Tuesday, 31 August 2010

On Not Giving Up

Two or three years ago, I wrote a story for the women’s magazine market that I just couldn’t sell. I thought it was pretty good, but the editors didn’t agree with me. So I stopped trying to sell it. I thought I’d wasted enough time on it.

Then a few months ago, while sorting through some old files, I stumbled across it again. When I reread it, I still thought it was pretty good. So I entered it in a short story competition. The story didn’t win first prize, but it did come second. The prize money was not much less than I would have earned from selling it and because the tax man classes writing competitions as ‘lotteries’ (he has a point!) winnings are therefore tax free. Result!

The lesson, as always in all things relating to writing, is not to give up. It reminded me of something I read recently about the great Raymond Carver. (Like a good many people in the UK, I first came across Carver’s short stories through a creative writing course. I’d never even heard of Carver back then, being English, and I thought I’d misheard the tutor and was expecting to read something noir and pulpy and full of wisecracks.)

If you look at Carver’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll read that he became interested in writing when he moved to California as a married man. That’s not entirely correct. According to Carol Sklenicka’s excellent biography, Carver had been interested in writing since he was a kid. He was always telling stories to his younger brother and when his father bought him a shotgun for his 13th birthday, Carver began writing down his hunting experiences as short stories. All he got was rejection slips. He was told by one editor that people didn’t want to read about hunting trips.

He was told to find something else to write about.

When he was 17, Carver enrolled in a creative writing correspondence course. The first lesson was ‘Essential Elements of a Short Story and How to Develop Them’. It seems he didn’t complete the course. Three years later, hoping it would help him get a better job to support his new family (he was married and a father of two by the time he was 20), Carver enrolled at the Chico State College. In the second year he took an elective course, Creative Writing. The course director was Dr John Gardner. It was in 1960, under Gardner’s tutelage, that Carver wrote what was to become his first published story, ‘Furious Seasons’.

It includes a large section based on his teenage hunting experiences.

Which goes to show that, to misquote Aesop, no act of writing, no matter how small, is ever wasted.