CASH GIFTING AND BARBECUE SAUCE: On becoming a “real” writer

A wise friend once told me that I can discover what I want in life by paying attention to what I envy in others. So, when I ordered the Great American Poetry 2005 anthology from Amazon and felt a pang of resentment upon reading what I considered to be an inferior poem, I realized an important truth about myself: I secretly wanted to write and publish. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so jealous of these supposedly paltry poets if I were sharing my own writing with people.

getting paid to writeMy first attempt at becoming a “real writer” was clumsy and misdirected. I responded to a Craigslist ad offering money for SEO (search engine optimization) Internet articles, which needed to conform to strict guidelines (2% keyword enriched, 400 to 600 words long, and 60% original with the keyword in the title). I treated the articles as writing exercises and made each 100% original. I googled statistics and vetted sources. Although I relished my newfound status as a “professional” writer, the novelty of the articles quickly wore off, and churning out 20 pieces on a single keyword became tedious at best. After being assigned the keyword “barbecue sauce,” and then later “cash gifting,” I decided that perhaps I needed to expand my horizons. (The prospect of writing ten articles about a popular condiment and a notorious scam can do that to a person.) 

Joining Writers Forum, the local group of writers in my area, provided just the opportunity I needed. Reading my poetry aloud at the semiannual “read-around” felt rewarding in a way I hadn’t expected. Through the group, I connected with other writers who shared my interests. These affiliations helped to authenticate me in my own eyes, and being around writers who actively publish continually helps me take myself and my craft more seriously.

The natural next step was to begin submitting work. With luck, my earliest efforts in this direction met with success; it would have been easy to get discouraged and possibly give up if they hadn’t. After having poetry published in the Hot Air Quarterly and Trajectory journals, I made the commitment to start this blog and continued submitting. In the meantime, writing newspaper and magazine articles helped me keep stretching myself. I have since been fortunate enough to have pieces published in Blood and Thunder and the Santa Fe Literary Review.

My adventures in publishing have led me to this conclusion: persistence pays off. Sometimes I find a home for a favorite piece right away. Sometimes I wait two years to find the right venue. Sometimes I never do. But the fact that I’m actively submitting and pushing forward keeps me accountable and reminds me that I am a “real writer.”

Of course, I have always been a real writer, but there is something to be said for exposure. It is my belief that art is meant to be shared. If we have a talent, or just something we enjoy, we should be showing it to the world. At least my words are no longer gathering dust in notebooks while I unfairly get mad at other writers who allow their scribblings to see the light of day. It’s not just about what’s good writing or what isn’t, for even the Fitzgeralds and Austens and Dickinsons couldn’t have been published without showing their writing to (or having it discovered by) somebody else.

So for me, maybe it’s more about taking the risk, facing the possibility of rejection, and putting it out there. Sometimes I’ll get lucky, and sometimes I won’t, but that’s okay. I’m just doing my job, that’s all…my job as a writer.

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