Frequently Asked Questions on Writing and Publishing

FAQs ABOUT WRITING

Why do you write for kids?

Actually, people have stopped asking that question. Maybe I’ve answered it enough times that the word has gotten around. Likelier, I have enough children’s books to my credit now that they no longer expect me to tell them it was a stepping-stone to writing for adults.

I wanted to write for young people. There are no minor aches or pains in a child’s life—they don’t have the grace of a sense of perspective. They can’t imagine getting past this bump in the road to a better tomorrow; if someone suggests such an idea, the best they can do is take it on faith.

I like to write stories that help build that faith.

That answer is for people who really want to know. The next answer is for the people who ask because they think writing for children is easy. Like setting sail for the land of winken, blinken and nod. Sometimes, when I’m tucked up in a chair in a sunny corner, and my slippers have fallen off my feet, the birds are singing outside the window, the scent of roses is coming in on the air, and the words are coming to me like a daydream, I think it’s easy too.

But we all know what people mean when they say they think writing a children’s book is easy. They think there’s less skill involved. That if we can do it, they can do it. It means they haven’t yet tried. I think they should start with a picture book. That looks easiest of all, right? Keep the laughter down. We want them to give it a try.

The thing about being a writer is, we’ve been steering toward this point our whole lives. We’ve danced around the edges of it more than once, and when we finally say to ourselves, this is it, we aren’t kidding ourselves that it’s going to be easy. And for most of us, because it’s just the way life is for most of us, it’s pretty much an experience of bucking a high wind. But we are persistent sailors, and we don’t turn back, even though, looking ahead, it does appear the earth is truly flat and we are heading for the edge.

I know three people who took up writing the first few times I published. They all asked a little about it each time, until I understood they were pretty sure there was a trick to it, and if I could do it, then of course they could do it. I told them what I knew for sure so far—to stay in the chair until it started to work. They put writing down not very much later, finding it wasn’t so simple after all.

My husband borrowed a notebook from one of them at a seminar and later, when I opened the notebook, I found one of her attempts at starting a book. Seven starts, to be exact, which ranged from, I think what happens is . . . , to a few lines that read like the beginning of an outline.

And it brought back something I’d forgotten, that first moment of intention, on consciously deciding that what I wrote down should turn into a book. And how for possibly an hour, I could hardly write a word. The next time I saw her, I told her she’d learned the first trick. To get words on paper.

The next trick is to persist. And persist. And persist.

And one more thing: An untested young father once told me he’d discovered the secret of rearing a child: you teach them to wait. I still know him and his grown children are wonderful humans, so perhaps he was right. I was a housekeeper then. I took his theory to heart as advice on becoming a writer: learn to wait. Even once published, for each book you wait while your agent reads, while your editor reads, while somebody in the sales department reads. . . then there’s editing, and artwork. Assuming all goes well, it takes about eighteen months for a sold manuscript to reach the reader as a book.

Get accustomed to it. Everybody’s busy and nobody likes a huffy writer.

What personal stuff do you bring to your writing?

My characters often take action in a way that I might, like taking to the road, or the way I imagined I might, with great compassion. So it’s often a way of exploring the feelings I felt, or tried not to feel, or failed to feel, during a stressful time. But it’s hardly ever the matched set of fiction and real life.

I can think of only one thing I wrote as I remembered it (which is still only my version of the truth). Some of the most interesting moments in life are things it’s almost impossible to report, don’t you find that to be true? There are always the parts nobody would believe.

How many hours a day do you write?

People still like to ask that My answer is usually, as many as I can get. I write several hours a day, but the most truthful answer I can give, whether its two or the more preferable fourteen, the answer is still “as many as I can get.”

I often write while I’m tired, but there’s a wisdom to knowing when I’m simply too tired. That I’m likelier to hurt the thing than add anything helpful, and will waste days trying to repair the damage later. After this many hours—years—I know when that point has been reached.

There’s also this thing I’m sure a lot of writers go through after being published. That even though we used to have only three hours a day to write, now that we are bona fide writers, we have to log hours like it’s a job. Certain useful things happen. We up our page count, we get more experience on the job, we develop a greater tolerance for long periods of concentration and sitting. Sitting is harder than it sounds.

After a while it occurs to us, no need to make ourselves feel the same way about writing that we may once have felt about the job we wanted to escape. We don’t have to justify our good fortune (being a published writer), especially since we may be making less than the average MacJob pays. So we’re working longer hours because we’ve grown accustomed to them, but not so long that we don’t want to be there.

