My First Time
This month’s article at Flash Fiction Chronicles is about my first time being published. I’ve re-posted it here:
Everyone remembers their first time. Maybe you’re young and naive, like I was. Maybe you’ve been working up to it so long that you already feel like a pro. But when the moment arrives, it’s always the same: the excitement, the nervous butterflies, the need to share the news immediately with a trusted friend. For this column I thought I’d tell you about my first time–my first time being published, that is.
I don’t know when (if ever) I would have started sending work out on my own, but luckily my first writing teacher was adamant that we all engage with the world outside the workshop. At the end of my first writing class in my junior year of college, I was required to print out a manuscript, compose a cover letter, research a market and (gulp) send the whole bundle off to a real life magazine to be judged by the cold, cruel world.
I spent a lot of time deciding on a market for that first story. I didn’t know my way around the literary landscape at all, so there was no name recognition involved. Eventually, I flipped to the section marked “Special Interest.” Since my story dealt with illness, I was excited to find many magazines dedicated to that topic. I settled on a magazine called Kaleidoscope because it was from Ohio and so was I.
Since the instructor all but promised us we’d each be getting a rejection letter in our little white envelope in four to six months, I didn’t even entertain the possibility that Kaleidoscope would take my piece. But it didn’t matter; I was hooked. I spent long afternoons in the library reading through The Writer’s Market, making copies of my manuscripts and my disastrously generic cover letter. I spent my drinking money on postage.
Slowly but surely, the rejections started rolling in. You know them immediately: addressed in your own handwriting, no return address. I always opened them anyway, looking for any scrawl of pen on paper, evidence that someone took an extra second to reject me.
I could have gone on like this for a long time, forever maybe. But I didn’t have to. The big envelope came two weeks after Christmas. It was from Kaleidoscope and they wanted my story. They were even willing to pay me for it ($75, which went right into more envelopes, copies and postage, after a round of drinks for my my roommates). I’ve celebrated every acceptance since then, but there’s still something magical about that first one. You never forget it.
I also won’t forget how it felt when the journal finally came, and I got to see my words in print for the first time. It was a bit of a wait. Despite having sent the story out in May of 2002, and having it accepted in January of 2003, the issue containing my story didn’t come out until July 2005. It was a long wait, but it was worth it.
Now that I’m someone else’s writing teacher, I have adopted the same requirement. It’s a good skill to learn, I tell my students, and no one will offer teach you once you’ve left. Sometimes I have to talk a reluctant student into it, but I don’t back down. I’ve even had a few students excitedly email me about their acceptances. They feel almost as good as my own.