Things I love: getting published, eating takeout, online shopping.
Things I hate: rejections letters, sweating, paying bills.
Everyone connected with my personal social media accounts is probably sick of hearing it, but I’ll share again: my short story “Fixer-Upper” was published last week! This is my third piece of fiction to have made it out of the slush pile and into the open hearts of a kind editor.
It’s the shortest piece I’ve ever written (clocking in at 497 words), but very near and dear to my heart. A year ago, last July, I had just graduated from FSU and another short story of mine was about to be published. In that anticipation, I was running on the writer’s version of a runner’s high. I was an incredible writer who held the world in my hands.
But then August came around, and I started working. I woke up early and developed sleeping problems. I was tired all the time, exhausted from sleepless nights and long hours spent with children, and writing moved to the back-burner. The anthology that featured my second published story (“True Love“) came out and I bought two copies. I tried and failed to stick to a consistent workout routine. My skin rapidly went from clear to acne-prone; to compensate, I bleached my hair until it turned to straw. Months rushed by.
Finally, May appeared and I flew to England for three weeks. My dad let me borrow one of his cameras so I could capture the breathtaking beauty of the British countryside; because I’m a millennial, all of those pictures had to be edited before they were ready to share with the world. The Photoshop Express app became my best friend, and at one point I actually said, “God, I wish I looked as good in real life as I do with a Snapchat filter.”
I started imagining a character, some girl who was also obsessed with editing her pictures. More so than me, as I continued thinking about her. Maybe she’d be fixated on one specific picture.
I sat down to write the story….and nothing decent came out of it. I couldn’t picture the structure of the story or hear the narrator’s voice.
Soon enough, another Word document filled with random sentences and ideas was saved in an obscure folder on my laptop, never to be thought of again.
At the end of June, around 2:00 A.M, I stumbled across a website that provided a market for humorous short stories. I looked through a few of them; after so many months of teaching, I’d stopped reading the contemporary fiction lauded by my creative writing professors. The entire site was filled with a genre I had never considered before.
That short story from May wasn’t working from the girl’s perspective, so I tried putting it in the second person. It felt closer to how I imagined than earlier, but still not there. That’s when I decided to try writing from the perspective of the app itself.
One week later, during the first week of July, I submitted the final draft of my short story to Funny in Five Hundred.
There’s a lot to be said for the contrast between perception and reality. I still remember reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake and thinking, “God, I will never write that well.” It’s just like going on Instagram and scrolling through pictures of girls who are all think and clear-skinned and not at all awkward. There’s nowhere to mention how long it took getting ready that morning, or the 100+ discarded drafts that came before the one that was published.
One of the most important lessons I learned during college happened when my professor showed us an early version of one of her short stories. It was good, but not good enough to avoid rejection. Then she passed around a heavy folders full of papers; all different versions of that same story she worked on for years. Each draft was accompanied by critiques and annotated with changes, some of which showed up in the finalized story that was eventually published by a journal that originally rejected it.
I’m trying to remind myself of that lesson whenever I get stuck now (whether that be with writing or anything else). It is the perfect embodiment of one of my favorite quotes:
Don’t compare your hustle to their highlight reel.