“Dear contributor, thank you for submitting your story to our magazine,” one publisher wrote to Snoopy. “To save time, we are enclosing two rejection slips: one for this story and one for the next story you send us.”
In publishing, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.
That’s why there is no shortage of advice on writing and getting published. For instance, five commonly quoted rules on writing and finding a publisher came from Robert Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer.
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put the work on the market.
- You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Four of these rules are excellent for both beginning and experienced writers, but I find Rule 3 on the strange side, as do many people; in fact, one online post about these rules comes with an Aspiring Author Warning: “Don’t try #3 at home.” From what I understand, Heinlein admitted that he did revise and rewrite, so I’m not sure where that rule even came from.
Regardless of the oddness of Rule 3, this time-tested list got me thinking about what rules I have subconsciously followed during my 38 years of writing since graduating from journalism school in 1977. So I came up with my “5 for Writing.”
- Get writing. Find the time to write. Then do it.
- Learn by listening–and doing. Solicit feedback, discern what helps you.
- Finish your story. Edit and rewrite, but don’t tinker forever. Reach the finish line.
- Thrive on rejection. Get your story out there. Be fearless. Accept rejection.
- Become a juggler. After one story is finished, be ready to start another. Consider writing two at once.
Note that my Rules 1 and 3 correspond to Heinlein’s 1 and 2. Every list of writing rules probably needs those two because starting and finishing are the two greatest obstacles. As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
As for Rule 2, it takes time to find a reliable circle of friends and colleagues who give you honest and helpful feedback. But it’s critical. Rule 5 may not be for everyone, but I work best when I’m juggling several projects. And if the idea of writing more than one story at a time makes your brain hurt, at least try to get multiple manuscripts on the market; it only increases your odds of finding a publisher.
Finally, my “thrive on rejection” rule was inspired by an old episode of the TV show M*A*S*H when Hawkeye Pierce said something to the effect of “I thrive on rejection.” Hawkeye was talking about not giving up when it came to finding a woman, but I have found that this philosophy also applies to finding publishers. (Both can be heart-breaking pursuits.) That’s why I suggest you try to maintain the same indefatigable spirit of Snoopy–the only writer to ever have a mailbox run away from him when he tried to send off a new manuscript.
So what was Snoopy’s response to his many rejections? He once wrote back to a publisher by saying, “Gentleman, regarding the recent rejection slip you sent me. I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story, and send me fifty thousand dollars.”
After a pause, Snoopy added, “Didn’t you realize that?”
Now that’s a dog who thrives on rejection.