Non-writers add, How do you take it, so many hours in a room alone? It’s hard to explain this experience, so I shrug and say, “That’s the work.” When not-working-very-hard writers ask, How do you do it, I know they’re really asking how can I do it, so I answer, “The dogs make allowances for me.”

But here, between you and me, where the questions are really about writing, I can answer honestly. When I’m writing, I’m never in a room alone.

Where do you write?

In my heart. In my head. In my heart. In my head, in my. . .

Seriously. But also, wherever I’m sitting when the story starts to flow. The cemetery is quiet and reminds me I ought to write today. The dentist’s waiting room is good, fear is oddly inspirational. Transatlantic flights are good because lots of people take sleeping pills to get through it, and the stewards keep bringing the rest of us snacks every sixty minutes—ooh! Christmas again! Sit on the side seats because kids run up and down the aisles on long flights and cut through the middle seats to avoid the trolley trap. Tends to be distracting. Plus, I think the side seats are the cheap seats, because I’m always sitting in them.

Writing is writ in a room inside me and I can take it anywhere.

Otherwise, I generally choose the smallest room in the house. In South Fallsburg, a room too small for anything else and I can leave pages spread out, piled up, shoved over. Computers in a row to back up the one that fails (still an imperfect system as the one that fails always has the current page on it). Books stacked, shelved, collecting on a foot stool. And the rest of the house still looks like a sane person lives there.

Do you outline your books?

This is a writer’s question. So I have only one answer. One long answer.

Before they break off into various genres, fiction writers seem to come in two basic varieties: those who outline and those who don’t. It’s like gender, there from the very beginning; both have pros and cons, so one isn’t superior to the other (although there’s a great deal said about it), and it’s awfully hard to move to the other camp.

The value of learning from the other camp can’t be understated. A thoughtful look at writing exercises out of a variety of instructive books make it perfectly clear how hard a writer coming from one camp tries to get the point across to the other.

The just-wing-it writer offers newbies the character bio, a long list of characteristics (as in a distinctive fixed quality) and attributes (as in an accidental or changeable quality), thinking surely the more organized mind of the outliner will grab this and go, because once begun, the character just flows onto the page. Doesn’t it? Or they tell you to start from what matters to you, essentially telling you to start with theme. And in time, they’re sure you’ll figure out, as they did, how to modify your preachy manuscripts.

The outliner zeroes in on a wingster’s weak spot, plotting, and says, here, make up a story with these three elements: a dragon, a princess in the cave, and a frog that swims in via the underground pool—plan the story from beginning to end in no more than five steps, then break each of those five steps down into five steps. The outliner continues until the outline is complete, and instructs you to do the same, thinking surely no writer could miss the point: left, right, left.

Although I’m oversimplifying each of these writing styles—and if it sounds like I’m putting either of them down, that’s inadvertent and unintended—innumerable odds remain in favor of a wingster having a hard time coming up with rounded characters and an outliner who gets lost in the woods in the middle of her book.

I’m a wingster who has a strong inclination to dissect what makes a good piece of writing (someone else’s piece) work, and a couch potato’s willingness to sit in the same spot until I’ve got it figured out. If I were teaching you to crochet a sweater, I could show you how to make that sweater the same way every time. I still can’t do that with writing. Nobody can do that with writing. We all have to learn to jump the gap.

The fact is, effort and time are what give a writer any control over their work at all, time and effort. And a lot of failure, in most cases. Even selling writers will admit, just when they think they’ve got it down, along comes a book (one of their own) that teaches them something about what they still don’t know.

I don’t outline, but I mark the path through the woods so I don’t get lost, or at least, I won’t get lost so often. I don’t waste much time and I like the journey.

 What’s the best writing exercise you know?

Sometimes this question even comes from kids. I assume it reflects an interest in writing. The most determined writers still find writing a daunting experience in their early days. I use exercises and all of them are my idea of the best in one way or another. So let me answer this question arse-backwards.

Here are the writing exercises I hate:

Self-portraits. We’re all doing self-portraits 24/7. Aren’t we? Aren’t we all doing self-portraits now? Ourselves as The Writer.

A few weeks ago I attended a mother-daughter tea party in PA. Wore silk pants, a necklace. Painted my fingernails!!! The Successful Writer.

My writer’s group met last week. 9:30 Sunday morning at Dunkin’ Donuts. Wore flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt with permanent stains. Hair unwashed and probably uncombed but I brushed my teeth. The Writer as an Artiste. Cinnamon donut, please.

