You want to be published, for as long as you can remember. Or perhaps you’ve recently realized that you’re actually rather good at this writing thing. On the other hand, maybe you’ve submitted more pieces than you can count, or, you’ve just worked up your nerve for the first time.
Wherever you fall in the want-to-be-published spectrum, read on. I’ve got words for you.
The truth is, if you want to be published, you must never just wait. The title of this post is misleading on purpose. If you find yourself in the position of anguished waiting (wringing hands, fighting anxiety, cursing the publishing gods) here are some of the things you can be doing:
Your writing can be as patient and loyal as a dog waiting for you to return from work each night if you treat it right. But just like a loving canine, you must come to your writing with love and respect, returning to it when times are rocky as well as when times are brilliant, full of praise. Writing has a magic way of expanding, deepening and improving the more you do it. And if you haven’t yet discovered the big secret about writing, well you’re in for some transformation: Writing saves lives. I’m not lying. I could give you a hundred stories of people who have written to process abusive childhoods, and the death of children, used to make it through relationships that crushed them and taboos they didn’t know if they’d ever deal with. Don’t treat your writing just as a means to an end (publishing, fame, fortune). Treat it like the deep and important means of understanding yourself and the world that it really is. Keep coming back to it–what I call building a “writing practice”–until, no matter how the wind blows in your writing career, you write with a sense of purpose or joy.
While you’re waiting to hear back on queries or submissions, or deciding where to submit, take advantage of the vast realms of information at your disposal via the internet, bookstores and the library. Writers can always improve, learn new techniques, study up on styles. Whether you pay to take a class, or you buy a book, or you hang out in the Education section at your library, there’s no reason not to learn more. In fact, the more you learn, the better your writing gets, almost instantly. This also means: study up on the publications you seek to be published in. I recently read a fantastic post by a woman who got published in one of my coveted magazines: The Sun. Her post was titled “How I got Published in The Sun.” The answer? She read the magazine for years to get a strong sense of its style, tone, length and so on. And then she crafted an essay, with feedback and revisions, that she felt met their needs. And it did. No other magic than that.
What the heck, you’re wondering? Shall I pad myself in latex? Encase myself inside a plastic safety bubble? No, what I mean is: you are going to face rejection. Not just once, or a handful of times, but fairly often. Probably more than you realize at this moment in time. And you will be tempted each time to feel as though the cruel wizards of publishing have taken a bite of your soul, chewed it up, and spat it at your feet. I get it, believe me. Oh man I could wallpaper my entire house with rejections. But amidst these battlefields of “no” are gems of “this is great” and “We like this but” and eventually “Yes.” If you are following all the other rules (staying true to the writing, improving it), eventually you’ll start to garner more yes’s. In other words, when rejection knocks you down, you will learn to bounce back up. You will learn to either keep at it and try again, work harder, or go somewhere else.
I had a massage today. I needed it about a month ago, but that’s how it goes. My massage therapist said something really lovely that happens to align exactly with how I feel about writing. She said, “I am totally capable of doing things myself, but I don’t want to anymore. I want to ask for help.”
Writers don’t do very well working forever in a vacuum. Sure, you have to write alone, but all the rest of it: getting feedback, seeing to revise, setting out into the wild world of publishing—you can, and I argue should, ask for help. You need buddies. You need friends who understand what it’s like to be a writer, who hold you up, pat you on the back, dust the dirt off your legs and swab the blood off your knees when you fall. The people who say: “You can do this. You will do this. And I’m here for you while you go through it.” There’s no better recipe for failure than isolating yourself as a writer, what with its rocky path and constant rejection.
The moral of this post is: In the life of the writer, waiting is just another word for keeping at it.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. For a dose of optimism, read my column, The Persistent Optimist, at Sweatpants & Coffee.
Photo, “waiting” by Hartwig HKDlicensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.