Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What it Takes to Write by Marta Perry

I often meet people who never wrote a thing before starting a novel, something that I find bemusing. How do you go from writing a grocery list to writing a 300 or 400 page manuscript?

I began my career in fiction writing in a very small way, writing 3 or 4-page stories for church school take-home papers. Since I didn’t have anyone to tell me I was doing it the wrong way, I simply analyzed as many published stories as I could find to figure out what made them tick, and then tried to write my own.

The first story I wrote, called, I believe, “Kathy’s Bedtime,” was rejected its first time out. I figured I’d give it another try, so sent it out once more. It came back again, but this time the editor had taken the trouble to scribble at the bottom of the printed rejection slip, “Nice story.” Bless that anonymous editor. That response made me brave enough to try again, and that time it sold, to Story Friends magazine for the magnificent sum of $16. I took my husband out to dinner with the proceeds and told him I was a writer.

I’m telling you this not because I think it’s a remarkable story, but to show that writing careers, especially fiction careers, begin in all sorts of ways, some of them very small. If I had been discouraged by that first rejection slip, or if I had decided that the struggle wasn’t worth it for $16, I wouldn’t have reached the point of having published over 300 short stories and 43 novels.

I’ve known, over the past 30 years, so many very talented writers—some much more talented than I—who couldn’t keep going through the rejections, the slow pay, the no pay, the magazines that fold before your story comes out, the book lines that die inexplicably. If you ask me what the major ingredients are in success as a fiction writer, I’d have to say persistence and desire. Without those, writers don’t succeed, no matter how talented.

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