Today, the Working Writer. Bare feet, definitely uncombed hair, and yes, I brushed my teeth. Cocoa and Gold Kili in a cup as I put a poem (someone else’s) out to friends via email. The gathering feeling of something waiting to be written is lodged under my breastbone.

*

Possibly the worst exercise of all: Starting with the words, I remember . . .

Or, Yesterday, I . . .

No one reads mood pieces anymore. Well, maybe they do, but they want the subject to be sensational. Or they want something that most of us, as writers, are not going to be able to deliver: an odd combination of big happening, personal experience, political/historical/socio-economic awareness and an accompanying strong grasp of the facts, writing skill, strong voice, meaningful literary contribution.

This reader and most others don’t want the reading experience to feel nostalgic. They can do that for themselves. Nostalgia is personal. Or it’s the setting, ‘where it happened.’ The ‘what happened’ has to feel new, separate, and still be something the reader can relate to. Or want to listen to, anyway. “I remember” leads to passive writing, leads to being satisfied with too little effort on the writer’s part, may lead to the trap of trying to stick too close to “what really happened.”

If you’re going to publish a piece that lends itself to an “I remember” it should have very little to do with what happened to you. The one exception to this rule: David Sedaris’s, “One time. . ?” David Sedaris can break the rules with aplomb. Writers, don’t miss his Repeat After Me.

*.

Finally, don’t start from dreams. You don’t want your writing to come from that place where you feel like you’re slogging through the swamps. High humidity lands on the page. The reader will feel it, and unless they are a semi-depressed type who wants to sustain the depression, they will be relieved to put your book down at an interruption and they won’t go back to it.

I do know why people ask about exercises. What are they for? The blank page. In the beginning, exercises are a step toward that can-do feeling, they help us believe. The best ones remain with us for much or all of our writing lives, becoming part of our process. Part of what makes writing work for us.

All we really have to believe in is the possibility. We can renew belief every time we walk into a book store. Surely all these people did not know someone in a publishing company. Surely all these people did not have agents. Surely all these people did not live in New York City or London or some other big publishing city.

Buddhists call this attraction.

I read somewhere of someone writing a page a day at a library table, right across from the very point on a shelf where their book would someday be shelved, if all went well. Trust is built up out of small experiences of success.

You can come up with an idea you feel is worth writing about. Probably that part wasn’t even something you had to try to do.

You set a realistic schedule. You write in the morning before you go to work, or at night before you go to sleep. You manage one day a week, a paragraph a day, a page a day, a chapter in a week, whatever you shoot for. Sure, you’re short of time, but we all make time for what we really want to do.

When you finish a story, you write a cover letter. These don’t have to be fancy. My first letter to an agent was in strict business format. The body of the letter held two words: manuscript enclosed.

When you get a rejection letter, you know you have reached out, way out, to that world where all those people who have books in the bookstores live. You can trust this experience every step of the way because it isn’t all good. Because you have put out an effort and someone else has provided support or resistance. But you can trust that it’s really there.

Buddhists call this confidence. Along the way you are building up to an inner state that is termed, again by Buddhists, irreversibility.

And then know that I don’t like to call exercises exercises. It’s all writing, and often results in a piece long enough to qualify as a short story, even if it doesn’t carry you through a novel. I think of them as mulls.

Try this mull: Make a list of all the things you have attended to today. You don’t have to go into detail about the things you did, but establish categories, such as family, where you will put food shopping, cleaning up after a toddler, reading to the toddler, calling the teacher of your older child, putting in a load of laundry. Ditto for community services, such as voting, or helping with a church committee. Personal, which counts flossing, taking vitamins, a physical exercise effort. For work that makes a weekly paycheck, maybe just put down the number of hours, including in transit. Technically, this might come under family but it’s generally useful to differentiate. Then writing.

Take a moment to consciously be grateful for every one of the things you’ve committed to paper. Include the annoying people, the time-eating beaurocratic issues (the insurance company that says you have to remove leafy debris from the roof, and possibly the overhanging branch, for instance, or they’ll cancel), the way you wasted an entire hour playing solitaire during your writing time (muttering to yourself about insurance companies). You’ve worked to bring all of them into your life, even the worst moments are there for something. Be thankful.

Now, how does your writing effort tote up in terms of how much time or energy was devoted to it? How does it compare to other efforts? You may not choose to change anything, but you don’t have a choice until you analyze where your time is spent. Life is short. Make a choice.

How can I be sure I’m a writer?

