So I recently got a piece of my fiction accepted into an anthology, namely Athena’s Daughters 2 from Silence in the Library Publishers. Unlike a lot of the other writers in AD2, this is my first fiction publication.
My story, “Breathe,” follows Elena, a precog/telepathic nun in hiding from a mysterious organization behind a series of kidnappings targeted at people with her abilities. This story is the only piece of my non-academic writing that has come under the eyes of another human, so I’d say my submission-to-sold ratio is not too shabby at 100% so far. Not too bad right out the gate, though I know that won’t last.
Not to say I’ve never written or published anything. In my day job I’m a professor, and the name of the game is “publish or perish” in this field. My ability to obtain and now – knock on wood! – keep my job has depended on a steady output of articles and essays, however esoteric the subject and however small the audience. The stakes in academia are thus extremely high, but so is the bar for acceptance of my work into the “right” journals, so the intricate process of research and writing tends to cause me quite a lot of anxiety. I’m no stranger to rejection e-mails.
Reading fiction has always proved a welcome antidote to these career anxieties, and before that, to those other angsts we all experienced when we were young. The thought of actually writing fiction never occurred to me until a few years ago when I attended a writing workshop presented by Michael Stackpole and the late, great Aaron Allston. I showed up because it dealt specifically with the topic of writer’s block, and I found myself with some extra time and some available event tokens. The typical anxiety/writer’s block/paralysis cycle had gotten the better of me that summer, and I had the crazy idea that perhaps a couple of fiction authors who knew a little something about consistently banging out high volume a quality work might be able to help me.
And they did. Indeed, I got all kinds of gems like, “You can’t edit what doesn’t exist.” Sure it’s a writing cliché, but sometimes people say something at just the right time and in just the right way so that it fully sinks in, and you suddenly “get it.” I went back for more of these seminars, ostensibly for further tips that might apply to my academic writing.
But oddly enough, somewhere in the midst of “21 Days to a Novel,” I thought, “Hey, what if I were to write fiction as a way to make writing fun again? As a way to keep writing even when I feel blocked in my work-related projects? No one will ever have to read or judge it. It’ll just be to see if I can do it.” I like challenges. My whole career may, in fact, be the result of doing things just to see if I can.
So I determined that I would do NaNoWriMo that coming November as kind of a writing palate cleanser, if you will. I got the book No Plot, No Problem! by Chris Beaty, founder of NaNo, and applied his methods along with the Stackpole/Allston material to set about coming up with the story. Shockingly to me, I managed to churn out 50,000 words of something resembling a novel with a beginning, middle, and end. There are some chunks in the middle that I’m slowly reworking, but the fact that I was able to do it at all blew me away.
There were moments in that month of churning out word count that were, dare I say, transcendent. I didn’t edit, didn’t censor, didn’t judge what was coming out of my hands onto the screen. I even switched to pen and paper after a while because then I physically couldn’t edit. I just wrote. No petty, pedantic reviewers there to tear me down, no one looking over my shoulder. I just wrote. And it was fun. And there are passages from that so-called novel that I still can’t believe came out of me, or through me, or whatever happened while I sat there. I have to say, I’ve rarely if ever had that experience with my academic writing.
Not sure what that says, but there you go. That’s how I got into fiction writing.
This is the first in a 2-part series of posts. Part 2 is located here.
(This post is modified from a guest piece of mine that appeared on fellow AD2 author Megan O’Russell’s blog .)