You’re just starting out. The writing world is mysterious and confusing. You wonder if your creative dream is a futile hope. Where to turn?
Aha! Some advice comes over the horizon like a beam of sunshine into a night fog. If you follow these steps, you will get published. Finally, something clear-cut.
But with those steps comes the inevitable cycle of rejection. Yes, you’ll get published! But, no, you won’t!
What to believe? How to take this?
It’s all about the journey.
If you’re starting out, now is not the time to assume that publishing advice will work. Now is also not the time to assume that tips for getting published won’t work (a fallacy trumpeted from some corners). Everyone has something that works for them. But you’re going to need some time and patience with yourself as you figure it out for your own unique journey. Let’s talk about focus, perspective, and what to expect from being a writer.
There Are No Formulas, Only Principles
Formulas promise that a certain series of steps will lead to a certain result. Principles promise that a general way of conduct will have a general effect. Often, instructions on how to get published are given with such authority that newer writers intuitively mistake them for steps in a formula.
Countless times over, I’ve heard the same theme and variations on forums, in emails, in blog posts, around a table full of creative types. “You mean I have to do A in exactly B way, or I won’t get published?”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s some kind of formula, conspiracy or trick involved in getting past the gatekeeping. What it takes is applied principles.
Publishing Advice vs. Writing Advice
The Two Legs of the Writing Life
There are two distinct realms in the creative life. The one where we create in silence and solitude, and the one where we begin to communicate with others through the medium of our work. In On Writing, Stephen King simply calls it closed-door and open-door. If measuring yourself accurately and staying true to yourself are the two steps you take over and over, these are the legs which power those steps.
Do The Work
Writing advice is about the art. It’s separate from publishing advice, and it’s foundational to it, because this is the stuff that makes the art worth sharing. Until you speak the written language fluently, you can’t connect and communicate. The top principle in the cascading hierarchy, the thing which governs all else, is this: have something great to say, and say it in a great way.
Attempting to get published will measure your artistic skills–concept, storyline, plot, character, prose. Argumentation, style, structure. That’s what rejection slips are for. You cannot build publishing relationships without key creative skills. You must work at a level that’s worth sharing. That’s non-negotiable.
This is how you communicate with the rest of the world, from agent to editor to reader. Before you can talk to any of them effectively, it has to be clear, compelling and understandable.
Share the Work
Publishing advice–what to submit, where to submit it, when in your career to make the attempt–is a series of experiments that will help you find your unique path. It provides a framework of communication principles for building relationships based on the quality of your work. If you don’t want those relationships, go ahead: Spit on the submission guidelines, ignore the principles of your art form, and all those other don’ts.
Publishing advice assists you in learning how to achieve the connections involved in creative communication. Not everyone will adore your work, but your own unique set of relationships will emerge over time. And they might as well be ones that you can love in return, not just idealize as bastions of publishedness, because it’s your career in the balance.
When Publishing Advice Will Begin to Work
It’s the art that opens the door–when the right art meets the right people. It’s that simple. That principle governs all other principles of creative communications. Until the art and craft are ready, it’s not time to assume that publishing advice will work.
In principle, then, the first step to getting published is simply to measure your work regularly and stay aware of your own progress. That requires feedback. Learn whatever you can from critique, from mentorship, from writers’ workshops or conferences, from the best books on writing. And from taking rejection slips.
Creation is one lifelong action of ever-increasing fluency, not a formula of steps to be followed. Be a principled creative person. Know where you are on the journey, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Measure yourself accurately. Stay true to yourself.
Image: Pencils by the trial on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Categories: Articles on Writing