How Much Harder?

I put the best of what I know about writing craft into the first chapter of A Town Called Solemn. I’d been letting the story percolate for upwards of a year and I had a very clear idea of what the first scenes ought to look like.

As I wrote that chapter, intending to submit it to the LDS Storymakers 2013 Conference first chapter contest, I found that my characters had a mind of their own, and young Hannah Praetor’s family came to vivid life on the page. And the fantastical events that happen to her as she enters her family’s ancestral home, becoming the heir to the power and duty of her family’s legacy, these unfolded in a magical way to me.

I fell in love with the story.

Then I massaged that chapter, got feedback from a lot of readers, smithed it, and put as much craft into it as I could. It is the single best first chapter I have ever written, far and away better than anything else I’ve done.

I submitted it to the First Chapter Contest this year, hoping that my streak of being totally skunked in this contest would end before it hit three.

I admit that I had some pretty high hopes, because I knew it was great and so many people I respect said so too.

I was skunked. Didn’t even place. Again. One judge gave me one point shy of a perfect score. The second judge took seven points off (out of 40). The third took eleven off. And his/her feedback totally contradicted what the first two said. I mean it was nearly opposite.

That was my best work, and it got nothing.

I have put six years of very intense work into learning the craft of writing. I know I’ll never truly master this art form, but I know (or really, thought I knew) that I was getting better, and was even becoming pretty good. I’ve been reading and writing for my entire life, of course, and have been writing stories and books for the better part of two decades.

Outside of my family and faith, stories are my life. I’ve poured so much time and effort and emotional and physical and mental energy into writing. I love it when I’m working and feel totally alive when I’m in the groove.

I’ve submitted, gone to countless workshops and classes, regularly meet with a critique group, read how-to write books, and write as if my life depended on it. I’ve written 5 complete books in 6 years, all while doing a Masters and working at a day job for upwards of 8 hours/day. And I don’t ignore my family when I get home.

I do projects around the house, maintain a rental property, repair our sprinklers, and a few more things here and there.

I don’t let writing completely take over my life, because I want to keep my family and serve in my church and help those around me.

I just wonder how much harder I’m going to have to work to make this happen. Is this a failing effort? Am I wasting nearly 20 hours/week and a fair amount of money and all kinds of energy (emotional, mental, physical) on a dream that won’t ever happen?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I have nothing uplifting to say here, sorry. I don’t know what lesson I’m supposed to learn. I know how to get up after being kicked– that’s been happening all of my life and by the grace of God, I’ve been able to get up every time.

The thing is that nobody in the industry has ever said I was any good.

So maybe I’m not being kicked. Maybe I’m being told to leave off. Because I am working as hard as I can. I don’t think I can work any harder.

I’m flat-out exhausted.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett is the author of Beat, a YA scifi thriller, and its forthcoming sequel, both published by Future House Publishing. A new series, debuting in January 2016 and also published by Future House, kicks off with Lakhoni, a fast-paced rescue adventure in a world reminiscent of Aztec culture, to be released in January 2016. He self-published Beyond the Cabin, a novelization of his childhood in a cult, in December 2014. Both Beat and Beyond the Cabin were Whitney Award nominees, and his story Song of the Wind, received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. In addition to writing, he's spent fifteen years in adult education and is an accomplished public speaker and workshop leader.
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