Be warned, a smug statement follows: I’m a published writer.
But now that I’ve wiped the smug off my face . . . when you’ve spent a significant portion of your life writing with the hope (no matter how much or in what way a writer denies it, publication is a goal) of publication, it means a lot to say you’ve published. And I want to think it’s significant to publish, though anyone with access to the Internet can publish and publish for free — a wonderful thing in a democratic society.
I’ve recently published freelance journalism, and I spent nine years at a daily newspaper where I published at least once a week, but the most meaningful publications so far have been the two short stories I’ve published online at Pindeldyboz. (You can read those stories; I’ve posted them here under the heading Short Stories.) A recent post at Lisa Romeo’s writing blog about publication in the New York Times, and the process a 4,000-word piece went through to become an 1,100-word piece, had me thinking about my own longing to see my fiction published, and the process it took to get the stories published.
I didn’t start writing fiction seriously until I was about 20, closer to 21, and it took me almost 15 years to get a story published. The Arc of the Cosmos is a very short story, about four pages in manuscript, and when I finished writing it, I had a sense it would be published.
I first sent it out to Glimmer Train, before sending it to Pindeldyboz. I imagined the story on Glimmer Train‘s slick paper, but they decided not to publish it.
I had seen an ad in the back of Paris Review for Pindeldyboz, and it was the first time I’d ever seen a little literary magazine advertise both a printed version and an online version. I checked the site out, read through some stories, and submitted The Arc of the Cosmos (it wasn’t my first submission; I’d sent a longer metafictional story that was rejected because the editors didn’t like stories within stories).
Some time later, I received an e-mail saying my story had been accepted (I had submitted the story via e-mail too. Oh the wonders of the electronic age!). I was a published fiction writer.
I had tried something different with that story. After I’d finished my second draft (mostly copy editing), I read the story into a tape recorder, and listened to it, and revised as I listened. (I hate the sound of my recorded voice, so it was something a painful experience.) The technique I derived from Susan Power’s essay “The Wise Fool” in The Eleventh Draft.
I think hearing the story read aloud, even if it was me reading it, helped in the revision. Many writers suggest reading your manuscripts aloud, and I don’t quite understand why it seems to work, but it does.
But that was the process my first published short story went through before the rest of the world got a chance to read it. A year later I published my second story The Short, Unknowable Life of Frances Beachcomber, and getting it published was even more satisfying than my first. Of the stories I’ve written, published and unpublished, it’s one of my personal favorites.
I haven’t published a short story in four years, though I’ve submitted them. Successful publication brings hope, and humbles you, once you realize the rest of the world can read what you’ve written and can love it, hate it, or completely ignore it. And rejection still stings. But, I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep writing, because that’s what a writer does.