For me, it came after a thirty-eight year writing hiatus, and my deciding, for whatever ridiculous reason, I needed to have a book published. Obviously, age doesn’t always pack common sense in its wrinkled baggage. I quickly gathered enough formatted rejections that I could have conducted an intense study rivaling many universities on the subtle differences utilized by the majority of recognized agents and publishers in telling writers to go away. The commonality was that none of those responses provided a clue as to what I was doing wrong.
So, I figured that since I’d been rejected by the best, and a few of the worst, why not humiliate myself further and ask one of the most notable and respected editors in the business to take a gander at my work. To my total amazement, he agreed. As a courtesy I won’t mention his name so he doesn’t start receiving a flood of similar requests; not that anyone here would do that, of course. I asked him to be frank and blunt. His frankness was a rapier; his bluntness a circus tent stake sledge hammer. His final comment was a suggestion that I write for personal pleasure and never allow anyone to see my writing.
I accepted the gauntlet thrown at my feet as a challenge and opened my eyes and mind to the fact I lacked the education, the knowledge, to climb the literary ladder. I read, and read, and read some more about how to write. But reading doesn’t garner experience. I joined several critique groups, moving on when they became too nice, too complimentary. I finally found one, ERA, that kept its membership small in order to work one on one with each other, and where the members weren’t shy about slicing and dicing, all the while sharing how I could improve my writing. My stories have since won four legitimate awards and I write a nationally distributed column for a news service. However, I’m not content with my writing, and as a result I keep practicing and working to get better at what I love.
For me, the lesson was to step back and accept that learning is a never-ending journey and no matter how good I think I am or can be, there is and will always be another rung in the ladder a fingertip out of reach. Because of that, I view everything I read and write as part of my education, a way to hone my craft.
By the way, that editor and I still stay in contact.