Wherein the author discusses his pathway to authordom.
|On Being a Dilettante, and Writing for Money
I greatly admire those who write from passion, who burst with the pressure of stories that must be written, who burn with a desire for self-expression. I greatly admire those who endure hundreds of rejections before making their first sale. I also greatly admire those who write multiple novels, become household names, and make a great deal of money.
So I now confess that I started writing just for fun. Bored one day, and in possession of a typewriter, I banged off a story and sent it to a magazine. Just to see what would happen. It was rejected, of course, and rightly so, for although it might have been clever in parts, it rambled, and contained no central unifying theme. In the editor's words, it “lacked coherence”.
A decade later, after having a number of good comments on things I had written, I thought, “Okay, maybe I can do this” and signed up for a non-fiction course sponsored by Alberta Culture's Film and Literary Arts Branch (This government department is long gone and the material of the course is now readily available online). The course was a series of assignments mentored by then branch director, John Patrick Gillese, and provided excellent training. Fourteen of eighteen assignments sold (the other four I have been submitting off and on for thirty years with no luck!).
For the next ten years or so, I wrote and sold small pieces for small amounts. A free book here, a few bucks there, a couple of free issues somewhere else. Like any writer, I have collected a folder of rejection letters; as the years progressed, the rejections have been fewer, fewer, the checks* bigger, the markets more prestigious.
Off and on, I have tried my hand at short fiction, which served mainly to fatten the rejections folder. I persevered, worked hard to improve my fiction writing, and soon was being rejected by some of the best fiction magazines in North America. A few years ago I took a fiction-writing course, and eventually I made a few small sales and was finalist in a few minor writing contests. Being here at writing.com has refreshed my interest in fiction (and revealed my woeful inadequacy in plotting!)
Writing fiction is hard work, and I greatly admire those who can do it well and make it pay.**
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** An update. When I first started writing fiction in 2008-2009, I have a record of 22 submissions and three acceptances. Two of those were Readers Digest anecdotes that paid $50 each. Of the 18 rejections, three editors were kind enough to send personal notes. I turned to other things but continued to write occasionally. This spring, I began writing and submitting again. I have 11 short fiction pieces on the market (and two poems) with five rejections so far. The rejected pieces are resubmitted elsewhere, perhaps after being reworked.
* For those who are curious: The pay for non-fiction will range from free copies (many smaller magazines, especially "literary" magazines) to free subscriptions (Reader's Digest for anecdotes, Our Canada for short articles), from $5 for short fiction or online articles and paid blog posts to $50 for "end notes" (those little odds and sods at the back of many magazines) to $100 or $200 for short articles, all the way to $1/word or more for full-length features. Some of my online articles have paid as much as $1100, others have paid nothing. As a dilettante and hobby writer, I get more of the small bucks, but have pulled in a few features in national markets. Some of the writing I've seen here is publishable and I encourage you to test your skill in the shark-infested—I mean editor-moderated—waters of paying markets. Duotrope.com is a good place to track down starter markets, and submittable.com makes it easy to track your submissions.