I used to live in a community in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where our mail was delivered to one of those cluster box units roughly a couple of blocks from my house. This meant that getting the mail was usually combined with walking the dog. Since one of my cats was convinced he was a dog and also needed to go for walks, he usually joined us. I remember that afternoon well as I flipped through the usual pile of bills and junk as our strange little parade made its way home and an envelope caught my eye.
A few months ago I had submitted a short story to something called the Centra PA Writing Contest. Though it was technically open to all Pennsylvania residents, I figured the fact that I lived up in the northeastern corner of the state would work against me, but I was proud of the little story I wrote, and thought it might be worthy enough for at least an honorable mention.
At that point I had been writing for decades, and had spent at least the past five years seriously trying to get somewhere with my writing. I had amassed a very large collection of rejection letters, and here and there had a few small successes. To qualify, by small I mean that no piece of fiction I had written up to that point had earned me more than fifty dollars.
As I juggled the dog leash and the stack of mail, I opened the Central PA Writing Contest envelope. There was a single letter inside that didn't have the look of the standard form rejection letter--I'd become something of an expert when it came to recognizing rejection letters.
I read through the letter quickly as we walked, and then with my heart nearly ready to burst out of my chest, I read it through again to be sure, but I hadn't imagined it. The letter stated that my short story had been chosen as the first place winner, which came with a prize of $500, and I was invited to a special reception.
I know what you're thinking, $500 is hardly a life-changing amount of money, but it was 10 times more than I had ever earned from a piece of fiction. They had picked my little story as the first place winner. I was ecstatic.
Winning that writing contest might seem like a small thing, but it was huge for me. It gave me the confidence to keep pursuing my writing dreams. That small success was one of the things that led to me completing and later selling my first novel.
A lot has changed for me since reading that letter while walking my animals home. I now have seven published books and have earned way more than $500 from my fiction, but I can recall that day like it was yesterday and still feel a thrill when I think about reading the news in that happy letter because I know how important that success was to me and how much it contributed to all my subsequent successes.
What success is waiting out there for you? And where will it lead?
Alissa Grosso writes young adult novels and adult thrillers and chronicles the ups and downs of being an author on her Awkward Author vlog and podcast. Find out more about her and her books at alissagrosso.com.