Advice to a Newish Youngish Writer

When as a youngish person I first thought I'd write a short story...

When as a youngish person I first thought I’d write a short story…

So a person FB messaged me to say he’d read my F&SF stories and wondered if there were any more. I said no, but happily thrust a indy-pubbed antho of four of my Asimov’s stories at him, which, you know, is something writers might do, if you talk to them.

Be warned.

It turns out he’s a writer, or trying to be, though he has yet to submit anything, and he’s tried doing some workshops, but nobody around him is taking it seriously. Classes have been briefly useful, but haven’t given him any lasting writing community.

I’ve written my cycle of pieces on workshops, there’s a sidebar link to that category, which are sort of the diary of my creative life to date, and there’s info in there, but its mixed with a lot of autiobiography.

This will be more focused. He says.

I’m 51. I am speaking now to 20-30 year old me, who might or might not be like this guy, or like my friend Rob, or Leslie, or Ben, from one of my workshops. I don’t think they read this blog. (Between you and me and Google Analytics, very few people read this blog. Shhhh. It’s ok. It’s fun to write anyway.)

1. Write some prose everyday.

2. Write when your life is a mess. I have personally lived through long periods of unemployment, underemployment. The temptation, when the market keeps telling you you are worthless, is to internalize that message and figure you have nothing in you worth saying. So you waste that time. Then, when you have work again,  you’re tired, and you kick yourself, because now, you wish you had time to write.

If you have time to write, write. Please. Fifty one year old me it telling you. There is time in your life you are wasting, youngish, newish, person.

Waste an hour a day less of it. Write.

3. Finish what you write. Badly, if you have to. Do a sucky job. Write a terrible ending you are ashamed of. But finish it. You only grow when you finish. Its like the end of the Dungeons and Dragons game, where the points get totaled. Level up! (I know how dated this reference is. Sorry.)

4. Share what you write with someone who will read it and talk to you about what they thought you were saying. These people at first are not professional, but, they are readers who read books like the ones you are trying to write. Do not share your writing with people who do not read the genre you are writing; when you do, in workshop settings, listen politely to what they say, but don’t take it to heart. You will be told that old ideas are really novel and wonderful, or, that your text is completely unintelligible, both statements true, for that person, and both statements that don’t mean anything.

Professional people, in general, will have no time to talk to you yet, because most of you will quit, and the value in most prose is roughly equal to the gold content of sea water. Gold is in there, but there’s no profitable way to distill it. So accept the fact that for the first few years or so, you’re on your own.

If this writing and sharing process is enjoyable for you, and you actually do it, I grant you permission to call yourself a writer. Should we meet in the real world, which is unlikely, I will sign something to this effect, if you want. You are a writer.

Now, that that you have the scarecrow’s diploma, do you still want to write? If so, repeat steps 1-4.

6. Send finished things to appropriate people, as a kind of second opinion, to see if what they say lines up with what your non-professional readers say. So your girlfriend or best friend or workshop friend says your stuff is as good as Stephen King? Way cool! See if you can sell it. Google on-line market listing sites. (Submission Grinder and Duotrope are two current ones.)

Things that might happen:

  • Your friends say you are great, but you get only form rejections. Keep writing.*
  • Your workshop mates say you aren’t publishable, and you get form rejections. Keep writing.*
  • Your workshop mates say you aren’t publishable; you sell the stories they said wouldn’t sell. Keep writing.*
  • You aren’t published but you get short notes after very long waiting times from editors that sound sort of nice. Believe every nice thing said. Keep writing. *

So this is the broad outline. Right now, my youngish newish reader is stuck on the ‘finding people to work with’ stage. He’s in a smallish city. I did my writing life in a big one. I’m going to do some research on on-line workshops for that, and get back to that for him.

* What is the asterix? It’s the caveat, if you want to. If it feels right. Note, I didn’t say good, because sometimes, the stuff we have to do doesn’t feel good exactly.


Posted in Making a Writing Life, Workshopping Short Fiction

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