Funny thing about telling semi-strangers that you’re a writer: apparently everyone else on the planet is too. Hair dressers, convenience store clerks, shy co-workers — half the people you meet from day to day, if you listen to them long enough, will divulge: “I’ve got a story in me. I just need to write it first.”
It seems the only difference between successful writers and would-bes is that writers, you know, write things that people read. All too often, when I ask acquaintances where they’re publishing these days, though, they shuffle their feet a bit and admit: “Well, I don’t have anything ready yet, but as soon as I do…”
Forget ready. The truth is, if you want to write, with a few hours of work, you can be a published writer by a week from Tuesday. When I realized that a few months ago, I ninja-kicked myself from “aspiring author” to “published writer” in less time than it takes to read a short story. If you want to do the same, here’s where I’d suggest you start:
Dust off your drawer of stories. Whether they’re from a college fiction course, daily writing exercises suggested by a creativity self-help book or just the fruit of a particularly bad break-up, most aspiring fiction writers have a secret file of stories that “just aren’t quite ready yet”.
Pro tip? If you’ve got a completed draft that there’s no way in heck you’re ever going to spend another Saturday night working over, then the story is done. If you wait for all of your work to achieve Joycean perfection, you’ll never get published. If you send it out as-is, worst case scenario is you’ll get a few rejection letters that might light enough of a fire under you to give the piece another drafting session.
Take advantage of that daily hot, fast burst of genius. One of the problems with drawer-stories is that they’re often works that we’ve taken through dozens of drafts, forced all of our family and friends to read and comment on, and have basically polished within an inch of their lives. And while those can be good ordeals to pass a piece through, it’s not the only way to write.
This is an exciting time for online and print literary journals, and editors take great interest in stories that don’t fulfill the usual workshop mold. Have a hot idea for a 250-word flash narrative? A poignant parody of a bar menu? Whatever you write, there is a market for it. Heck, my first-ever paid fiction publication was a slightly cleaned-up version of a tipsy sexytimes email to my ex. You never know what quirky little essay or story is going to snare an audience, so don’t neglect even your weirdest writing impulses.
Submit. Everywhere. Remember that little stipulation about people reading what you write? You can’t live that dream without actually submitting your work. And while it would take a lifetime to familiarize yourself with all of the small literary journals thriving now, there are tons of websites to make the submission process either.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Duotrope, where you can browse journals based on factors such as submission length, genre, average response time, and whether they accept electronic submissions. When you’re ready to submit a piece, just find five or six journals to shoot it off to, write a simple cover letter, and get ready for letters from editors to start pouring in.
Every rejection is only a triumph over the fear of rejection. Er, I did mention that most of those letters were going to be rejection letters, right? As I never tire of reading in interviews by some of my favorite authors, even an incredibly talented aspiring writer is going to receive at least 90% rejections at first. It happened to Steinbeck and it’s going to happen to you. But hey, when those rejection letters come in, just remember: every letter is a fistbump from the universe, because it shows you were afraid to face the fear of rejection and put yourself out there.
And for every rejection letter you receive? Send out two more submissions. Because you have no idea how good that first acceptance is going to feel!