was supposed to be just the soulless day job, taken to support my brilliant fiction! It wasn't supposed to turn into something I liked, or something that would slowly expand to take up more and more of my free time. 40-hour weeks turned into 50, then 60, then 70. One pay period I logged 93 hours of overtime. That is 93 hours on top of the normal 80-hour, two-week long pay period. You do the math on that. Ah, yes, the days when I was paid for my overtime...

I didn't exactly do nothing during all this time. Like I said, I got a few rejection slips. I made several false starts, both for short stories and for an epic novel I had in mind. These didn't go very far. One story was published, in a small literary magazine called Oyez Review. It was actually a bit of a surprise - they apparently neglected to inform me that they had accepted the story. I had completely forgotten about submitting it, and one day I opened my mail to find two contributor copies of a magazine I didn't recognize...with my story in it. Full of typos that I didn't create, I might add. I was a little annoyed by the whole thing, but still happy to have published.

Anyway, somewhere in there I met Laura, moved a few times, and changed jobs. I tried to get back into fiction writing a few times, but I think the biggest barrier was my own inability to accept my tastes. I wanted to write "literary" fiction because that's what was expected back in college, but at the same time, I didn't like most literary fiction that I read. Why would I want to write stories that I wouldn't want to read?

A few months ago I started digging through files on my old Macintosh and ran across some of those false starts and ramblings. Maybe that's what prompted it. Maybe it was all the first novel exuberance over at John Scalzi's site (see here, here, here, and here). I found myself remembering my "promise" when I finished college and wondering what happened to the last twelve years.

So, the whole point of this long, rambling story...I took one of those old ideas that never went anywhere, started over from a completely different direction, and actually finished a story. I rewrote it a week later, then wrote a third draft with a few minor tweaks. Last night I submitted it to a science fiction magazine. I should note that when I submitted stories twelve years ago, this e-mail submission thing was unheard of.

It will probably be rejected. I fully expect it to be rejected, not because I think it is awful, but because the odds are against me. But you know, I always liked writing fiction. I think I've missed it over these years without really realizing just how much.

We'll see what happens. I'm doing my best to stop thinking about it and start working on a new story, but I have to admit I'm not doing terribly well at that.

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