A couple weeks ago, one of my pitches for a travel story was accepted. I’ve been blogging for a very long time, probably about 13 years, maybe longer, so I am no stranger to a first person narrative, but this felt a little bit different. This was no slap-dash rambling tale of something that happened, this was a STORY, this was something someone might actually pay me for! In some ways it felt like that hypothetical stone that smart asses with at least one college level philosophy course bring up. The one that God creates, and just might be so heavy He cannot lift it.
So, I started off with a draft and realized at about 1200 words that I could write a lot more than the 1000 word limit I was given, especially considering I hadn’t even hit the parts that I had said I was going to write about in the pitch. I took some inspiration from the 2018 Years Best in Travel Writing anthology, which were very much like the blogs I’ve been writing for many years. Incorporate the personal with the spectacular, thread them together and allow the setting to become a character in the story.
I pored over the story, writing out the narrative, filling it full of imagery and character and then ruthlessly killing my darlings, carving it down over 700 words until I hit my word count. Ish. I thought of the Hemingway documentary I had watched the week before, and how he urged writers to just begin by writing one perfect sentence. Then following that one with another perfect sentence. This meticulous attention to detail borders on the obsessive. It is a rock it’s Creator never judges the weight of properly in the beginning. That bitch is heavy.
After a few days of this, I submitted the story. I’m still waiting to hear back. I like what I turned in, but I did have my doubts. Part of writing is familiar to anyone who has been in an unhealthy relationship. You have to anticipate what your editor might want, without actually knowing. I guess the best approach to this is to submit your best writing, and if they don’t like it, you can submit it someplace else. Otherwise, it’s just mindreading (which is impossible) and dumb luck (which is more likley). Hard work, editing, and maybe just a modicum of belief in yourself will payoff if you keep at it. That’s what I’m going with anyway. Otherwise, you have about as much luck selling a story as you do hitting a winning scratch ticket.
My doubts stemmed from the fact that the anthology I was reading was extrapolated from magazines such as Esquire, New York Magazine, the Atlantic, and some others. Had I completely misread the room and put this personal narrative out there when really they might have wanted some kind of list of “Best places to eat dungeoness crab on the Oregon coast”? So, yes, of course there are doubts.
Just as a parent has doubts that first time they let their kid walk to school on their own. The doubts that you get when you set foot on an airplane that is about to fly close to the speed of sound halfway around the world. The doubt you get when you give that person you like your phone number. And with those doubts comes a feeling of exhiliration too. The possibilities that come, all of which are good, which are more likely to come true than any of the negative shit you’ve been cooking up in your head.
That kid will make it to school, and make the trip about a thousand more times. And they will learn to drive, and read train timetables, and take buses in other countries, and be self-reliant when the chips are down. That flight you were nervous about taking will open your eyes to new wonders and experiences that nothing can take away from you. The person you like calls you and you laugh and chat and enjoy each other’s company, gradually filling in the blanks of each other’s Mysteries until you chide yourself for ever being nervous about giving them your number in the first place. You wouldn’t know what to do without them.
And maybe that story gets published and it takes a bunch of readers along with you. Because that is the entire point. Like anything worth doing though, it takes time and work and overcoming some serious doubt.
After all, most Creatives are like this because we’d had our share of damage in life and use our talents to try to make sense of this universal brokeness, this imbalance of emotions and personalities and conflict we find ourselves examining every day. Otherwise, we would do something sane like working with numbers, which never lie. So of course we will have some doubts. We will have to overcome our own self-doubts, fight our own demons, and maybe get to some point where we can have that moment in the sunshine where we feel the warmth on our faces and say “I like this feeling.”
Just a little bit of that is truly addictive.
It’s no wonder we get so fearful of the next chance, which could be a total failure. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s another day with the sun on our face? And like Hemingway’s perfect sentence, we just follow up with another one.