This blog series began when I received a letter from a long-time fan. It spoke deeply to me, and
Denise B. Tanaka: Do I still have what it takes?
I've been trying to reconnect with writing friends after a hiatus from the creative life. I've spent the past year or so taking care of my mom and working to pay the bills. Mom passed away in October.
When your last parent passes away, it changes you in many ways. That foundation you always relied on -- even as an adult -- is gone for good. Whether you're ready or not, you are truly on your own in the world and must somehow carry on without their nurturing presence. One of the most difficult aspects of my mother's final days was the fact that she had so many regrets about life. She once had goals and dreams, but left them behind out of fear and a belief that these dreams were just not possible.
I'm 54 years old. More than half of my life is over. Writing has been a dream/goal of mine since childhood. My mom was the only one who believed in me. I don't want to leave this world regretting the fact that I never pursued this dream to the fullest. To be honest, my writing "career" never took off. I let fear, doubt and the negativity of others keep me from my dreams. I want so much to be brave, to take risks with my creative life. I truly wish for a group of fellow writers who are willing to give me the encouragement and support I need to write with my heart and soul, to grow as a writer and a human being. And I want to be a support for others as well.
How do I get back into the writing life after leaving it on the back burner for so long?
Denise B. Tanaka: Do I still have what it takes?
Once I heard an anecdote about someone tearing down a spider's web every day. The spider would come back to the same spot to recreate the web, and the person tore it down again and again. After a while, the spider rebuilt the web less perfectly, with gaps and irregularities, until finally the spider stopped rebuilding the web altogether.
As a writer, I have put my manuscripts through the meat grinder of critique groups and workshops at conventions. For a long time, I welcomed harsh comments because I believed it was necessary to develop a thick skin. I used to invite lengthy brainstorming sessions and I boldly gutted my manuscripts in rewrites. I endured the pounding because I assumed it would make my writing better.
For years, I was starry-eyed optimistic about getting published. Surely all the anguish of workshops and critique groups would pay off, right? I studied all the advice of how to write sparkling query letters. Before there were email submissions, I was a frequent visitor at the post office. And I stacked up piles of rejections. Small press. Big 5 houses. You name it, I've been rejected by it.
The meritocracy myth consumed me. I wrongly believed that if my writing was “good” that a publisher would snatch it up from the slush pile. I wrongly believed that all these rejection slips meant that my writing was “bad” or that I had no talent, that I did not deserve to be one of the chosen few. Disheartened but not entirely discouraged, I kept writing more and more manuscripts in my original universe. I told myself that if one book didn't sell surely another character's adventure could. I kept workshopping and writing and rewriting in a mad frenzy.
Then came the day when I got suckered by a predatory vanity press. Briefly I felt the euphoria that, at last, someone wanted to publish me! Until I learned there was a price to pay. I fought to rescue my manuscript from their clutches and managed to come out intact. But that unhappy experience wiped the glittery stars from my eyes. I glimpsed how marketing people at the vanity press and at big publishers alike view books as a product, and how they viewed authors as a marketable commodity as well. I started paying attention to marketing/promotion advice. I learned a harsh truth—that I wish I knew years ago—that publishers reject manuscripts for reasons other than the quality of the writing. I viewed an online seminar where a former slush pile reader for Penguin Books talked about her sadness at rejecting beautifully written books solely because the author did not have a social media platform. All the years I spent worrying about my adverbs and passive voice, I should have concentrated on increasing my number of Twitter followers?
Now I am at a crossroads. With a new perspective on today's publishing landscape, I want to salvage the half a dozen novels that are gathering dust on my hard drive. I want to explore self-publishing as a means regain my sense of agency in achieving my lifelong goal of holding a published book in my hands.
My question is whether or not my writing sense has been battered by the years. Did I allow workshops and critique groups to chew my stories to a pulp when they may have been all right to begin with? Did I throw the baby out with the bathwater in my compulsion to rewrite, in the hopes of overcoming a slush reader's rejection? Am I discouraged? Am I jaded? Am I ruined? Is it too late?
Denise B. Tanaka is a lifelong writer of magical beings and fantastic worlds. Her short stories have appeared in SQ Mag, New Realm, Once Upon A World, and her latest story will appear soon in the AlternaTEAS anthology edited by Elizabeth Gilligan. By day, she works as a paralegal in the challenging field of immigration law. In her spare time, she creates historical and fantasy-based costumes. Her live spin transformation Diana Prince-to-Wonder Woman costume won Honorable Mention (Journeyman) in the masquerade at Sasquan the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. Find her at www.drobarge.co/ and on Twitter as @DeniseBTanaka