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  • Writer's pictureElaine Marie Carnegie

Up One Side of the Hill and Down the Other

Updated: Jan 18

by P.A. O’Neil

Please welcome P. A. O'Neil to the Writer's Journey Blog this week, sharing her article on her Writing Journey! I want to wish you congratulations on your success!

Up One Side of the Hill and Down the Other

by P.A. O’Neil

Recently I told a writing friend, I was thinking about writing an essay about success. While still gathering my thoughts, I was asked to do this piece for Elaine Marie’s blog. I decided I could do both with my comparison of a writer’s journey toward submission acceptance, monetary compensation, peer recognition, and reader devotees, all leading up to that coveted Booker Award, Hallmark movie, or recommendation by Oprah. (In other words, up that mountain of success.)

Success means different things to many people. I have always wanted people to read my stories and say they enjoyed them and wanted more, which only added to my delight. Much of my work has been submitted to non-paying markets (anthologies and online journals) to get my stories before a broad audience.

Now, for others, this might not be enough. They have chosen to submit their work to paying markets only or gone the route of seeking monetary reward by publishing their own books or working with an agent to get their work before the eyes of large trade publications.

The measure of success is as vast as there are writers for each genre. The writer who sits down for the first time to complete a story and expects their work will make them rich is either a fool or a dreamer. Yes, there are one-in-a-million authors like JK Rowling or Margaret Mitchell who went on to see great fame from their first effort, but it is a rare case and if you investigate you will find they paid a high price or struggle with their non-writing life to get there.

That doesn’t mean the next big story isn’t in the process of being written. It just means there are more writers like me, people who just want someone to read their stories. Once you have achieved this goal to your satisfaction, then there is no reason not to move up to the next rung on that ladder of success, or at least push the goal post farther out once you have found something on the line of success.

I’m not being immodest to say I have had, what I consider, a great deal of success in my seven years as a professional writer. But the direction hasn’t always been up, up, and up. It's been more like up and up, then down on a fast slide, before finding my way up again. I think my first hurdle was deciding to become a professional writer. Face it, we all have been there (even Rowling and Mitchell). It took me almost sixty years to make that decision. I had to learn the tricks of the trade, the biggest was the discovery that my stories were not as perfect as believed and needed to be edited. I was rewarded for this decision in two ways. First, my now-edited stories started being accepted, and second, I discovered my common mistakes and worked not to make them again.

After the publication of many of my stories, I won a publishing contract. I had a few stories already written, but the book needed several more to make the suggested word count. That’s when life pushed me down that hill with my suffering a mini-stroke. I didn’t feel all that bad physically and continued with my day job, but when it came to writing it actually hurt. A friend reminded me that just like any other accident, I needed to let the injury heal. I took three months off from writing and when I started again it was with a vengeance. I missed the publication date for the Christmas market, but when the new year started, I was promised Witness Testimony and Other Tales would soon be available for purchase.

When a writer starts out, they seldom realize that once the work is in the hands of the publisher, everything is on their timetable, not yours. There I was, preparing for the release of my collection and writing new stories for future submission, when life pushed me down that hill again with a diagnosis of breast cancer with surgery following within six weeks. Jumping up and down promoting my book seemed like a chore, but somehow, I accomplished the task and kept on task until Witness Testimony and Other Tales became one of the best-selling books from Clarendon House Publications.

Here I am, moving up that mountain of success when the managing editor of Saddlebag Dispatches Magazine asked if I wanted to write an article about the 100th anniversary of the Ellensburg Rodeo. Ellensburg is about a two-hour drive from my house, so my husband and I spent the weekend there touring the rodeo’s museum and speaking with their historian. My article was published in the magazine's Summer 2022 issue. Nonfiction is not my specialty, or so I thought.

With a new connection to this magazine, I entered their flash fiction writing contest with a true story about my grandfather when he was a child in Arizona at the turn of the 20th century. I sent in my story and like all my other submissions, moved on to something else. Boy, was I surprised to learn I had made the finalists list. I have to admit, my satisfaction level had been met with, “The Great Burro Revolt,” being appreciated enough to be considered good enough to be placed alongside the work of writers I appreciate. When it was announced that I had won the 2023 Mustang Flash Fiction Award, well, it knocked me speechless. That high was supported by the receipt of a trophy and prize money. (Oh, my, that goal post was so close.)

This was closely followed by the announcement by the Will Rogers Medallion Award committee considering my article about the Ellensburg Rodeo as a finalist in their Nonfiction Division. (Well, now my head was spinning.) The results will be announced in October 2023, but I’m not holding my breath that long.

In the meantime, Witness Testimony and Other Tales, has been released with a new cover and price. I find that the promotion of the book is similar to starting over again. I was featured on the cover of the Inner Circle Writers’ Magazine this month which has allowed me to speak of not only my present book but the upcoming collection of original Sherlock Holmes stories which is presently with the publisher.

Things are presently riding high on the top of that “writer’s mountain” (quick, someone find me a piece of wood). No one can predict when the drop down the other side of the mountain will come. The best anyone can hope for is that we slide down instead of tumble, and as long as you learn from your experience, the distance to the bottom of the valley will hopefully be short.

Bio: P.A. O’Neil has been writing professionally for seven years. Her stories have been featured in over forty anthologies, as well as on-line journals and magazines from several continents. She is twice winner of “Story of the Month” on the website. She and her husband reside in Thurston County, Washington. She is a member of The Sound of the Baskervilles, the John H. Watson Society, and the Association of Christian Writers. She was the winner of the 2023 Mustang Flash Fiction Award with her story, “The Great Burro Revolt.” Her non-fiction article, “Northwest Passage,” about the Ellensburg, Washington Rodeo from the Summer 2022 issue of Saddlebag Dispatches is currently a finalist for the 2023 Will Rogers Medallion Award. Her book, Witness Testimony and Other Tales, is available in paperback and eBook, from Amazon. For links to other books which feature her stories visit her Amazon author page: P.A. O’Neil.

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