I joined Vocal + almost three years ago, intending to blow away the world with my skills. Instead, I realized I had to learn to write. You see, I’ve had story ideas ginned in my head for decades that I thought might get me committed to an insane asylum. I wonder if Edgar Poe or Stephen King were worried about that. I’d watch movies, streaming shows, or read stories and think, Wow! I can do better than that. What were they thinking? The same old plots keep getting recycled. I was openly critical. Then a friend said, “Put your money where your mouth is; prove it.”
Damn it, why did I have to run my mouth?
My first story submitted was Some Joe, a short fiction I had written for an online writing class that my nineteen novice classmates praised. It was published on Vocal. I bragged that I had been published and waited for the multitude of publishing requests to come pouring in. They didn’t, of course. Unbelievable.
With grandiose ideas, I splashed my entry, Booked (a very creative title), into the Little Black Book Challenge sponsored by Moleskin. I started counting the ways I would spend the $20,000 prize. I would show the world what they were missing. The story didn’t even place as a runner-up. My incredible, should-have-won tale lies in the dust heap of millions of other stories over the centuries.
Bitter with disappointment, I whined and put all the blame on the judges and Vocal. How dare they not launch me into the world of great writers where I belonged? The only audience I found was other whiners. We squirmed together in the mud of our failure like flies swarming a dead carcass. In retrospect, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Amazed by the winning entries, I realized I could learn or leave. If I left, I could maintain the grandiose deception I had created in my mind like an alcoholic in denial. If I chose to learn, I would have to become a student and acknowledge my place in the writing world as a novice, apprentice, and perpetual student. These are the lessons I’ve learned, and like any tool, you can pick what works for you or not for your writing toolbox.
Lesson one – Vocal is a platform that provides tools to assist writers in developing a craft, promoting their creations, and connecting with readers and other writers.
– I write and post stories, poetry, and articles that Vocal digitally publishes on a state-of-the-art global platform. They continuously strive to implement new tools to help us as creators. We do not suffer the plethora of rejection letters, harsh criticisms, or ghosting that so many writers receive from traditional publishers. Vocal chooses what’s best for the platform and promotes many stories (and Poetry) across many Communities through Top Stories. We are the writers, and our community and subscribers are our critics. The opportunity is free. To enter monetized and prized challenges, a creator can opt to enter Challenges (Judged contests.) The keyword is optional and a great value at 9.99 a month or 99.99 a year.
Lesson two – Vocal does not owe me anything, not a Challenge Win, a Runner-up, or a Top Story.
– For the Little Black Book Challenge, there were over 18,000 entries. The story had to be well-written, compelling, and meet the prompt criteria. Though my creative idea fit the requirements, my entry exposed my lack of grammar skills, punctuation errors, and weak structure. How many times did I rewrite? Zero. An idea, no matter how creative, is not writing. I had not done the work.
Golf is more forgiving than writing, where all elements of the long game, short game, and putting must come together with an allowance for errors. In writing, there is little to no allowance for error if you want to win a Challenge. It is as it should be. After that, it comes down to the opinion of the judge(s). This is why it is called a Challenge.
Many Top Stories chosen contain errors, demonstrating Vocal’s desire to recognize the creativity of a compelling writer’s idea no matter the skill level. Top Stories are awarded to free or Plus Vocal members at the discretion of Vocal. Once again, Vocal owes me nothing. This isn’t a YMCA’s recreational sport where everyone wins and gets the outcome-based ribbon for participation. I do not want recognition based on this premise. If it were to be, the intent for Top Stories would be greatly diminished.
Lesson three – Writing is hard work.
Learn grammar and punctuation skills, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. When was the last time you clean-sheeted a story and started from scratch? Never? Try it. I dare you. It is hard work but rewarding. Vocals publish all things policy (within guidelines) can create the misunderstanding that what was submitted is good. This is not true and not their mission.
What can Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Stephen King teach me?
F. Scott Fitzgerald. “And so, we beat on, books against the critics, borne back ceaselessly into rewrites.” (He wrote This Side of Paradise three times. The original and two complete rewrites.)
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King
“The only kind of writing is Rewriting.” Ernest Hemingway from A Movable Feast. (His ending to Farewell to Arms was rewritten 49 times.)
The bottom line is if I’m unwilling to do the work, it’s on me, not Vocal or anyone else. Like Hemingway also said, “… writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge, and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.” Ernest Hemingway
Lesson four – There are Whiners (Like I was.) Climbers (Like I want to be.) and Shiners (Those who have done the work and mastered their skills.)
I could whine that life isn’t fair, lament that someone received too many Top Stories, or lambast the judges because my story didn’t win or place. I could whine that FB groups encouraging each other from the novice to the master are cliques. I am offended by this because it is only through the encouragement and mentoring of generous others in these inclusive groups that I have grown.
Whining may garner a moment of attention, but when I wake up the next day, I have not grown as a writer, helped another or myself, climbed a bit higher, or enjoyed a fantastic community of friends worldwide. Instead, I would still be a whiner amongst whiners that suck the life out of creativity and eventually find myself alone. Alone, ignorant, and arrogant was where I started my writing journey, and I will not go back.
I applied these principles to my work and made a breakthrough with recognition through the Ukraine Challenge and runner-up in the Ships of Dreams and Runaway Train Challenges. All three stories were rewritten three times and edited numerous times before the final versions were submitted. As Hemingway alluded, it was work but rewarding. Yet, I have miles to go.
I am grateful Vocal Media has provided me with the tools and the opportunity to climb and, someday, shine among the many thousands on Vocal if I work hard enough through an immense amount of reading, study, writing, and rewriting. It’s a choice, my choice. It’s also your choice: to each his or her own. A big thank you to all my Vocal friends who encourage me and the Masters who push me.
Eventually, I plan to ship a manuscript to a print publisher (for about $9.99) and await the response of rejection or acceptance. Then I will know what Hemingway, Scott, and King truly experienced, like thousands of others, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Even if I fall among the wounded in the abyss of today’s brutal print publishing world, Vocal is my home.
Best wishes to all, and may your pens keep flowing forever as you keep writing.
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