I am a few years into taking writing seriously and I mostly have rejections to show for it. When my family asks me how the writing’s going, I always just blush and reply, “Good.” In the back of my head I am thinking something different. In fact, I wonder if I can even call myself a writer! Just about every place I have submitted to has rejected my work with nothing more than a form letter. It’s hard to say what I am doing wrong, but to put it bluntly, it feels like everything. How can a writer who is both young in age and in experience keep going when it feels like the deck is stacked against him?
Young & Not Having Fun
Dear Young & Not Having Fun,
I started writing sporadically in middle school, right around the same time I began to take running seriously. I’d run, I’d write, and I’d hope I was improving, at least a little, in both realms. After logging enough miles, I began to see a clear correlation between the two activities. First, running helped me develop my work ethic, something that comes in pretty handy when trying to find time to write. Since we were hitting 60+ miles a week, I had to run in the morning in addition to afternoon practices just to hit my mileage. Although I didn’t continue running competitively beyond high school, the chance to see how hard work can pay off did wonders for my writing life.
There were other similarities, too. In particular, how distance running may seem like a solitary sport (like writing!), but the truth is, you’re always part of a team. While competing we were a team of “individuals”, though throughout the most important part—the training—we always suffered together, strengthening the bonds between us. When one person was down, we knew what they were going through because we had all been there ourselves. We knew how to fix one another when we felt broken.
Upon entering college, I left running behind and focused my efforts exclusivity on creative writing. In an attempt to prove myself, I’d submit everywhere, only to get rejected. At which point I’d scream my head off at open mics only to make a fool of myself. Suffice is to say: those were some rough times in my life. Without any sort of team to fall back on, I started to question if I had made the right choice.
Up until that point, writing had always been fun. Bringing in the competitive notion of submitting sprouted so much unneeded stress that I just stopped writing creatively for a few weeks before I realized I was wasting my time by not writing.
With a few things changing in the years following my initial experience as a writer, the most important was putting myself out there. Not always in terms of submitting or reading, but going out into the community and meeting other writers who either went through the same thing, or were going through it at the same time. Knowing that I was not alone in this endeavor to try and make something of my work reminded me of my cross country team. Regardless if you ever had a team, there is a community of writers out there who want to help you. Luckily, in the Chippewa Valley, we are full of them, and not to mention, experienced writers willing to give craft talks or workshops because they were once in your shoes.
Young & Not Having Fun, I hope we cross paths someday so we can go through this together. For now, just know that you are not alone. If running taught me anything, it’s that life should be measured in miles rather than sprints. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the scenery, and remember: we’re only young once. We should not waste it worrying.