A very long time ago, a lifetime ago it feels some days, I got it into my head that I was going to be a writer. Not merely a writer, I was going to be a writer of short stories and novels. So, I wrote short stories and started novels, most of which were truly awful, unoriginal, or plagued with the kinds of mistakes that all writers seem to make in the early days. I submitted the short stories to various markets. In most cases, I received the dreaded form-letter rejection and I still have all of them tucked away in a folder somewhere. Every once in a while, though, I found myself getting a scrawled note of encouragement from an editor.
In those early days, I didn’t recognize the significance of those scrawled notes. Intellectually, I knew they meant that I was getting somewhere. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it. I felt the rejection, of course. The fragile confidence of youth always recognizes rejection and I wrote less. Then life began to intervene. There were deaths in the family, college, relationships and I wrote less and less and less. Until, finally, I wasn’t writing fiction at all.
It was years before I turned back to writing fiction and I went big. I started with a novel and, by and large, have stuck with it since then. It’s been a hobby, a thing done between the paying gigs, and that seemed okay by me. Then, a funny thing happened. The holidays rolled around. Western society all but ground to a halt and I had some extra time on my hands. I had a lot of extra time on my hands. So, I wrote a few short stories. These were ideas that didn’t have a place in my novels, but persisted in reminding me they existed.
I discovered two things as a result of that little experiment. The first thing I discovered or, perhaps, remembered is the correct word, is that I like writing short stories. It’s fun. It’s also demanding. Writing short fiction forces you to excise all of those extra characters and subplots and interesting tidbits you can squeeze into a novel. The second thing I discovered is that voice is shockingly consistent.
In the process of looking for something else, I found an old short story I had written and submitted in the bygone days of 2003, buried in the depths of my email. I pulled the story out of the email and reformatted it into something readable. Then I read it. It wasn’t a great story. I wouldn’t even call it a good story, though it had the potential to be a not bad story. The interesting part about it, however, was that as I read it, I recognized my own writer’s voice in it. I could imagine writing that story, with very similar language, today. There was something in the cadence, in the word choice, in the particulars of description that I recognized as me.
It was like hearing a decade-old echo from a younger me that I barely remember sometimes. What I do remember about that much younger version of myself isn’t terribly flattering. I wasn’t an awful person, at least, not any more so than all 20-somethings are raging, self-involved psychopaths that substitute hubris for self-confidence. I’ve just reached a point in life where I felt like that person and the person I am now didn’t share anything. Then I read that story and realized that I did share something with my younger self. I shared a voice. I shared a sense of how language can be employed for effect. I could connect the writer I am now to the writer I was then and, by proxy, the person I am now to the person I was then.
It was a strange realization that voice, less polished and precise, perhaps, but still the same in its essentials, was so consistent. I just assumed that my writing had evolved in the same way that I had evolved as a person. The funny thing is that I was right, but not in the way I imagined I was right. The hardest, sharpest edges that made me problematic as a person were worn down by time and experience. The roughest, most flagrant errors that made my writing problematic were corrected by the same thing. It wasn’t evolution I was experiencing, but a process of refinement. The impurities, the flaws, the blemishes were being burned away, slowly, so very slowly, but they were exiting the picture.
The process isn’t over, it’s never really over until you die, but I can see it now. I haven’t become a different person or a different writer. I have become and am still becoming a purer version of both and that’s okay by me.