Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Writing: Hard Out There for a Wordsmith

According to Duotrope’s submission tracker, I should give myself a pat on the back. My acceptance ratio, 4.55 % this year, is “higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets.”
Still, lately, it feels as if I’m treading water.
I put part of the blame at the feet of the new school year. A combination of news (new schedule, new students, new personal goals, new classes, new state mandates) has made it difficult to get on top of the wave this fall. Writing has taken a backseat to the day job. However, I think I started slowing down in late July, as soon as I hit “save” on the finished first draft of my big W.I.P.

Since that day, I’ve finished one SF flash, gotten to the halfway point on two longer short stories, punched out some blog posts, and revised about 100 pages of the 320-page W.I.P. I’m not overly impressed with that, in spite of Duotrope’s kudos. I don’t feel a lot of forward motion.
Part of it, is likely the fact I’m going back over the W.I.P. at revision speed. But much of it is a matter of proportion, the amount of my total time now dedicated to the writing life. Sleep is still sucking up 30 percent. Work, during the school year at least, probably takes another 40. That leaves a good 30 percent to divide among family, friends, fitness, and writing. I’m still looking for the magic ratio that keeps my wife happy, my friendships healthy, me sane, and the words appearing on the page. I just know that, right now, the writing is suffering, and I’m not happy about it.
I worked as a newspaper reporter/editor for more than a decade, so I’ve already had the experience of paying my bills with my writing chops. I’d like to have that experience again, but I’m nowhere close to doing it with my fiction. On the other hand, I have purchased my morning coffee these last few weeks with money I made with my imagination. That’s a good feeling.
I have four short stories out there in “pending response” land and one under contract. (I’ll tell you more about that one later. See the blog post on talking about things lest they not come true.) I’m in an MFA program. I’m revising a novel.  I banged out a screenplay based on one of my short stories. Is that a good showing, considering I put my focus on fiction less than 18 months ago? (Yesterday, by the way, was the first anniversary of this blog. My thanks for the 3,242 hits since then.)
I’ll be turning 40 in (gasp) 20 days. Along with the usual birthday resolutions (eat better, exercise more, etc.), I going to try to put my word work higher up on the to-do list, push it, if not to the forefront, at least closer to it. I owe it to myself and to the 75 new creative writing and journalism students who showed up in my classroom last month. If I’m going to put them on the path, I need to show them that I can walk it, too. I’ll also see if I can’t do something about raising that acceptance ratio.
But, first I’m going to take a deep breath and consider a few clichés: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Better late, than never. It’s a long row to hoe. For everything, there is a season.
If there were only more hours in the day …


  1. You, my friend, will never be happy with your output. But this, I think, is what will make you successful. You keep striving, even if Duotrope tells you that you're doing "good enough." Your ability to drive forward when faced with responsibility and limited time is inspiring. Keep fighting the good fight, brother.

  2. What Jason said. Why do you think when I get stuck I ask you for help? It's because you are that good, and soon, all your ducks will line up and there will be a great big pot at the end of the rainbow. Or a chicken in every pot. Or something like that.

  3. I think it's part of the writer's curse to never be satisfied. It's amazing that you're submitting, teaching, writing, and still find time for family and friends. Take the kudos from Duotrope and use that energy to keep pushing. By the way, I can't wait to read your completed WIP.

  4. I much appreciate the kind thoughts and words; the respect and regard are mutual. (Still gonna try to do better, though. So there.)