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.

7 comments:

Eryl said...

Well done on your competition placing: 2nd is pretty damn good.

I'm trying to work up the nerve to start sending stories out, and this post has been most encouraging, thanks.

Bettine said...

I only wish that was true!

Bettine said...

To explain: As a friend once said to me years ago it takes as long and as much energy to write a bad novel (or story) as a good one. The result is not because of the effort or the perseverance it is because of the talent! If it's not there no amount of perseverance will produce it. Sorry to disagree!

Paul said...

Thanks, Eryl. I do hope you can pluck up the courage to send your stuff out. I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but the first stories I sent out were to a magazine called Writers’ Forum. They used to have a monthly short story competition (I think they still do but I’m not sure) and if you were a subscriber you could ask for feedback on your story. The good thing about that was you didn’t exactly get a rejection, you got a tick box report sheet on your submission so knew exactly which parts their reader thought were good and which parts needed improving. I found the feedback incredibly helpful as a ‘new’ writer and definitely thought it was worth the year’s subscription. In fact, I remember actually being disappointed when I finally won one month because winners didn’t receive a feedback sheet!

Good luck, Eryl – and go for it!

Paul said...

Bettine, I agree up to a point. Writing is both an art and a craft. If you don't have the artistry (or talent) forget it. But assuming a writer has a modicum of talent the ONLY way to improve their craft is to write, write, write. Thus even a bad novel is a good thing. In fact, it's almost compulsory to write (at least) one bad novel. As you know, I've already written three of 'em! :o)

Bettine said...

You are much too modest! What makes you think your novels were bad just because they weren't published. You remember what Gloria Swanson said " I'm still big. The pictures got small".

Paul said...

I'm too modest and you're too kind, Bettine. Also, wasn't that Gloria Swanson quote from Sunset Boulevard? Wasn't her character in that film just a tad deluded?? :o))