Literary Baby Steps

When James Joyce was 40 years old he published Ulysses, and nearly ninety years later on this day, June 16th, millions around the world celebrate Bloomsday. Today, at 43, I finally became a published literary writer at Shaking Like a Mountain with a short creative nonfiction piece titled The Clear Monkey.

This delightful image was posted by Shaking Like a Mountain with my piece. I'm borrowing it.

In my defense: 1) I had never submitted a work to a literary journal before this year. 2) I’m not exactly James Joyce.

I was inspired to write this piece a few months ago while taking a creative-writing course taught by published memoir author Sara Taber at The Writer’s Center. I had also just read Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir by the remarkable author Sue William Silverman. (I’m doubly blessed this month; I’ll get to meet Sue shortly as she’s an instructor in the MFA program I’m about to begin.)

Regular readers know I’m having to learn how to share myself in my writing. I certainly did that with this piece. But Sue writes of the importance of a creative nonfiction writer being true to his or her story, so I did my best to follow that advice.

I’m told it also takes bravery to submit your work to a publisher, to risk rejection and disappointment. I’m not sure what that makes me for the first 43 years of my life, but I’ll gladly accept the “bravery” label now.

Are you putting yourself out there, both in your writing and through submissions? What is your story?

31 thoughts on “Literary Baby Steps

  1. Wow, Patrick, what a powerful story this is. I thought is was fictional when I read it via your tweet, and I was impressed. Now that I know it’s creative nonfiction, I’m blown away.

    Yes, writing (every aspect of it – from putting the words on the page to allowing others to read those words) requires bravery. When my knees start knocking, I’m often comforted by a Mark Twain quote: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

    Great job mastering the fear, Patrick. Thanks for sharing this story with the world.


  2. Patrick, this is awesome. And you don’t need to say anything in your own defense. (If you Google it, you’ll find out that many fine writers have been late bloomers. Some even as late as their ’70s. I reckon it’s a badge of honor. :))

    I’m terribly curious to read The Clear Monkey and experience you sharing more of yourself through story. I’m off to do that now.

    ~ Milli


      1. WOW! Patrick, I’m both moved and impressed.

        I became totally lost in the story. Your writing was compelling, but with a light touch that was just right for the “main character.” I had no trouble believing I was seeing the world through the eyes of a seven-year-old. There were many subtle details that supported the narrative voice of a little boy.

        I also loved the way you didn’t state any of the characters’ emotions, instead you let the story suggest them. And I felt all of them, so it worked. I’m still feeling so much from your characters’ POVs as I write this.

        After reading your post about needing more pink, I wasn’t expecting this to be such a masterpiece of pink! Very little that you’ve said on your blog prepared me for how good this was. Good creative writing. You’re way further along than a certain little monkey led me to believe. 😀

        Speaking of which, I was proud of you for stating in your bio at the bottom of the story that you’re a creative writer.

        I agree with Kristin about the two kinds of bravery you’ve exhibited here. Can I say again that I’m proud of you? 🙂

        I liked your post and left a comment on my Facebook page suggesting why my friends should read this.

        Can’t wait for your next published story!

        ~ Milli


        1. Wow. I’m moved by your words. I also wonder if my natural inclination toward modesty on this blog has created low expectations from my readers! 🙂

          You’ve been with me as a virtual muse since this blog’s beginning, I’m glad to share this path with you.


          1. Yep, I think your modesty does do that. But, personally, I’d rather be surprised and blown away by someone who is naturally modest than beaten over the head with constant blather about what a great writer I’m in the presence of. In my experience (and I’ve met hundreds of writers through my work), the ones who brag usually cannot write. (Except that they excel at writing braggery.)

            Glad to be counted as a virtual muse for your creative journey.


  3. First, congrats on getting published! I loved ‘The Clear Monkey’, did we have the same childhood? I, too, spent a lot of time in bars in the early 1970’s wondering where the other kids were… even wrote a piece about it. I am working on my debut historical fiction at the moment, but creative non-fiction is my first love, you reminded me of that. 🙂

    I’ve only been ‘putting myself out there’ through classes and critique groups so far, but you do have to be brave when sharing yourself in your writing, it’s like being naked in a hospital room full of interns, waiting for each one to get their turn at poking and prodding you, just so they can practice poking and prodding.

    Bravery also comes from being willing to chronicle the stories of your life in written form. Everyone has stories, but writing them down means you have to live them over again in order to share with others. Most people are not willing to do that.

    Again, congratulations, Patrick!


    1. I would have loved to have played you in Pong! 🙂

      That hospital analogy is perfect, as I would expect from a writer. Thank you for sharing that.

      Thank you, Kristin, for that encouragement.


      1. And I would have totally beat you! We had one of the first Atari Pong at home games – I loved that Pong! Two big knobs on a console – that was it. It’s been the only video game I could ever play well. I could get the english on the ball just right when I wiggled the knob…My son plays Halo now and when I wax poetic about Pong, and how he wouldn’t be shooting people all over the screen without that history-making game, he rolls his eyes. LOL Ah, the simple days…if only they were simple, eh?

