|Then throw yourself out the window, loser.|
I entered my first competitions in high school. The topic of one was multiculturalism, and being a contrarian, I sent in a story about trying to assert my Canadian identity over an ersatz loyalty to the Ireland and Scotland my ancestors wouldn't have recognized. Unfortunately, the villain of the story was too recognizably one of the teachers--a nun, to boot--and so the publication of this story was greeted with a studied silence by my school, save for the teacher (not the villain) who gleefully informed me that I had annoyed everyone but her.
But even worse--for I was sad that I had annoyed my teachers--I entered a competition with a long short story about Roman Britain and waited and waited and waited and waited for a response until the teacher into whose care I had placed it confessed that she had forgotten to send it. I am not sure a rejection letter would have hurt more, but you never know.
Then I joined the pro-life movement, and that was it for my literary career until university, when I tentatively sent two poems to the most literate college newspaper, and they actually printed one. I was delighted, but then something I sent to a university annual didn't make it in, and I lost heart. No doubt it didn't help that I was suffering from full-blown (if undiagnosed) depression and failing half my courses. Meditating day and night on the dismemberment of unborn babies was not good for my mental health.
I had some vague notion that, having been so good at stories in elementary school, writing as a grown-up was either going to be a cake-walk or completely impossible. My teenage diaries are full of despair on this point. Was I always going to write "rubbish" (which I now know was a very credible beginning), or would I ever attain the heights achieved by Real Writers? Bizarrely, it did not occur to me to apply to the university creative writing program, and clashes with a whiny creative writing teacher ("Now... girrrrrrls!") convinced me that writing could not be taught. I would write nothing but rubbish until by some magic I wrote Hemingway. Goodness, if mental anguish were all it took to be a writer, I would be Hemingway.
Meanwhile I thought I would be discovered by some helpful mentor--this would also happen by magic--and be encouraged and fostered along. This did not happen. Does this ever happen? Yes, I imagine it might--in creative writing programs. One thing I have discovered about mentors, having found some in my thirties, is that they respond with joy to talent. All professors hate marking essays, and so when they find a good essay--a well-written essay--they almost cry with joy. Something similar applies to newspaper editors--possibly particularly Catholic newspaper editors--coping with the slush pile. However, all a professor owes you is a grade, and all the editor owes you--if he takes your unsolicited piece--is the fee. If your professor or editor calls you into his office to tell you that you have talent, but you have to quit with the adverbs, that's supererogatory. That's a gift.
So where should you expect encouragement to come from? Well, if you are lucky, it comes from your friends and family--although don't demand too much from your friends and family as they may inadvertently discourage you instead. Also, you can drive them nuts by asking them for their honest opinion and then seething like a blowtorch after they give it. (I wonder if musicians have this problem. Actually, DO other craftsmen ask their family's opinion on anything? "Hey, Mum, what do you think of this plumbing job?" "Well, I'm glad you used copper piping, but I can see the joins." "What do you MEAN!?") Writers are like cats. Purr, purr, purr, scratch, chomp.
If you are supremely lucky, you marry someone so supportive he has more faith in your writing than you do, and thinks you should do nothing from 9 to 5 but write, and he blames anyone but you when this garners very little income.
However, the best thing you can do is to decide you don't need anyone else's encouragement and just speed ahead. You have to reach into that place in your brain which, despite all evidence to the contrary, remains smugly certain that you are a literary genius. For me this is, naturally, the Inner Child, whose supreme confidence and abject selfishness (wat do yoo meen owter adult i am shokked yoo now yoo owe me a treet) are invaluable in the writing of fiction, for otherwise I wouldn't do it. I would just blog all day. Any encouragement you get from others is jam, and very nice of them indeed.
Naturally a very useful form of encouragement is buying your favourite authors' books, so if you haven't already, be a love and order a copy of Ceremony of Innocence (by ME, don't buy the wrong one by accident) or, if Polish, Anielskie Single. Meanwhile, I will get back to working on the new stuff, so those who have already read C of I will have something else of mine to read. Should any of the magazines to which I am submitting accept any of my stories, I shall certainly tell you.
Update: Regarding Facebook. Occasionally readers invite me to become their Facebook friend. This is flattering, and eventually I get around to replying. I have begun use Facebook to write notes to writers and artists whose work I admire, too. However, it is my policy not to accept anyone as a Facebook friend whom I have not met in person, unless I have corresponded with him or her elsewhere on Facebook, she or he being a friend of friends (e.g. the Polish-American Rabelais, Artur Sebastian Rosman). This puts me in the strange position of being a Facebook friend of a certain Anthony of Warsaw, whom I met this spring, and not his cousin Urszula of Buffalo, who has been reading my blog for years. (Hello!) However, as a handful of readers can attest, I always do my best to meet any readers who drop by Edinburgh.