I put the best of what I know about writing craft into the first chapter of A Town Called Solemn. I’d been letting the story percolate for upwards of a year and I had a very clear idea of what the first scenes ought to look like.
As I wrote that chapter, intending to submit it to the LDS Storymakers 2013 Conference first chapter contest, I found that my characters had a mind of their own, and young Hannah Praetor’s family came to vivid life on the page. And the fantastical events that happen to her as she enters her family’s ancestral home, becoming the heir to the power and duty of her family’s legacy, these unfolded in a magical way to me.
I fell in love with the story.
Then I massaged that chapter, got feedback from a lot of readers, smithed it, and put as much craft into it as I could. It is the single best first chapter I have ever written, far and away better than anything else I’ve done.
I submitted it to the First Chapter Contest this year, hoping that my streak of being totally skunked in this contest would end before it hit three.
I admit that I had some pretty high hopes, because I knew it was great and so many people I respect said so too.
I was skunked. Didn’t even place. Again. One judge gave me one point shy of a perfect score. The second judge took seven points off (out of 40). The third took eleven off. And his/her feedback totally contradicted what the first two said. I mean it was nearly opposite.
That was my best work, and it got nothing.
I have put six years of very intense work into learning the craft of writing. I know I’ll never truly master this art form, but I know (or really, thought I knew) that I was getting better, and was even becoming pretty good. I’ve been reading and writing for my entire life, of course, and have been writing stories and books for the better part of two decades.
Outside of my family and faith, stories are my life. I’ve poured so much time and effort and emotional and physical and mental energy into writing. I love it when I’m working and feel totally alive when I’m in the groove.
I’ve submitted, gone to countless workshops and classes, regularly meet with a critique group, read how-to write books, and write as if my life depended on it. I’ve written 5 complete books in 6 years, all while doing a Masters and working at a day job for upwards of 8 hours/day. And I don’t ignore my family when I get home.
I do projects around the house, maintain a rental property, repair our sprinklers, and a few more things here and there.
I don’t let writing completely take over my life, because I want to keep my family and serve in my church and help those around me.
I just wonder how much harder I’m going to have to work to make this happen. Is this a failing effort? Am I wasting nearly 20 hours/week and a fair amount of money and all kinds of energy (emotional, mental, physical) on a dream that won’t ever happen?
Honestly, I don’t know.
I have nothing uplifting to say here, sorry. I don’t know what lesson I’m supposed to learn. I know how to get up after being kicked– that’s been happening all of my life and by the grace of God, I’ve been able to get up every time.
The thing is that nobody in the industry has ever said I was any good.
So maybe I’m not being kicked. Maybe I’m being told to leave off. Because I am working as hard as I can. I don’t think I can work any harder.
I’m flat-out exhausted.
Knowing how hard it is to write and to try and to fail, I can’t just sit here and tell you to keeping working at it, but having read your writing, I HOPE you keep working at it. I think you’re a good writer, and l think you have what it takes to be published.
Heidi, thank you. I really appreciate your encouragement.
This post made me so sad. Ammon has been in the spot you are in, and it really hurts.
I think your work is fantastic–much better than a lot of published stuff I’ve read, if that makes you feel any better. Seriously. I’m not just saying that. I guess the only thing I can say is, why do you write? For your own satisfaction, or for praise from others? Now don’t get me wrong–we all love to have our work admired, to be appreciated and to meet our goals. But, deep down, it sounds like writing is part of you, that it makes you who you are. Never give up on that, or you forfeit part of yourself. Write because you love it. The rest will come eventually. And really, people in the industry ARE interested in your work–you just sent “The Cabin” to someone who REQUESTED it. Don’t let one judge in one contest put you down! Listen the one who said it was nearly perfect.
My mom is in Jennifer Nielson’s ward. She wrote “The False Prince”, a New York Times bestseller. She has a whole WALL with rejection letters modge-podged on it.
Sorry, this is a really cheesy pep talk, but seriously. Do what you love because you love it. You WILL be published. And then I will want your autograph. On your best selling book. And the one after that, and the one after that.
So I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t really like my first comment. I know that it is a lot easier to write “keep going”, than actually do it. Please just know that your friends have great confidence in you. Maybe you should ease up on yourself and not work harder, just work for the enjoyment of it. That’s all I meant to say. Sorry for the annoying first comment.
Your first comment is perfectly lovely, as is your second. I really appreciate your friendship and support.
The thing is that I know I won’t give up. I don’t think I know how to give up. Sometimes I wish I did.
Boy, do I feel you, Jared. I would literally undergo brain surgery (as in, skull chopped off and scalpel applied to brain matter) if it could replace my love of writing with, say, a compulsion to organize my house or a jones for computer programming. And if insurance would pay for it.
I don’t know what YOUR take on it is, but when people ask me, “Why do you write–for yourself or for money and praise?” the truthful answer is that I write for myself but I work this hard at it for the hope of money and praise. If I were just doing it for myself, I’d snatch at it whenever I wanted and wander away whenever I got bored or too busy, just like I do with digital scrapbooking. And honestly, I think that’s the case with most people who apply concerted effort, study, and training to their craft. We *do it* because we love it. We *work at it* because we hope to get paid for it someday. And I think you’ll get there.