Several years ago, when I was in middle school, I wrote a story for a short story contest sponsored by Seventeen Magazine. I don’t remember what the story was about, but I remember typing it on a typewriter (a typewriter that is probably still in my parents’ basement) and it was a little messy. I wasn’t sure how to double-space or how to put page numbers, things that come naturally to me now.
I didn’t win. In hindsight I am not surprised I didn’t win; it was a first attempt at a story, and it was also not my most polished piece. I probably should’ve asked my mother to type it, for she is a secretary and would know how to space the lines and make it look, well, cleaner. But I was proud of my accomplishment. I dared to dream, and I gave it a shot.
It would take me over a decade to dare again to submit my writing to any national contests such as the ones of the likes of Seventeen. (I wonder if that contest is still around.) In actuality, it would take me a while to come back to my creative writing roots. Like I have mentioned before on this blog, creative writing is partly responsible for my becoming an English major. Writing was essential to who I was, and I don’t mean this in an esoteric, metaphysical sense; I wrote because I felt like expressing myself in writing, and for me it was natural to do so. Later on, as I struggled through my awkward teenage years, writing (especially in the shape of journal writing) turned into a lifesaver. I would turn to writing when I didn’t understand the world around me…or worse, when I hated the world around me. I then moved on to college, submerged myself in writing for my classes, and moved away from writing stories, poetry, and essays. I did poetry slams and readings as an undergrad, and submitted my writing to some campus journals, but I slowly moved away from creative writing. Once I started graduate school I was writing academic papers, exclusively.
It wasn’t until I took a fiction workshop during my last year of PhD coursework that I decided to pursue creative writing again. I registered for the class because I had the space in my schedule and because it was my last year; if it didn’t happen that year, who knows when I would muster up the courage and time to do a fiction workshop? Throughout the semester we created three stories, and all three stories needed to have one character in common. It was a challenge, but I was excited about being able to dedicate time to working on my creative writing skills. Out of that workshop I ended up with three solid short stories. One I submitted to a local literary journal in the area that rejected me. (Their loss. Of course.) I would not revisit those stories until now, even though they have always been in the back of my mind.
I put a lot of time into my stories. I crafted them carefully. I had revised them with the feedback from my fellow short story writers. The stories were a connection to a time where I didn’t think in terms of methodologies or proposals or thesis statements (concepts that float around my head now on a regular basis) but in terms of “where is this going? Do you like the main character? What do you think makes him so superficial? What can I do to tweak it?” I wanted to publish them.
So, instead of focusing on submitting articles for publication, like I probably should be doing (isn’t that what good little grad students do?) I went ahead and reworked this story. I submitted my story to the contest on Monday afternoon. It’s a big contest, and I probably should’ve started with a smaller contest. But hey, sometimes you just have to go big or go home. And even though I would like to publish my academic writing too, there’s something organic and natural about writing fiction.
As I finish this blog entry, I think about the first line from the first essay in Joan Didion’s The White Album: “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” I need to tell these stories and share these stories in order to live. I look forward to sharing them with the world and hear what readers think.