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There are times in a writer’s life – heck, in anyone’s life – when opportunities rise up and slap us in the face, demanding that we take advantage of the situation they offer. This is the story of how I did not take advantage, and should serve as a warning to others of what not to do as a writer. The greatest career-killer I know, the thing that can take a great writer or creator is simple lack of hustle. Call it procrastination, whatever – it will end you before you even begin.
Let this story serve as a warning to all.
Years ago, my wife gave me a book she thought I’d enjoy. The title was Star Trek – Strange New Worlds, a series of new short stories set in the Star Trek universe. I quickly devoured this book, wondering why I hadn’t heard of it before. Then I got to the end, and realized the last chapter wasn’t a story or an epilogue, but a set of contest rules.
This book was an annual contest, and they were putting out another edition!
Twenty stories would be chosen every year for each edition. Unfortunately, the deadline had passed to submit for the second edition, but I knew there would be more – and I’d have almost a year to get ready for the third edition’s contest.
That was all I needed. I knew I had to write, had to win. And almost immediately, I knew what kind of story I had to write.
So I got to work…sort of.
I knew I had a year, and I had so many other things going on at the time, of course – work, marriage, video games, television…the list of things to do was endless, and it always seemed to cut into my writing time.
In short, procrastination.
I bought the second book in the series when it arrived, reading the rules eagerly for the third edition contest, and with a renewed sense of purpose….procrastinated again.
The deadline for the third edition passed. No matter, I knew another contest was coming. Besides, I just wasn’t thrilled with my original idea, but I had better ones that I would work on and develop…eventually.
Days, weeks, months and even years began to pass at a quicker pace. Each year a new edition would arrive, each year I would purchase it, read the increasingly better stories and just know I belonged among those twenty winners every year, if only I had the time to write the story I knew would win. Things just…kept getting in the way.
One day , I had had enough. In my hands was the seventh – yes, the SEVENTH – edition of the book, and I told myself, enough was enough. I knew I had a good idea for a story, after several that just hadn’t panned out. Time to do the work, write the story, enter and WIN.
So I wrote, re-wrote, edited, thought it over, wrote another story when inspiration struck during the process, edited THAT one and finally (swallowing my fear) printed off the final draft, stuck it in an envelope and sent it in.
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As October moved into November and I did not receive my manuscript back with a form letter, I realized I had made it past the first few rounds of reading. My excitement grew as the end of the year approached and nothing continued to arrive in my mailbox from the contest – I knew from online forums this meant my story was moving up toward the final rounds.
According to the forums, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was critical – the twenty winners would be personally called during that week to inform them of the good news. And as Christmas Day passed, I found myself nervous at home, jumping any time the phone rang, excited with the possibility that I might actually have won.
The week passed without a phone call.
Not long after this, the editor released the list of winners in the forum. I scanned the list, knowing I would not see my name (I didn’t), then I realized there was another list below, the list of “honorable mention” stories, the twenty that were very good, but just barely not good enough in the face of other excellent stories. It was there that I found my name.
Suddenly the excitement returned. Honorable Mention in my first attempt! WOW! To me, it was a real thrill. My story had been truly good enough to get close to the prize! I felt elated, proud of my accomplishment and encouraged – if the last story was good enough for the second list, I knew my next one would be a winner.
I was also uplifted by a letter from the editor – a form letter stating that, as an honorable mention, my story could not be returned to me, but congratulations anyway. And at the bottom, the editor had handwritten another note, basically telling me I had come very, very close, and he couldn’t wait to read my next story.
That was all I needed to get started on the next story. I promptly set out to write and did…exactly nothing. Procrastination reared its head again, along with a child or two, other responsibilities, life, etc. Basically, every excuse in the book.
The deadline for the ninth edition came and went. I continued to not write, and the deadline for the tenth edition came and went as well.
It’s OK, I kept telling myself when I would feel guilty over not writing, there’s always another chance next year.
Then I purchased the tenth edition, turned to the back of the book automatically to review the rules…and realized there was no section with the rules for the next year’s contest. I quickly turned to the prologue, and read that the edition I held in my hands would be the final edition and that the contest was over.
Nine of the ten years of the contest, I had had the opportunity to enter, and I had entered once. One time.
The sense of loss was crushing. I had failed in nearly every way. Sure, I had finished in basically second place the one time I had entered, but I also knew my writing had been good enough to be a winner, and I also knew if I had applied myself from the beginning, I probably would have appeared in print at least once.
I wasn’t a writer. I was a failure. And I had no one to blame but myself. Every single excuse was nothing more than that – an excuse.
Did I learn from that experience? Yes, eventually.
You see, in order to truly learn, you have to take those lessons and apply them to your life. You are reading the results of those lessons in this blog, but it still took years and years of more failures before I finally arrived at the simple conclusion that writers have discovered, lived and demonstrated: you have to do the work. Period. You can wish to be a writer all you want, but without the work you’re merely a pretender.
These days, there is no better time to be a writer. The opportunities with online publishing, blogging, Kindle and other means of distributing your work are growing and getting better.
So do the work. Keep writing, keep improving. And when life hands you a golden opportunity, grab it and don’t let go. There’s no guarantee it will be there tomorrow.
The Victorious Writer
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There you have it, dear reader, A tale of unrealized opportunity. Thank you Jason for sharing this story with us.
As a bonus, here’s part one of this story from his June 28th podcast:
Part two from June 29th:
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