Dr. Asimov, Getting Published, and Never Giving Up
Lately, as far as writing goes, I’ve felt like a failure. I want to be a writer, yet I haven’t gotten a single article published. So far out of three stories I’ve sent in to publishers I’ve had two rejected and one trapped in a “maybe” limbo that has been going on for almost a year now. So you can understand why I’m feeling a little down about the whole thing. I guess I don’t have what it takes yet. At my lowest points I start to think I never will.
But then I started reading up on Isaac Asimov.
Isaac Asimov is a literary hero of mine. It all started my freshman year of high school when a venerable old physics teacher inexplicably asked me to speak with me. My school had something called “SSR” which supposedly stood for “Silent Sustained Reading” but actually translated into “Do what you want as long as you don’t make any noise.” For 15 a day everyone was supposed to read a book. As a bookworm I appreciated being able to openly read during school hours (as opposed to my usual practice of hiding a book under my table during the middle of a lecture). I guess my teacher noticed that I read some sci-fi books. Or not. Honestly I don’t know what attracted his attention to me. All I knew was that he wanted to talk to me. He asked me what kind of books I liked to read. Being awkward and afraid of authority I mumbled something respectful and non-committal. He asked if I likes science fiction. When I told him yes, he opened up a rather large drawer under his lab bench. The drawer was filled with worn and somewhat yellowed paperbacks. He grabbed one, handed it to me, and said “Here, you can borrow this. I think you’ll like it.” Out of respect I accepted it, though I was annoyed. I’m one of those types who hates it when others tell me what books to read (even if they’re good books! I don’t know what it is, but if you want me to put off reading a book hand it to me and tell me I just have to read it. I’ll avoid it like a colonoscopy). Still, for some reason, I decided to read it. That book was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, and it opened up new doors for me.
I loved (and still loved) Foundation. I read the next two books in the trilogy and felt hungry for more. I checked out every book written by Asimov that I could find in the school library. I ate it up. I still love finding new Asimov stories I’ve never read before in an old bookstore or Goodwill (which are my usual places to look to buy books, considering my budget). Despite my love of Asimov I still haven’t read even half of what he wrote. That’s because he published an incredible amount of work. Despite my best efforts (read: ten minutes of Googling) I can’t find a definite number for the amount of short stories alone that Asimov wrote. I did find a fairly exhaustive list of his short stories, which you can find here. He published at least one short story a year (with the exception of 1963 and 1971), and typically published at least five or six from 1939 to 1991 (he died in 1992). And that’s just his short fiction. Asimov wrote hundreds of books, both fiction and non-fiction. The man was a master of consistently exceptionally writing.
When I decided that I’d like to become a writer I wanted to be just like him. Still, I knew that Asimov was an exceptional talent. Once he went in to deliver one of his stories by hand, and an editor told him that they had an opening they needed to fill up. He sat down and wrote a short story right there on one of their typewriters in about a half hour. They bought it on the spot. He was incredible.
So naturally I felt like a failure compared to him. None of my stories have been published. I can’t rattle off a (good) piece of fiction in only a half hour. I’m just not talented enough.
But then I picked up a little anthology I found called The Early Asimov. It’s an anthology of some of his early and little known published work, and Asimov writes about what was going on in his life and his writing career at the time. It was there that I discovered that the first three short stories Asimov ever submitted to a publisher where rejected. Two more were rejected later that year, after his first success. This didn’t suddenly stop either; Asimov had works rejected regularly in his early career. There were several points where he says that another rejection might have caused him to give up on writing altogether. He had low points where he felt like he might as well give up on the whole writing thing. He certainly didn’t feel like a genius talent.
And that’s because he wasn’t yet.
We have a bad habit of putting too much emphasis on natural talent when it comes to attributing success. We say that someone succeeds because they were just naturally better at it. My experience is a little different though. I think Isaac Asimov became a stellar writer of sci-fi because he kept writing sci-fi. I think he reached the point where he could bang out a good story in a half hour because he had so much experience banging out stories before that. Every story he wrote (even the rejected ones) taught him a little more about writing. In the end, after writing such a massive volume of work, how could he be anything but great? He worked hard. He kept trying. In the end he became one of the greatest writers of science fiction of all time.
I’m just starting out. I don’t think I’ll ever get close to the success of Isaac Asimov. But I do know that I can write. I can write a little better for every story I actually commit to paper. As long as I keep writing I will get somewhere. So what if my stories have all been rejected so far? So were Asimovs. Someday I’ll make a sale. And then I’ll get rejected some more until I make another one.
3 published, 8 rejected.