I’ve sat in the hallowed writing studio at Red Bird-Red Oak in Milwaukee feeling like a fraud. Could I, should I, call myself a writer with zero fiction credits?
We all know the answer is yes, I could and should have considered myself a writer without the credits. But, let me tell you, after winning the emerging author lottery this fall and getting three acceptances, it feels a whole lot better to have the credits, so, if you’re waiting for the day, I have some simple advice for you: read, write, banish, send and share.
Read, Read, Read
While it should be a given that all writers read, are you researching markets as you read? Are you checking out literary journals where you might submit your work? (Many journals have online excerpts and you may know a writer you could swap copies of different journals with, so don’t let cost hinder you. If you can afford to subscribe to literary journals, please do, they need us as much as we need them.) If you’re trying to write short stories, are you reading them? I was not until recently. I have a strong preference for novels. I’ve had to work to make myself read short stories, and, while I still prefer novels, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for short stories, and a greater confidence in my own ability to write them. And, yes, I’ve found markets where I could see my stories fitting in.
Write, Write, Write
I was once the queen of excuses – life, family, everything conspired to prevent me from writing; but, the fact is, I could have carved time for myself to write regularly and I didn’t. I journaled consistently, because that’s necessary for my sanity, but didn’t faithfully work on my stories. And, yes, I could have. How? What if I had committed to one page a day for all those years? Just one page! I mourn those pages I didn’t give birth to, so if you’re at the life stage where finding time is difficult, find a way to write. Don’t let the years vanish with your stories unwritten.
Besides letting life dictate my time spent on writing, I also struggled with “slow cooker syndrome.” I wanted my writing to be strong, every word, from the get go. I misunderstood the value of the first draft, the true first draft.
Have you given yourself permission to write crap? Do it. A technique that worked for me to breakthrough to producing true first drafts was doing NANOWRIMO . If you can, next November, join the lucky people who produce a 50,000 word novel in a month. I did it in 2008, following radiation and the accompanying fatigue – I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I did. And, in the process, I learned to give myself permission to just plain write, to not fret about, “Is it roundtable worthy? Is it anything worth pursuing?” It shut off those questions that had in the past made me write very slowly. But, NaNo’s not for everyone. If you need a different strategy for breaking through to increase your story production, maybe challenge yourself to increase your word count production by 500 words from week to week? Or do a page increase challenge? Put stickers on the calendar, eat a mega-good piece of chocolate cake when you finish a story, you can figure out how to bribe yourself. Find what will work for you!
Banish, Banish, Banish
Banish what? Your fear of rejections, that’s what. Have you let it paralyze you, preventing submissions? I used to dread the rejection boogie monster. I let it loom mythic like something in a Tolkien world, raging and spewing and shrinking my puny confidence into nonexistence.
But, then life taught me to banish the fear of rejections.
Many of you know I had cancer in 2008. There’s nothing quite like hearing your doctor say, “I’m sorry to have to tell you, you have breast cancer,” to shake up everything you’ve ever thought about fear. Cancer is a word that deserves some of the fear that accompanies it. Rejection is not. Even though you may think rejections will kill you, they won’t. They only have whatever power you give them. Now when I get them, I seize the opportunity to either rework the piece, or, if I still believe it’s publishable but hasn’t yet found a home, I send it off to someone else.
Send, Send, Send
I’ve changed how I approach submitting. Now I think about the markets I could submit to in three categories, similar to approaching the college application process:
*Top Tier – the “I probably can’t get in, but it’s worth a shot” category – so these are my dream journals, GlimmerTrain, Tin House, Ploughshares, Paris Review, etc.
*Middle Tier – “My grades are good enough, but what will the committee say?” – for me, this market includes many small literary journals that don’t pay, but produce good writing.
*Safety schools – These are journals I’d be “okay” with having my writing in, but they’re not my first, or even my second, choice, but they give my work an audience, and me a credit for my next submission. (Important: Never submit to a journal you would be embarrassed to have your name in.)
Some writers subscribe to the “blitz” method of submissions, but I’m not sure that’s helpful for any of us. I’ve been sending each piece to five or six places, sometimes less. I pat myself on the back when rejections come: Good for you, getting the work out, try again.
Are you ready to submit? Reading lots? Writing lots? Banishing fear? Then, remember this: Volume increases your odds. I was trying to get to ten different pieces out before the end of the year (a HUGE increase from my past production), but when I was at seven submissions, I got those three acceptances, so I had to work hard to get more out. I use duotrope.com to track my submissions and help find markets. I also highly recommend newpages.com.
Share, Share, Share
I’m part of a writing community at Red Bird – Red Oak. Find a support group if you don’t have one, and then, be a giving part of that community. Remember, we need each other. The writing life can be a lonely life. We struggle with our insecurities. When one of us succeeds, we all are thrilled. When one of us feels down — because let’s face it, rejections still aren’t going to be fun — we can prop each other up. So, share your successes. Share what you learn in your rejections. Share journal suggestions with fellow writers. When we support each other, the odds increase that we will all persevere until we reach our individual writing goals.
Never give up. Your writing deserves, and will get, its audience. Believe it. Read, Write, Banish, Send, Share. Get to it.
(NOTE: This post first appeared at the Redbird-Redoak site, in a slightly different version. It is used here with the director’s permission.)