I once heard a writing teacher say that all writers need to be given permission. I don’t know if it’s true. In fact, Polly Macmillan, lovely friend and retired Bank Street College registrar, encouraged me, and in a sense, gave me permission.

I have heard an editor say he doesn’t think “just anyone” can write. Which is the same as saying that only writers can write. Which implies that writers were always writers by nature. That they came equipped with certain skills. Anyone else need not apply.

The question this begged was, and I didn’t ask it, being newly published, who wrote the last three hundred manuscripts you rejected? The last nine hundred. Only the year before, he’d turned down one of mine.

I can just hear the editorial clamor now.

But I worked in an agent’s office and I truly do know the deadening feeling of going through hundreds of manuscripts to find nothing written well enough to work with. To work with a single writer to get a manuscript to a stage acceptable enough to be submitted to an editor. It can lead to a kind of interest fatigue that figures no writers wrote today.

I think of writing as a craft that anyone can learn. If you need it, I’m giving you permission. I’m all about encouraging you, whether you’re new to the craft or you’ve been developing your skills for years. You’re sometimes going to send out manuscripts that no one thinks are any good. Maybe they won’t be, but then again, you have the same chance I had to become a better writer, and the same right anybody else has.

Recently I read a book called The Click Moment by Frans Johansson. He makes a good argument for increasing your chances of success by increasing the number of times you try. Read the whole book, read chapter nine two or three times, then read chapter ten several times more. Solidify your resolve to have more manuscripts returned to you unloved. And give yourself a better shot at breaking in.

FAQs ABOUT GETTING PUBLISHED

When am I going to get published?

I bet you think I never get asked that question. But I do. Sometimes a writing friend is wailing it. But most often it comes from someone who’s asked me to read their unpublished work—and what they mean is, do I think it’s ready yet.

It’s not a question I can answer even if I’m reading somebody’s work, as I’m sure they know. I certainly don’t know where you are in your process, so in a sense, I don’t care about that so much.

I care that you do get published, if that’s what you really want, because I remember how much I cared about when it would happen for me. I know how much I had to learn and I remember the kindness of the people who told me what I needed to know. It’s the entire reason I’m sitting at the computer now.

Well. Most of the reason.

Money is the rest of the reason, right?

Let’s get into that.

Long before self-publishing was something being offered on every street corner of the world wide web, I began writing. I was pretty excited about it and I did the unwise thing, I talked about it. People sometimes asked me how much it cost to get published. These weren’t people asking facetiously, or stupidly. They simply assumed large publishing houses didn’t do this for free. So it came as a shock to most of them that I planned to get paid to publish.

When someone assumes that money will be a big part of the reason I do something, the obvious subtext being that it’s the main reason, I suspect that deep within them is a belief that there’s something wrong with that. If it’s true of you, you have to work on your expectations. Possibly you have to work on believing you can have some.

Making money isn’t the biggest part of success in many endeavors we can choose from, but it is one of the measurements available to us. It doesn’t have to be the main reason, and probably isn’t, or we’d have opted for something with a higher-paying career path in the first place. But feeling ashamed that you want to make money from your published writing is like saying you only need to be appreciated for your art, or you take enough satisfaction from your work that the money isn’t important, or it’s okay if the next book doesn’t garner a bigger advance or bigger sales numbers, or that such an attitude indicates you are a money-grubbing materialist. Especially the last, I suppose.

Being appreciated for your work and taking personal satisfaction from it are experiences a writer should hope to enjoy, including an occasional bout of overweening pride. It still doesn’t hurt to get paid for it.

The publishing house is going to keep an eye on your numbers, and I send you right back to chapter nine of The Click Moment to remind you of the equal-odds rule.

Regarding artistic effort as something so high-minded that it is its own reward is an idea that is dying far too slow a death. Let’s put it out of its misery. Once you are a published writer, you may still be making less than minimum wage; it still may be your second job for years. Should you be ashamed that you need health care benefits equal to your editor’s? Don’t you hope to create a retirement fund? Won’t you age with the same risk of needing long-term care as the CEO of the publishing company? Aren’t you hoping to put kids through college? Help out the parent who is living on Social Security? See some other part of the fabulous world you write about?

That’s what money is for. Nothing especially materialistic about that. I haven’t yet met a writer or artist who has done more than secure his family’s future, and most of us can’t say we’ve done that. But it would be very very cool if we could. Be prepared to consistently ask for more money for what you do well.

