Thursday, June 7, 2012

A couple marks for non-rejection

I am celebrating minor victories now after a line of rejections. First, I found out I won second place in the County Fair for the first chapter of a SF/F novel contest. I am delighted that the Fair has a literary arts category and rather pleased that I have earned a ribbon. Mine was an urban upbringing, and I have never won anything in the Fair before. I'm happy that I received two free tickets to the Fair and I can go listen to a SF/F panel, author interviews, and compete in Extreme Bobbing for Apples. Now that's a full weekend!

The second minor victory is that I heard back from On The Premises, an online literary magazine. My story "Effervescent" has made it to the next round in their latest contest. Of 318 entries, they selected 10 for the final round. This means I will get a detailed critique of my story. It also means that in a week I might find out I won some money and publication--they pay semi-pro and pro rates. So this could be the first piece of writing I've had published in a decade. I am really excited. I quite like the magazine, too. You should go read some of their back issues because they have a great premise. ;-) (

Along the novel front, things are going really well. I have been steeped in restructuring narratives for the last month or so, but it has really been paying off. On my wall in my office I have a six foot long section of poster board with a universal Aristotelian story line pinned with some wool yarn. Along the line I have now locked in the position of several major scenes, represented by post-it notes. It's funny, the first version of my novel was a wild rush of 25K words in one weekend. All the ideas splattered out messy, creative, and vast because it was pure story and character, not scenes. Then the second version was the beginning of writing the particular scenes to tell the story, and that became very much dictated by this happens, then this happens, then this happens next. Now I am really doing some deliberate structuring. Thinking about theme, thinking about how my two narratives will play off one another, evaluating the perspective the scene is told from, and making sure one scene flows to the next raising questions or tensions. Now I kinda feel like I am managing data. Still generating scenes, but also doing a lot of big picture thought work. It's not always visible work but it is work. So much of writing is like that though. And writers need to have significant intrinsic motivation in order to succeed.

Motivation is something I have been thinking about lately. I have received some extrinsic motivation. The pretty red ribbon, a check, bragging rights--these are all extrinsic motivators. I remember way back when I though of being an English teacher I had to take a class on Education Psychology and we learned about motivating students. Turns out the teacher who hands out candy when students do their work often does motivational damage. One day the teacher runs out of candy and the student no longer receives an expected reward and is less motivated to do their homework. Also, what does candy have to do with homework anyway? A student who comes up with her own reasons for doing her homework, ones that don't depend on external factors, will consistently do her work and learn.

I had a really great conversation last week (a week and a half ago?) with my writing group about of all things, faith. I'm an atheist so I automatically grow slightly uncomfortable using that word after years of philosophy class debates where it was the most frustrating aspect of conversations with theists. But life is full of little ironies and I keep coming back to the notion that writing--being alone in a room with a blank paper or screen--is an act that requires a certain amount of faith. I have a quote next to my computer that reads, "Some things you have to believe in order to see." That is writing. It always starts with nothing and an author believes in her ideas, in her abilities, and because she believes, she can work. And when she works she makes something that was not there before. Writers make something from nothing. That's one of the coolest aspects of writing. There was a time when each of the most influential books I love simply did not exist. They never would have existed if the writer hadn't believed that he or she could write.

So the long and short of it is that I am delighted to find some external recognition. I was happy to post to Facebook about my visible successes with my writing. I will gladly pin my Fair ribbon to the wall in my office. These are external rewards and I value them. But far more valuable to me is that ultimately I write for myself. I write because I want to make something from nothing. I want to tell a good story that entertains and maybe sometimes informs, that has reader impact. And I never want to forget that for me, the parts of my writing that aren't visible to others are the most challenging and rewarding. And where the magic happens.