Writing My Story

Writing My Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Writing My Story

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

~Sylvia Plath

I opened the local newspaper, eagerly searching the pages. Did they publish my tribute to my mother? They did! The article was the first thing I had ever published. I wasn’t paid for the work, since it was featured in a weekly human interest column. Still, it was encouraging to realize someone thought enough of my writing to publish it for public consumption.

Work, family, and a mortgage crowded out any further thoughts of writing. After completing an MBA degree, I enjoyed a twenty-year career as a Human Resources Director for multinational financial services firms. Although I worked on Wall Street in New York City, global responsibilities enabled me to travel across North and South America and even to Europe.

One of my coworkers had a dream of her own. She was in the middle of writing the “Great American Novel.” As we worked together over a period of several years, she would write a chapter and I would provide feedback. Her book was good, and against all odds for an unknown author, it was represented by the first agent she contacted and published by a major New York publisher.

Holding her book in my hand was almost as encouraging for me as it was for her. It validated her effort to follow her dream, and it gave me hope for my dream, too. She honored me by including my name in the book’s acknowledgments as one who encouraged her not to give up during the long, and frequently lonely, process of birthing her book.

It was about this time that my husband retired and I left the corporate world. We relocated to another state to begin the second half of our lives. It was finally time for me to start writing. But what to write?

I noticed a small newspaper article announcing that the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul series was inviting submissions for its upcoming book, Chicken Soup for the Working Woman’s Soul. Perfect!

I put pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard. I wrote about an experience that happened to me during a morning commute, and submitted “Not Just Another Rat.” Of course, I thought they would immediately agree that it was an enthralling and wonderfully written story. I eagerly and naively awaited the letter notifying me of its acceptance for publication.

I waited and waited and waited . . . for more than a year! I later learned that more than 5,000 submissions were received from all over the world, but my story was chosen!

Wow, I thought, this writing stuff isn’t so hard. My friend was published on her first try. My first newspaper article was published. My first anthology submission was published. Maybe all those horror stories about how difficult it is to get published were nothing more than just stories. After all, my experience proved otherwise. Surely an agent or editor would soon recognize the quality of my writing and offer me a book contract.

After I finished patting myself on the back and celebrating publication of my story, I continued to submit short stories to anthologies. No takers. I wrote an inspirational non-fiction book and submitted it to agents and publishers. No interest. I wrote a novel. No interest in that one, either.

In fact, no one was interested in my work for the next two years. The rejection letters kept on coming. It was a discouraging cycle: write, submit, rejection, write, submit, rejection. Or write, submit, then silence. I’m not sure what was worse: rejections or silence. At least with the rejections, I knew where I stood!

I had two choices. I could turn off my computer and quit, or I could grow a thick skin and keep trying despite the painful rejections. Each one felt as if I had shown my new baby to people who said, “Boy, is she ugly!”

One thing that kept me going was learning the history of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The first book in the series was published in 1993 after being rejected more than 100 times. That book went on to sell more than eight million copies and the series is one of the most successful in publishing history.

So I kept plugging away. I joined a writers’ critique group and began attending writers’ conferences. I had much to learn about writing and publishing. I began writing articles for magazines and continued to submit short stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul and other anthology publishers.

Then, in 2005, I submitted to Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul: Daily Inspirations. I sent in six submissions and three were chosen for publication. A few weeks later I was notified that the Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living series would include a piece I had written on diabetes. By the third Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I went from wishing someone would publish me to wishing someone else would publish me! My husband put it in perspective when he reminded me of the days when I would have been thrilled if anyone published me!

Since 2003, I have been published in twenty anthologies, including fourteen Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Additionally, I have published more than thirty magazine articles with more submissions in the pipeline.

Best of all, I published my first solo book in 2010 with a traditional publisher, and I’ve co-authored two children’s picture books published by another traditional publisher in 2011!

My corporate career was successful, but I’m having much more fun following my dream. My desire is to use my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, to encourage others. That’s my passion. I refuse to be discouraged by obstacles, rejections, or the naysayers who told me I was too old to start a second career. The publication of my story in Chicken Soup for the Working Woman’s Soul encouraged me to keep persevering, to continue networking with other writers, and to continue learning as much as I could about the publishing industry.

Overnight successes in publishing are rare. For me, the path to success consisted of a series of small steps: membership in writers’ groups, attendance at writers’ conferences, writing magazine articles and short stories, co-authoring a children’s book, and finally, authoring my own book. In the process, I’m becoming a better writer as I find the lessons — and the humor — in daily life.

I don’t know how many more of my books will be published. Whether it’s one or ten, I’m enjoying the journey!

~Ava Pennington

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