Sunday, May 08, 2011

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

On May 8th, 1991 I sent out my first story submission to a magazine. Because I don't remember when I started the story, I mark the beginning of my writing career from that date. The story was called Lives and Times and is number 1 of The One-Thousand. It wasn't a very good story, though I don't think it was horrible. It felt, even as I wrote it, like something written in the 1950s, an eccentric scientist tests out his theories on memory on his best friend who's got Alzheimer's with some unpleasant results. I still like the science fiction idea behind it. Our scientist takes the idea of seeing your life flash before your eyes and decides all the brain's neurons must be firing at once during a moment of intense stress. He figures out a way to make it happen without the stressful event.

Besides being my first submission, the story was important to me because it was the longest thing I had ever written to that point and the first longer work I had ever finished. I sent it to Amazing Stories. It had been my dream for years to be published by Amazing Stories, the oldest science fiction mag at that time. I didn't get published by Amazing Stories, even after six more tries. In fact, an assistant editor there used to eviscerate my work. Most rejections are simple form letters. If someone takes the time to tell you how bad your story is, well, that's a fresh new circle of Hell. At least I got those rejections out of the way at the very beginning.

I just became eligible to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and joined a couple of weeks ago. That marks the twenty year trip rather nicely, though I would have been horrified when I started if I had known it would take so long. A lot of people could have done what I've done in eight years or even less. I had life to deal with, like everyone else, but also, I wasn't the hardest worker. The one good example I have to offer from this journey is persistence. Say whatever else you will about me, a whole hell of a lot of people would have quit before that twenty year mark, especially with the many hundreds of rejections I received.

I'd like to think I have an iron will, but anyone who knows me (and I'm one of those people) knows that the strength of my will is equal to that of an over-boiled noodle. The truth is I quit loads of times over those twenty years. And every time I jumped back in a day or a week later. I didn't really have a choice in the matter. This is what I do and I'd do it no matter what. It feels really good that some other people are now able to dig what I'm doing too.

Given what I've said, I guess I don't have any inspirational advice. I'm not going to bother saying follow your dreams or stick with it, because you're already struggling to do the thing you feel you must do. You have been for years. If it's not in you to do a thing, you only have to quit it once. If you really love it, you'll quit it a thousand times.


Church said...

Happy Anniversary!

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Thanks, Church!

Elke said...

That's marvelous! Do you get a card for joining the SFWA? Are you officially a card-carrying pro writer?

You didn't know it would be 20 years to get to this spot, but it must have looked daunting from there and you went for it anyway.

Allow me to give you a little grief for down-playing your work ethic. Who is it who is putting fabulousness into the world every day this month? A lazy person? Does a slacker do that? Sitting on the sofa, for instance, playing let's say stealth action games is important recharging time for anyone. And if you're reading another writer's work, that counts as craft-building time!

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

You're wonderful, as always, Elke. Believe it or not, I have a hell of a lot of trouble playing games and have had for years, because I always think I'm wasting time. It's easier if there are other people involved, because I can then call it a social occasion.

Because of all the build-up I got from my high school teachers, I actually thought success in literature was going to be easy for me. Turns out, they weren't professional fiction writers, so they couldn't really tell me how much hard work would be required or how much rejection there would be.

But enough of the past. Let's look forward, shall we? :) And, okay, I do work harder now than I used to.

Also, there doesn't seem to be a SFWA card. But that's all right.

Elke said...

They have no card? They need a card! Who do we know who's good with graphics? Sure, it's the internet age, blah blah blah, but you join a group, you get a wallet card. Doesn't anything work like it's supposed to anymore?

Now I'm imagining being a high school teacher with you in my class. It seems like that could have been a challenge. I can hear a standard English teacher saying "how do I grade this bit of wildness? It's powerful, it's effective, but if I give it the A, I'm rewarding this behavior."

Matthew Sanborn Smith said...

Oh my, we're moving into role playing territory . . .

Actually I had a teacher who probably asked herself things like that a lot. I remember that she held up my paper on Macbeth and told me academic papers weren't supposed to be entertaining, that my college professors wouldn't take kindly to it (I disagree. I think all writing should be entertaining.). Then she gave me an "A."