There are many big questions in life and one of them is, how do you know you are on the right path?
Sometimes it's easy. Doors fly open, you get the job on the first interview, you hit a home run on the first swing. Right place, right time. So sweet. You hear a lot about flow, what it means when the Universe and your desires line up. No striving, no straining, no uncertainty or doubt. Riding the current right into an ocean of fulfillment. With a white sand beach and drinks under the umbrella.
But even a river has rocks and side pools that trap branches and leaves. A writing career is like that. The first and biggest boulder is doubt about whether you are any good at all. It's not as objective as getting the math formulas right.
My writing life blossomed late. Writing was always a desire, and I did well on school papers, but I never really sat down to do it as a young adult. Too busy figuring out life and then I got busy with raising a family and building a career. I wrote in a journal now and then but instead of a perfect and descriptive stream of consciousness, my output was more working out thoughts and feelings. Not anything you want published. (did I burn those, by the way?)
My first major writing project was writing case study tutorials for a small business program. A little fiction to illustrate a key learning point, like how to prepare a cash flow or marketing plan. When it first came up, I thought as always, I can't do that! But I did. About 10 of them. Was paid, too--$500 each. Not bad for 1992.
That started my business writing output. For three years, I was chief writer and editor for a quarterly small business newspaper. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of words: business advice, resources, interviews, industry news, study results, etc. I published newspaper articles, too, wrote business and strategic plans, proposals, reports, web text--you name it.
For me, business writing was a textbook example of flow. It came easily and I was paid. Plenty of good feedback and opportunities. Now I do freelance business journalism, mainly for the NH Business Review. Yes, even from Georgia. Great gig.
Then I decided to write fiction. For several years I toiled on mystery novels and a young adult book. My forte was historical novels. I had good feedback from readers but an unsupportive spouse (not Dan!). Boy, when you send stuff out to agents and publishers, do you come up hard against that first big rock: is my work any good? You tend to vacillate between, hey not bad and boy do I suck. Then I'd read another poorly written, badly edited novel and realize, I'm better than this and it got published.
The next big rock: fitting your now self-deemed OK work with the right agent or publisher at the right time. Ha. I started doing this just as publishers dumped most of their mid-list, i.e. they decided to focus on blockbusters instead of a nice range of something for everyone. Kind of like how Hollywood is now putting out cartoon action figure movies, sequels or remakes. Check it out. At least 80% falls into those categories.
Trying to get published is like throwing a ball blindfolded through a basket that keeps changing size and moving. And sometimes you don't know if you miss for months. Then that envelope comes. Da da DA! The rejection letter. You rip it open and carefully parse the generic and poorly photocopied text for any tidbit of valid feedback. I've had some good ones, personal correspondence that says, basically, "well-written but not quite right for us at this time." Well-written! Yay! "Your writing is engaging." Engaging! Wow, even better. I like a good engaging novel.
A drop of encouragement. And like blue food coloring in a bowl of water, that encouragement spreads, tinging everything with hope.
I guess I will keep writing.