I got the news today.  My story, “PFTETD”, has earned an Honorable Mention in the 4th Quarter 2010 Writers of the Future Contest.

So, wow.  This leaves me feeling a lot of emotions.  On one hand, of course, I’m happy. 

I consider it this way: this story started as a silly idea I had back in late 2006/early 2007.  I wrote it then, and it was awful (though I didn’t know it then).  The story then sat in my hard drive, untouched, for several years.  Shortly after a short productive period where I wrote a small handful of stories and started a couple others through mid-2007, I subsequently entered a fallow period.  I didn’t write anything, and I didn’t submit what I had written.  It’s not that I didn’t want to write.  But those were difficult days, for me*.

And then life happened in a flurry.  I met this wonderful woman.  I got married.  I got accepted into grad school to study my MBA in the evening program at a well-ranked institution.  I found a great new job.  There was a lot going on in 2008 and 2009.  But, as the end of 2009 approached, I was truly feeling… like something was missing, and I knew it was writing.  My Dear Wife encouraged me to may do a little revision on a story I had already written and try to send it out to a publisher. 

So starting around Christmas of 2009, I picked up “PFTETD”, dusted it off, and started revising.  Only revising turned into a full-scale rewrite, as I soon discovered how truly awful my original draft of the story was.  About a quarter of the original wordcount was saved, and the rest was brand-new writing.  I got some feedback from a couple readers, and revised it further, and summer of 2010, I was ready to send it out.  It wasn’t well-received (or rather, it wasn’t accepted), but I knew it was my strongest piece, so I had to find it a home.  So, onward.

Now, I come to the end of that long tale.  And, my take-away is this: after a two-year hiatus… nay, after a two-year drought of writing, I was able to jump back into it and be at the top of my game.  Perhaps this story isn’t great writing, which is where I need to be if I want a career in writing… but it’s unequivocably good writing, and good enough to get an Honorable Mention in the most widely respected and widely participated-in contest in the industry.  My story, out of what I understand to be thousands of submissions, was one of the few to earn this honor.

So, naturally, I’m pleased.  But on the other hand, I’m not overflowing with joy, because I feel other, conflicting emotions.  I have a goal.  I want to be a published author.  I want to make a steady, respectable income from my writing – even if it won’t be my primary income source.  And I want to be a really, really, really good writer.  And, I know that winning this contest can be a significant step toward those goals.  So, naturally, I want to win.

But I didn’t win.  Not this round.  I didn’t quite expect to – this was my first time ever participating in this contest.  But I’m looking forward to the future.  What do I need to do, now?  How can I improve my writing ability?  How can I take the next great leap forward in my skill?  What will it take to win?  What will it take to be great?

I don’t have answers to these questions, yet, except to say the obvious: that I need to write more.  But getting this far… it only fans the flames of my hunger.  Now I know where I stand.  This isn’t just a rejection – polite or otherwise.  It’s a mile-marker, a sign-post, an indicator of my potential.  I’m good, but I’m not there yet.  But, I believe I can get there, because I’m clearly heading in the right direction.

As for “PFTETD”, the question is more complicated.  At 12,100-ish words, it’s too long for pretty much every available outlet left for me to submit to that’s worth submitting it to.  Few publishers are interested in stories that are just slightly too long to be called “short stories” and far, far too short to be called “novels” or even “novelas”.

So, in the short term, I’m going to sit on “PFTETD” – not trunk it, per se, but I’m not going to be actively marketing it.  I won’t publish it on my blog – in part because I think it deserves a wider readership than that, and in part because doing so would make it impossible for me to do any further marketing of it in the future.  I may make it available to another round of beta readers (gamma readers?) to help me polish it just a little further, but as is I’m not sure how much better I can make it, or if further tinkering will actually harm it.  And without a viable market for it, as yet, my writing efforts are likely better spent elsewhere.

What’s next, then?  Well, to start, finishing my MBA.  This is the last semester.  And there is a lot that I need to do between now and the end of my time – for school and for my daytime career.  Unfortunately, this means that I effectively will not have any writing time over the next four to six months.  So, I won’t be re-entering Writers of the Future during the next few quarters.  But I have some pretty good story ideas, and when I walk across that stage, snagged that diploma and have properly taken steps to advance my day-job career, then I should find that my writing time opens up.  And when it does… watch out world, because here I come!

But first, according to my wife: it’s time to celebrate my success!


*I believe I’ve told the story, before, of those “dark days”, probably somewhere on my main blog at Undiscovered Author.  But if not, well… that’s a story for another day, as this post will be long enough without.