My Foolish Journey

I am a writer.

I am a fool.

Don’t those two sentences have similar meanings? Putting the pen to blank paper or facing a blank screen is foolish. And then, what if the revised and revised and eventually completed story—flash fiction, short story, novella, screenplay, novel—is launched into ye olde cold, cruel world for readers to read?

Hey, good luck with that goal. Along with excellent writing and a well-told story, luck does indeed factor in the roll of the dice called publication.

I started regularly writing during seminary, a time period that included my divorce and Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Which means, since I’m now an official old white guy, I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours since 1978 in front of a typewriter or computer. I began seminary in 1974, just married and way too young. By the summer of ‘78, with seminary not yet finished, my marriage was finished. How could I cope with my anger, grief, self-loathing, deepening faith, longing for purpose, and fragile hope?

One answer: I took up running, which ended two decades after the first of my knee surgeries.

The other answer: my writing, which has never ended. Oh sure, I enjoyed casting words about before 1978. (Ask me about the novel I never completed in high school!) However, the emotional tornado that led to regular writing evolved into a personal, spiritual, habitual, graceful discipline. Simply, I can’t not write.

Foolish as writing might be, the efforts to get published—actually being paid, having readers enjoying your “stuff,” working with literary agents and editors—escalate the foolishness. All writers get rejected. And rejected. And rejected. Even famous authors are rejected, before and after they became famous.

Last summer (2022) I started writing fiction again. I had not written fiction for over a decade. During the 1990s and into the early years of the new century, I wrote multiple novels. All were rejected. I began to focus my daily writing time to creative nonfiction. I wrote about faith, about hospice. I sold a few print and online articles. I had a modest number of subscribers to the weekly ramblings I posted on my webpage. I self-published a darn good book on hospice care in 2019. It still sells copies. (In March 2023, according to Amazon’s records, five copies were sold. Hooray for me.)

With last summer’s plunge into fiction, I thought my initial efforts would be a short story. Wrong. By the time I’d finished my shitty, no-one-will-ever-see-this first draft, it had taken a different path. Unfortunately for me (but not for what the story demanded), The Pierced Woman took 35,000 or so words to tell. What does that mean? Well, it’s around the same length as Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea or Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. In the realm of literature, their books and my book are known as a novella. The typical novel is 50,000 or more words. Many novels are up to 100,000 words (300-400 pages). Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Demon Copperhead is probably around 150,00 words (500-600 pages). Tolstoy’s War and Peace is over 500,000 words . . . which works out to nearly a zillion pages of print.

But hardly anyone reads novellas, especially by “unknown” fools writers like me. A literary agent and/or publisher can’t make much money from shorter fiction. Therefore, the writer of a novella has as much luck as some fool trying to entice a dedicated group of vegetarians into a swell meal at Burger King.

I am now sending out what are known as query letters to agents. Would they like to represent me? I have entered novella-centric writing contests. Would they like to award me?

Who knows?

On an occasional basis, maybe weekly or (more likely) randomly, I’ll muse about this journey.


Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

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Karen Paulsen
Karen Paulsen
1 year ago

Now Larry, you must have sold more than five books from Amazon because I bought two, myself. One for me and another for First Palo Alto UMC library.

Rita Harrington
Rita Harrington
Reply to  larrypatten_3fmjjm
1 year ago

I bought one. Excellent book.

Carol McCammon
Carol McCammon
1 year ago

Good luck with your dive into the novella genre! Writing is in your DNA!

Marc Palmer
Marc Palmer
4 months ago

Larry, I lost you and found you or is that myself. I always admired your gift with words, crafting and shaping faith, questions humanity, wonder, pain ,- it all. I have two of your books. Best wishes, advent hope. (Rev) Marc Palmer, Kelly, Emily and Lily. Norwich. Uk