Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
Sometimes Iâm a bit envious of those who write for pure enjoyment and self-fulfillment, without any intention of their writing being shared beyond them or perhaps a close group of friends and family. I feel like thereâs a certain purity to their art and a freedom to their craft that I canât experience. Iâve always wanted to write in order to be read; to touch people with the stories that I tell. Iâve yearned to be published for that reason, and will continue to strive to do so even in the face of the darkest aspect of this dream â there is no writing for publication without rejection.
Those of you like me whoâve been knocking at the industryâs door will know the feeling of endless frustration. Of sending out the fruits of your labour only to watch them be discarded at your feet to ferment into doubt and fear. I like to think Iâd grown a pretty thick skin over the years, watching short stories I think are my best work get rejected by dozens of journals. Sure, it gets a little overwhelming thinking about it in its totality, but each individual âno thank youâ doesnât really affect me anymore.
As Iâve recently learned, with exceptions.
Sometime early on during the pandemic, I learned that a local (and I use this term loosely â theyâre located in our province and on the same coast but theyâre still about 750 kilometres away) press was planning to put out a collection of short stories written during the pandemic. This in turn was inspired by the Decameron â a 14th century collection of novellas, which itself was inspired by the Black Death pandemic that had ravaged Europe.
Something about this endeavour really spoke to me â maybe it was because I was struggling with finding the inspiration to write while the heaviness of the early months of the pandemic set in, or because I was sitting on an idea that I thought would be a great fit for the collection. Either way, I set to writing, and even though I tend not to do well writing creatively to a deadline, managed to complete a nearly 5,000 words short story before the June 30th cut-off date.
I was pretty happy with the outcome. The story contained some elements of the type of magic realism or light fantasy that I enjoy writing so much and was a story of a contagious spark of hope in an otherwise bleak world. I had a good feeling about my chances. Mind you, there was no objective reason for having those feelings â I knew it was an uphill battle like any other submission, but something about this one made me feel hopeful. Maybe I just needed something to hold onto during the hard pandemic times, who knows.
To preserve sanity, as pretty much with any submission I make, I largely put it out of my mind until receiving an email towards the end of July saying they were still reading the entries and would have an answer before the end of August. The closeness of potentially hearing a response had made it harder to ignore. Every other day Iâd remind myself that I was that much closer to the end of August. Again, maybe because weâre in the middle of a pandemic with a serious shortage of anything to look forward to. In any case, it was an unusual amount of anticipation that I hadnât experienced since I was rejected by a literary agent after a three-month wait almost a decade ago.
And then, right before heading to bed on a Sunday night, I received the generic email thanking everyone for their patience and that theyâve selected the winning entries for inclusion in the anthology. Normally, I let these things bounce off me. Whenever Iâm most active, sometimes I get three rejections in a single day. If I let them each individually get to me, Iâd be sapped of energy pretty soon.
This one though, this one made me put my phone down, take a few steps to our bedroom window, and look out into the blackness beyond our back porch, letting the light night breeze wash over me.
It was another defeat in a long line of defeats; another stumble going up a staircase that didnât seem to end. I know there was no concrete reason for me to think this would be the one. But couldnât it have been, just this once? This was another cool project that will sail into the future without me, while I continue to spin my wheels and learn.
With a little bit of time to process that emotion â the feeling of deflation I thought I learned to control, I think thereâs nothing wrong with it. I donât have to like hurdles to success, I donât need to be able to laugh off each one. It would be nice, but humans are humans and shouldnât feel bad for feeling bad. Even if you canât immediately dust yourself off, even if you have to nurse those wounds for a while before you continue, itâs okay.
Itâs okay to feel discouraged, as long as you donât slip into giving up. I know I havenât.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.