August was very good to me. On August 14th, I made my first professional fiction sale, and on the 29th, I followed it up with another short story sale. To say I’m riding kind of high right now would be a pretty massive understatement.
Last night I finished up a new short story. Only time—and other people’s reactions—will tell if I pulled off what I was going for, which led to the following exchange on Facebook:
Me: Nobody but me may ever like this short story, but for better or worse, it’s done.
A friend: But you wrote it… Aren’t you supposed to hate everything you write?
This is a pretty good lampooning of my usual attitude toward my art—what another friend calls my tendency toward “autofloccinaucinihilipilification.” My friends know I’m terrible when it comes to putting down my own work and have given me a fair amount of grief over it, but this comment made me realize I had unconsciously said something positive about my work–I’d acknowledged that I liked it, even if nobody else did. I thought about it and replied, “No, I’m supposed to think everything I write is crap. Very similar, but not the same.”
But that got me to over-thinking and over-analyzing, because, hey, it’s what I do.
I think the thing that has be making me creep closer and closer to success for the last year or so is that everything I write is now consciously rooted in the things I’m passionate about. I hope I’m not making that flash of insight seem banal, because for me it was a watershed. I used to start from a place of, “Wouldn’t it be cool/interesting if . . . ” I think that’s a very typical place to have stories originate from, but maybe my cool-meter isn’t calibrated the same as everyone else’s, because those stories didn’t generally gain any traction when I shopped them around. (There’s other kinds of traction besides sales. There’s personal rejections, getting bumped up to the next editorial round, close calls.) When I finally started getting close calls, it was with stories that rolled around in my obsessions, my insecurities, my favorite themes—by accident at first and by design later.
And for a year now, I pretty much haven’t written any story that I look back on and don’t like.
I still beat up on myself as a writer, but now it’s not for telling crappy stories, but for not having the skill to do justice to the stories I care about. It’s for missing the target.
The downside is it can hurt more, to care about a story and feel like it matters to me, and know I botched it.
The upside is that skill grows. So if all that’s holding me back is that I’m not as skilled as I want to be, well I’ll get there eventually.
All I have to do is write more.