Writing as a Maze

A number of people have compared a writing career to being a marathon runner. I’m not a runner, so I can’t fully appreciate the comparison.

This has been a disappointing week on the writing front. Jen has been traveling for business all week. My plan had been to write after work, which is a time I normally reserve for spending with her. But I didn’t write in the evenings as much as I’d hoped.

And I didn’t use my mornings as productively as I’d planned either. I don’t think I’m in a writing rut. But I do think my focus has been in the wrong place. And because I’ve lost focus on why I write and what kind of writing I want to do, I haven’t gotten much done.

Throughout this summer and fall, I entered a number of contests and submitted to journals. That’s definitely something I should do. But I don’t think I’ve been as thoughtful about my submissions as I should be. And, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure some of the pieces I submitted were ready to be shared. But I rushed them into the world.

I think I got caught up in a feeling of running out of time. I had hoped I’d be a more accomplished and successful writer by this point in my life. But what is my measuring stick for success?

I have two short stories that were published in anthologies. I’ve held the printed books in my hands and looked at my name in the table of contents. A third story was published online in another anthology.

Granted, none of those publications paid much. And having a short story published doesn’t get the same respect that publishing a novel does. I am a published author. No matter how small the readership for those materials is, my name is out there in the world as a writer. That’s something many people never accomplish.

Back in July, I submitted a historical lesbian romance to a couple of contests and to a small press. The contests have kindly said, “thanks, but no thanks.” The publisher acknowledged receiving my submission and gave me a timeframe when I might hear back. That time has passed, which typically means they’re not interested in the book.

And I’ve been in a funk about it. But this morning, I realized I’ve forgotten who I’m writing for. And what my objectives are as a writer.

First and foremost, I’m writing for myself. I write because I enjoy it. I write because that’s how I figure out what I think and feel about any given subject. I write because whenever I try to stop writing, I fall off the wagon. (Yes, it really is an addiction.)

I also find that my tastes and interests as a writer are changing. Almost twenty years ago, I enrolled in a mystery-writing certificate program because I wanted to be the next Katherine V. Forrest. (For those who don’t know, she’s perhaps one of the most successful and influential lesbian mystery writers around. Yes, I was an arrogant little twerp in my mid-twenties. Who isn’t?)

As recently as 2014-15 when I was a student in the GCLS Writing Academy, I thought my writing focus would be lesbian romances. The manuscript I worked on in that class is the one I submitted to the publisher.

Right now, a lot of the stories I’ve been writing are fantasy or paranormal. Probably because I’ve found a number of really exciting fantasy/sci-fi writers who are wowing me with their books and stories. I’ve often thought that writing a fantasy trilogy could be the most amazing accomplishment.

And I’d still love to do that, but I’m not sure I’m a good enough writer to manage a trilogy. Certainly, I don’t think my skills are ready for that right now. And they might never be good enough.

But will I really be a failure as a writer if I never write or publish a novel? Alice Munro is probably one of the best literary writers around. She has never published a novel. She built her entire career on short stories.

Most writers never achieve fame or glory with their words. Even fewer obtain wealth as a writer. Striving for those things will leave me feeling like a failure.

Why am I writing? Who am I writing for? These are questions I need to sit with in the coming days. My path is twisting and winding, and I need to trust that I’ll get where I need to go.

(Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash)

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