Personally, I have problems with accepting compliments. In my family culture, too great a show of satisfaction in an endeavor was slapped down as showing off. Team efforts were rewarded, but individual achievement, even within the team, was rarely praised—a team member was simply doing what was expected of them. And coloring outside the lines, well, that was scary indeed. It’s a belief system built from an energy similar to the one I just dissed. Watch out for these nasty little potholes.

If your intention is to publish, be prepared to accept compliments gracefully, to deserve money graciously, to expect that you will never have learned all there is to know about your craft. There are wonderful writers out there, working hard. If you aren’t able to see the value in your own work, you erode the value of theirs.

Be prepared to get up from a four or fourteen hour day in front of the computer feeling good about yourself when the writing went well, and when it went badly. There are some times in a life when effort counts more than results, and the days that the writing went badly is one of those times.

By all means, be prepared to set a high value on your work.

So if it isn’t money . . .

Right now I’m collating what I’ve learned, reading through years of making notes to myself, to remember and so to relearn the experiences of each of my own books, to collect the bits and pieces in one place. Whatever I share is as much for myself as it is for you, and I hope it isn’t less than you’ve already learned.

In any craft there are elements, materials if you will, that must be brought together with certain skills. Whether you’re a quilter, a woodworker, a knitter, a stonemason, a doll maker, a potter, you work with the same essential ingredients over and over. And the skills are learned. Honed. Over time.

The same can of course be said for a sculptor, a house builder, a painter, a cook, an actor, a landscaper, a singer, a baseball player, and so on and on and on, but I feel this only supports my view. With enough effort to develop the skills needed, through mastery of the materials, any of these can be considered an art. They’re certainly a craft that can be learned.

Obviously, I can’t promise you’ll get published, but I can say that with time and effort, and a little bit of luck thrown in, you probably can.

How long did it take you to get published?

I had no particular talent for writing for young people. Only desire. I had to learn. It took me fifteen years to be accepted in the genre of my choice. I was fortunate enough to get a foot in the door early on, but I wrote for a long, long, long, long, long time to get it to open wide. Thank you, year 2000 Newberry Committee. The main thing I can say about any creative endeavor: persistence pays.

My husband hit on an idea to take a not-for-profit theater group into prisons and drug rehab units in order to, in his words, “have an audience.” Although a great deal more good came out of Theater for the Forgotten’s thirty year run than a hundred good plays, that was his starting point.

What I remember most about the early years is how many hopefuls worked for him, generally for no money. Actors and writers and directors who wanted to see their names listed in the credits on television (so family would see them), in the movies (so old, and then older, high school peers would see them), or in a play on Broadway (so the world would see them). But they were willing to start small. And if Akila couldn’t tell me of someone’s success often, it was always true that success came to those who persisted, who simply didn’t fall beneath the crushing weight of rejection.

“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.”—Japanese proverb.

Over twenty-five years of writing I’ve known a great many writers who were trying to get published. The ones who take a rejection to heart, who believe this one piece of work reflects the breadth and depth of their potential, who do in some figurative way take to the bed with a cold cloth on their heads, are still trying.

Or not.

The ones who could put this disappointment in perspective—basically, brush it off—have all published. All of them. They all looked the returned story over to see if they could improve it in any way, or if they were now deeply involved in the next work, simply stuck it in another envelope and sent it out to the next editor on their list.

What if it finally turns out that I’m just not good enough?

That’s probably not a question you’d ask me in person. Or anyone else except someone you’d trust with your life. We all fear not being good enough in some arena. And we’re all going to find a ring in which we won’t ever be a contender. On the other hand, how will you answer that question if you don’t keep trying?

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you keep writing, your skills will improve. Your stories will probably become publishable.

One of the ways you keep writing is by sending your work out into the world and hoping it will lead a parade of eager editors—okay, one is all you need—to your mailbox.

And going on with your work. Writing.

I understand there are people (and not all of them will be editors) who look at writing as an art, who think perhaps writers are born observers with a knack for putting events and emotions into words. Possibly they have other theories about what makes a writer specifically that, but I think of writing as a craft that anyone can learn.

If you are showing up regularly to put words on paper, you’re a writer. If you’re buying books that promise to teach you something about the craft and you’re reading them (reading them is an important step), and trying to apply the techniques to your work, you’re a writer.

If you’ve been doing this for fifteen years and you haven’t been fortunate enough to get work published, you’re a writer who is dedicated to a dream that may yet come true. Because this is the authentic experience of all writers: they didn’t wake up one morning as a master of the craft.

