The Ultimate Writing Challenge

About two years ago, I challenged myself to do the following “bucket list” items:

  1. Submit something for publication.
  2. Read something aloud somewhere.
  3. Do some public speaking.
  4. Connect with local writers/authors.
  5. Perfect your pitch.

That top one is the focus of today’s post, because I am embarrassed to say that I took that very literally. I accomplished it two years ago with “Pennybacker,” the first piece I wrote for 1:1000. It was a guest piece, before I became a contributing editor, wrote monthly pieces, and generally let the team adopt me into their shared creative awesomeness. 1:1000, woo!

So, that was the piece I submitted. And I loved working with them, so I submitted another piece, and then another piece, and then I got an email around Christmas asking me if I wanted to join the team, and long story short I did an obnoxious happy dance in the middle of O’Hare and Scott was super proud and happy but also a little annoyed because I was kind of embarrassing him.

Moving on.

Since my original submission, I haven’t done a blessed thing. I haven’t tried to submit anywhere else. 1:1000 is my wheelhouse, but also my crutch. I’ve posted things on my own blog, and I’ve started manuscripts with the intention of pitching. I’ve applied to MFA programs (womp womp), and I’ve drafted a few scenes with the vague notion of somehow developing nebulous characters into short stories or novellas. I guess some of the things I’ve self-published through hi.co might generously count, but I am not generous and thus do not count them.

Last week marked six years with my current employer. I’m happy and grateful to have a stable job that challenges me, a benefits package that covers my (limited) health needs, including vision and dental, a fair and equitable wage, and an unbeatable time off accrual rate. These are all wonderful things that I have earned and kept through dedication and hard work. I am lucky to have them. Not many people have all of them; few may even have one of those things.

Still, I was a touch melancholy because I did not expect to hit six years. I did not expect to hit five years. I wanted to write full-time, but I am not and have not been in a position to do that. Maybe I never will be. I expressed to a couple of people why I felt maudlin, and I was surprised by how much positive encouragement I got to continue pursuing my dream. No gritty, grounded-in-reality conversation: Keep trying. You can do it. What have you been working on? Where have you submitted? Why don’t you submit anything else?

I have always maintained that I am my greatest critic, but maybe I’ve been my greatest obstacle, too. I’ve been weighing myself down in practicality, not allowing for the slightest deviation or expanse into dreamworld. Focus most of your writing effort on your manuscript. Don’t spend much time on side projects. Abandon them if they don’t show promise in the first 500 words.

500 words is nothing. As of this sentence, it is slightly less than the length of this post.

I’ve been working on a Southwestern horror piece for a while. I’ve written, cut, rewritten, cut, revised, and reworked the hell out of that piece. I had an idea and I culled and connected until it was finished, the characters real and heartbreaking, the tension and tone exactly how I’d pictured it. I worked off and on for about two months, taking breaks when I needed to and racing over my laptop keys trying to get all the words down in the right order. I hustled my own damn talent and was really proud of what I wrote.

Then I sat around for a week and was like Hey, what am I going to do with this? I thought about submitting it to a specific writing competition, but the piece needed more words than the requirements allowed. It was just under 5,000 words, and when I attempted to rewrite it to fit the parameters, my heart broke a little. This isn’t the story I want to tell. 

I didn’t want to self-publish on this blog. I didn’t want to self-publish on Medium. I decided that I needed to stop holding myself back. I needed to find my next 1:1000: an unknown, a challenge, an opportunity for growth and feedback. The possibility of finding an additional forum in which I can cultivate my voice appealed to me. After a thorough review of upcoming deadlines and recent issues, one publication stood out. I formatted the piece and submitted it for the competition.

It felt like the first ski run of the year: terrifying and exhilarating, like it took too little time to travel too large a distance.

Maybe I won’t win, or be a finalist, or get published at all. But I made it to the end, and I’ll get back on that lift and do it again. I survived it, and with each run I can practice and get better.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Thanks for reading! What is your ultimate writing challenge?

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3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Writing Challenge

  1. Shaina says:

    I’m in the midst of applying to the graduate program of my dreams and have been lost in anxiety and self-doubt for weeks. This reminder that I can do it—to “hustle my talent”—was the kick in the pants I needed. Thank you.

    All my body parts are crossed for you to hear some good news!

    Liked by 1 person

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