The story requires build up, narrative arc, rising tension. A hero’s journey. All that crap. Start with a character we’ll call Bob.
Even as a child, Bob wasted a shitload of time. Picture a large, lumpy, slow kid. An excessive number of years pass until he even learns how to read, but eventually he discovers the escape offered by stories. He buries his nose in books, to the detriment of more useful skills like math. Spelling mystifies him. Maybe he’s autistic or dyslexic, but those terms haven’t been invented yet. Let’s call him unprecocious. Still, he enjoys writing stories because that’s the only thing he does well. Despite all odds, he arrives at college, switching from science to English, because he's slow at math.
After college he gets a job, then something called a “career” (synonym for vast wasteland). He writes a story every couple of years. In the days of manual typewriters, another draft means hours of frustration and yards of correction tape. Submitting requires photocopying and going someplace called a Post Office. Mostly he doesn’t write. Getting started is hard.
Flash forward to the miracles of word processing, spellcheck, the World Wide Web all shiny and new. In 1999, Salon magazine, one of the hot new web publications, runs a contest for “Technology Epigrams for the Internet Age.” Middle-aged Bob submits a jokey one liner:
A fool and his money are soon automated.
He wins the contest. Publication, sweet as Mad Dog 20/20 on the tongue of a latent alcoholic. Addictive. Transformative.
The need for more compels Middle-aged Bob to get up early and fill blank pages, revising the inevitable drivel. He prints out (word processing!) the results and sends off stories. Checks the mail every day for those stamped self-addressed envelopes, hoping for scrawled notes of encouragement on form rejections, saving those. Finally, a story accepted for publication, something started twenty years prior. Then another online in Carve (electronic subs!). He joins a writing group, grinds out pages, adopts the author name Robert P. Kaye because of Google.
Eventually the stories come easier. Eventually the work becomes necessary as breathing.
Eventually, writing every day becomes a habit.
He does okay. In spite of a really slow start. In spite of wasting all that time. Now it’s just a race against encroaching senility.
That’s how that happened.
I’ve run an open mic reading at Hugo House in Seattle for almost three years. Works in Progress happens twice a month. We pack the room and cram thirty plus readers into two and a half hours. I exhort aspiring writers to get better by writing their brains out, reading the publications where they want to publish, submitting their work, risking rejection, celebrating any shred of success. Quite a few do so. Quite a few are getting published. Some are twenty years old and have more Pushcart nominations than I do. One just had an article in the New York Times. Yes, I envy them a little when this happens and wish I’d started younger and done the work. Oh well.
Word processing, electronic subs, and thousands of lit mags that didn’t exist in the days before MFA programs exploded making this writer thing so much easier. So if you’re reading this for clues on how to become a Writer, guess what, there is no secret. Stop wasting time wringing your hands. Be relentless. Just sit down and fucking do it.
Get at least eight words published. Rinse and repeat. Even the slow kids can do that.
Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared recently in Hobart, Juked, the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Beecher’s and elsewhere. You can see the whole damned list at www.RobertPKaye.com. His chapbook Typewriter for a Superior Alphabet is published by Alice Blue Press but you can’t buy it anymore because it’s sold out. Bob runs the Works in Progress reading at Hugo House and co-founded the mysterious Seattle Fiction Federation.