        Keep on submitting your stories, you have great talent with words. I worry about the ‘later in life’ thing, too, sometimes (started focusing on writing in my 40’s) but the words are what people care about, not how long it took you to get them out. 🙂


  4. Congratulations. There are few feelings quite like an acceptance. I was 39 when I discovered I could write poetry and 41 when I had my first piece accepted [although my very first acceptances were creative non-fiction a few years before]. I am many years past that now and retired from teaching last year to focus full-time on writing poetry.

    Like you, sharing myself is not something I do easily or often.

    But, as you are discovering, the rewards of a creative life are something rare and special. Again, congratulations.



    1. Hey Margo, great to hear from you again!

      Thank you for sharing your path. Your poetry is quite beautiful, it’s helpful to hear that you came to it late and have found sharing difficult. And yes, it is really rewarding. Thanks!


  5. My pink highlighter is getting a workout on this one, Patrick! Well done, and many kudos for the bravery part. What a wonderful acknowledgement of your young self to give him a voice in this way. This is such a rich piece of writing that really gets me thinking. Looking forward to reading more of your work.


    1. Thank you, Sue! (Love the pink marker reference!)

      As a sign I still have much to learn, another journal editor rejected it, adding he had loved it and fought for it but the other editors didn’t bite. He said “I loved the experimental point of view.” Had that been a face-to-face conversation, I would have had to look away and say, “Oh, yes, of course, I really wanted to play with convention and shake up the normal POV.” My actual reaction to the email was, “Oh, I guess when you don’t know what you’re doing it comes out as ‘experimental’!”


      1. If you just stumbled onto this approach, that shows you have very good intuition as a writer! You *do* know what you’re doing–you’re just not accessing that knowledge consciously.

        The POV is what gives this piece its power, imo. Telling it from the perspective of your young self allowed me to see beyond my adult interpretation and avoid a snap judgment of the situation.


        1. “The POV is what gives this piece its power, imo. Telling it from the perspective of your young self allowed me to see beyond my adult interpretation and avoid a snap judgment of the situation.”

          My thoughts exactly.


  6. Congrats!

    I have started writing parts of my life story in an effort to remember details I feel I need a connection to in order to write more truth in my fiction. So far, I haven’t chosen to craft them as stories in their own right. But, I keep encountering material that makes me think maybe I should.

    I have to confess that fear of what my father would think is part of what keeps me writing fiction. Bravery really is a part of writing.


    1. I was tempted to pitch this as fiction (see my comment to Jessica above) and also considered only submitting it to print-only sites. But as I begin this dedication to CNF I keep reading how you have to put it out there, knowing whatever you write will cause upset. It’s not easy.

      I admire you exploring your past to improve your fiction.


  7. Congratulations, Patrick! It’s such a great story. You should win some kind of award for “best first sentences of all time.”

    Yes, I’m totally putting myself out there with submitting, writing, etc. I’ve been a little shaken recently with all the rejections, but not so much as to stop writing.

    Many congrats! Can’t wait to see what you do next!


    1. Thanks, Callie! You’re a great writer, just keep keeping on. It’s no surprise a lot of my tweets and Sunday links are about writers pushing forward in the face of repeated rejection, something we all encounter regularly.


  8. Kudos to you, Patrick! You’re obviously a talented writer, so it’s not surprising that you got published shortly after starting to submit.

    I’ve been putting myself out there for awhile now – had some minor successes; working on the majors. I figure I’ll just keep doing it ’til I bite the dust (that’s actually the song I want played at my funeral – “Another One Bites the Dust”).


    1. Wow, thanks, Laurie. I’m new to submitting but not new to writing, so there’s that.

      This will come out sounding very, very wrong, but with that soundtrack I’d love to attend your funeral. (Yup, completely wrong.)


  9. Congratulations Patrick! About starting later in life, I wrote on my blog:

    “We prize child prodigies for their gift and honor young artists or writers for seeing things in a new way, but you can almost hear Rod Stewart singing: “I wish that I knew what I know now. When I was younger.” What if we approached subjects armed with a lifetime of experiences and a deep understanding of the world and human nature? Wouldn’t this give us more tools to be creative?

    I’m only a few years older than you and writing (non-fiction) my first book because I have some ideas that I think will make the world a better place.


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  11. Patrick ~ Congratulations! It’s a huge accomplishment to take such a creative leap. Brave indeed. I love where your writing is heading, and I’m looking forward to reading as you and your writing evolve. As for the putting myself out there: I have done more of that in the past 5 months than in my entire life. But this is the second time in a week that question has come up. Maybe the muses are trying to tell me something…. Thanks for the nudge–and for being brave!


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  13. Congratulations, Patrick! Baby steps are steps that will lead you down the path … that’s what matters! 🙂

    No, I am NOT putting myself out there with my writing … well, not much, anyway. My visual art has way more of myself in it than I will verbally admit … mostly because I want the viewer to have their own personal experience of the work and I find that explaining my perspective often ruins that. But my writing …? I give glimpses of myself, but shielded glimpses. Perhaps that will change over time.


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