The authentic experience of all readers is this: being published doesn’t make someone a master of the craft either. Don’t let someone’s opinion of what a writer is make you feel any less a writer than the one whose books you buy regularly or take out at the library. Each of those writers has been where you are.

Probably every one of the writers’ craft books you’ve read have told you about a couple of writers who struggled to make it. Perhaps a few more stories about how many times this bestseller was rejected or how that book so neglected by readers was made into a blockbuster film.

Those writers once struggled with the same feelings of “Is it ever going to happen?” and being asked the question that expresses so much ignorance: “Are you published?” that you do now.

Actually, getting published doesn’t entirely eradicate the self-doubt, or the fact that some readers won’t read what you’ll write. It doesn’t matter. Keep on writing!

A legitimate question from an adolescent reader:

“What about those writers who wrote for years and years who didn’t get published?”

From my point of view, which is of the people I know, most of those writers have years and years left. I know of writers who wrote and died young, and were published posthumously. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it were true that a wonderful writer dies every day, still unpublished. Of their experience, I’d say this: it was more satisfying to write and write and write than to be someone who wanted to go to Italy for most of his eighty-six years and never got there.

At least the writer wrote.

Let’s just get these other gnarly subjects out of the way.

Query letters.

I’ve looked at a couple of books and several magazine articles on writing one that will identify your work as an agent’s or editor’s best bet. I read an awful lot of them when I worked in a literary agent’s office.

And I’ve written several of my own query letters over years.

I’m convinced of these things: there is no one format (as one book on the subject suggests) that sells all books. Non-fiction buyers want to know why they should listen to what you have to say and why they should take your word for it. They are defensive buyers, whether they are editors or readers.

Fiction buyers are a more relaxed group. They want a good story, and all you have to do to win them over is, tell it. So be aware that the query letter doesn’t have to reveal how long you’ve been working on the brick foundation, or even that you went to Barnard’s bricklaying adult-education classes.

You don’t need to drum up a hard sell, you don’t want to bribe them with your first born or your outstanding eggnog recipe (I do have a knockout eggnog recipe, should anyone be interested), and you don’t want to scare them off by sending your picture. Keep it straightforward.

They just want a feel for the writer you are, one holding out this hopefully promising manuscript with a minimal paragraph that invites them to look it over, and the information they need to return it, or even better, to speak to you.

Since you are generally not your most colorful character, you don’t have to create a strained effort to carry a story voice into the letter. Keep it simple.

Sim. Ple.

Remember to enclose your manuscript and your sase. A reasonable form of contact information should be part of the query letter—meaning, if your cell phone is not functioning 24/7, give them a more reliable number.

And just between you and me, if you are unpublished, never listen to advice to send to one agent or editor at a time. Just don’t listen. Whoever gets back to you first, or gets back to you at all, they are your target. But a shotgun is more effective than a blowgun in the publishing world.

In light of recent events, this seems a poor analogy to employ. Let me try again. . . . . . . . I’m trying. I’m thinking of things that come in great excess. Floods. Haystacks. Traffic. Sandy beaches. Grass hoppers in certain years. Hmmm. Doubtless the reason why we have clichés. I’ll come back to this later.

Anyway, don’t expect a rapid reply. Move on to your next project, waiting to be written. And don’t wait a year, anxiously checking the mailbox, hoping. It’s reasonable to shake the cage (I’m sure editors would prefer I work on this analogy, too) after three or four months. Inquire about the work you sent. If someone hasn’t read it, assume they won’t. Just don’t stop writing.

Don’t stop writing.

Don’t stop writing.

Just don’t.

For a fascinating read, and more useful advice than I can offer on the subject of getting published, please look for Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees.

Rejection letters.

They happen.

Just move on.

Move on!

Don’t take six weeks of your writing life to recover from this disappointment. Don’t start racking up empty bottles of Southern Comfort. Also don’t stop breathing. And don’t give up hope.

You’re tougher than that. Certainly you’ll need to be.

You believe in what you’re doing and you’ve got something else partway along (nearly finished, right?) and that work will suffer if you set it aside to mope. Don’t waste that six weeks and don’t blame anybody else if you do.

Six weeks is maybe sixty pages, even if you’re only writing in the back seat while the kids are at karate class. Write them gladly. Gaily, even. Tack the rejection letter up in the outhouse as if you might need it when the Sears catalog runs out, but really, just keep it. You want to remember who to burn in effigy when you finally do get published. And if you’re making a really really really serious effort, you’ll have enough of these, that, yeah, really, you’ll have forgotten most of their names.

Write. So that they’ll have to remember yours.