In 2015 I decided to take the plunge and get back into fiction writing after about a decade away from being a writer who actually wrote things on a regular basis. Here are some things I learned in the process of trying to get my writing mojo back.
Read current writers
One of the things that really kickstarted my inspiration was reading new (to me!) writers in the genres I like, mainly science fiction and fantasy. I’d spent a lot of years reading “the classics” in order to experience them first hand (The Iliad and The Odyssey, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Dante’s Inferno, and so on.) Reading the classics is great, but it is also very important for several reasons to read what’s being written by new writers, right now. I explored this in detail in my post: “Read intensely” – why is reading so important for a writer“, which in turn was inspired by a fantastic post on Jane Friedman’s website called 3 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Chances with an Agent, written by editor and writing coach Rebecca Faith Heyman. I recommend reading the whole thing, but this quote is great:
“Writing is a conversation,” agent Noah Ballard of Curtis Brown told me. “If you aren’t reading books that are being published now, how do you expect to be relevant?”
Familiarizing yourself with current and canon successes in your genre will help you think critically about your own writing. Who are you similar to stylistically? How are you bringing a fresh idea to a popular theme? – – – Bow to the masters, acknowledge your peers, and blaze a trail for yourself armed with the knowledge of what has come before.
Read the publications you want to submit work to
It is vital to at least get a general feel for the vibe and voice of the publication you are submitting your stories to. Of course, you can submit without reading, but it definitely is better to do at least some research first. Lots of publications publish fantasy, but there is a real difference between the kinds of stories you’ll read at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Shimmer, for example. I love both of these zines, but they definitely have different flavours (thankfully!).
If your story is rejected, it might be because it’s not good enough, but it could also be because it just doesn’t fit the publication in question. Reading a zine is research, and also has the added benefit of adding a whole lot of reading to your diet.
Realize that there are a lot of awesome writers out there & be ready to work your ass off
We all have those top-echelon writers we admire. In my case, I love J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Umberto Eco, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin, for example. But there are many new, younger writers working right now in the genres I love who are producing astounding stories. Get used to that idea: there are amazing writers working right now, who are submitting stories to some of the same publications you are trying to get published in. Getting rejection letters is not fun, but for me, knowing that the level of writing is this good, makes it easier to bear rejections: it’s not that I am crap all the time, it’s just that there are a lot of great writers out there.
The moral of this story: if I want to get published, I have to bust my chops and be willing to improve.
Read the submission guidelines
Once you’ve got stories ready to submit, read the submission guidelines for each publication. Read them. Read them carefully, and read them over again before each piece you submit, even if you’ve read them before. No, really: read them again. The guidelines will tell you how to format your story, how to submit, how long it should be, and often what kind of stories the publication would like to see. It’s all vital information. So go back and read it again.
Get to know Shunn Manuscript Format
Most publications want your submission in some version of Shunn Manuscript Format. Get acquainted with it, and, if you’re working in Word (for example), you can set up a new “style” (Google it for your version of Word) and base it on Shunn. Some publications will ask for certain specific variations – single spaced instead of double-spaced, no indented paragraphs, and so on – but knowing the basic Shunn-style will simplify your life.
Learn about multiple submissions & simultaneous submissions
- Multiple subs: submitting more than one story to the same publication at the same time.
- Simultaneous subs: submitting the same story to different publications at the same time.
Some publications accept these kinds of submissions, and some don’t. Again, check the guidelines!
Consider getting a PayPal account, if you don’t have one already
If someone buys your story (yay! *confetti*), PayPal is one of the easiest ways to get paid. (I like it for paying for things as well…but that’s another story.) Consider setting up an account so you’re ready for the (big?) bucks to roll in.
Track your word-count
When I got back into serious fiction writing again, I tracked my word-count closely in the beginning. After several years of dealing with a crippling inability to write, that really helped me establish a new writing habit and overcome some internal, mental obstacles. Setting a reasonable goal (mine was 500 words in the beginning) and sticking to it even if you write crap can help you get into gear. I don’t track my numbers quite so closely anymore, but I do think it can be a very useful tool.
Get a spreadsheet
If someone had suggested to me five years ago that I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of my stories and submissions / rejections / acceptances, I would have laughed them out of the room, and then laughed some more. However, these days I have a lot of stories that I’ve sent out to various publications. And, yes, a spreadsheet is very helpful. Not only can you track what stories have been sent where, but also how long a story has been out (maybe you need to query?), and where it might go next (it’s a VERY good idea to plan ahead and know where you might send a story to next, if it is rejected ).
You can make your own spreadsheet to track stories, where you’ve sent them, when you sent them, and if they were rejected or accepted. You can also use online sites like Duotrope or The Grinder. I highly recommend using an online site: they also help you find new markets for your stories. They are a great way to find and keep up with publications and anthologies that are looking for fiction.
Writing and trying to get published can be a tough grind. Just keep a few things in mind:
- Everybody gets rejected. Repeatedly. Often. Most writers you admire have had stories rejected. Most famous writers were rejected once upon a time, too. It’s not the end if your story is not accepted. You need talent as a writer, you need to work hard at your craft, and you need perseverance.
- You will have good days and bad days. Working through the bad days can be tough, but it does pay off.
I leave you with two quotes, one from Hemingway, and one from Stephen King.
Columns on writing by Richard Thomas at LitReactor: https://litreactor.com/tags/storyville
Gwendolyn Kiste’s Submission Roundup (runs monthly): http://www.gwendolynkiste.com/Blog/category/submission-roundup/