by Kevin Lauderdale
After decades of
trying Iíve sold four short stories in three years to professional
venues, and so far this year Iíve sold two. So, while I am now
someone from whom an unpublished writer might be willing to take
advice, Iím still close enough to having no credits to list on my
cover letter that I remember what itís like.
The Question is,
How Do I Become A Writer? And The Answer (indeed, the only answer)
is, You Write. Seems simple. Almost flippant. And yet you would be
surprised at how many people are unwilling to take even that first
ďOh, I just donít
have the time,Ē they say. ďI want to be a writer. If only I werenít
so busy with the kids and school and . . .Ē
ďDo you ever watch
television?Ē I ask.
Well, there you
have it. If you watch even one hour of television a week, thatís an
hour you could free up for writing. Fifty-two hours in a year equals
an entire work week plus the next Monday plus Tuesday before lunch
that you could be writing. Carve out two hours a week, and thatís
the equivalent of spending your vacation plus the days you called in
sick to go to ballgames working on what is supposedly your labor of
love, your chosen craft. I focus on television because, while I love
it as much as any red-blooded American, it is, frankly, something
you can turn off. If you are looking for the one thing you can give
up in order to find time to write, donít make it your family and
donít make it your work around the house. Make it TV.
And thatís just one
hour a week. What if you wrote for an hour a day?
Rex Stout, the
creator of portly, orchid-loving private investigator Nero Wolfe
(perhaps you caught the TV adaptation on A&E a few years ago),
became determined to apply himself to writing when he ran the
numbers and found that if he wrote just one page a day, every day,
in one year he would have a 100,000 word novel.
Granted, if your
goal is to write Dr. Who novels, then you should be watching Dr.
Who. Thatís research.
But there are no
American Idol novels.
ďBut I never miss
And that brings us
to the genie.
If a genie were to
appear to you and say, ďI will hand you a complete short story
written in your chosen genre, all nice and neat and ready to be sent
to a publisher, and all you have to do is not watch American Idol
this year,Ē would you take it?
There is an old
motivational trope: ďWhat would you be doing now if you knew you
could not fail? Do that.Ē In other words, pretend that there is a
publisher in New York eagerly awaiting your next work. She has a
check in hand, just waiting to give it to you. All you need to do
is write the piece. You have already ďwon.Ē You just need to do the
actual work. Would you sit around watching Big Brother, or would you
somehow find the time?
What are you
willing to give up? What if the genie were to say to you, ďAre you
willing to trade the memories and experience of watching a
television program for the memories and experience of holding a
magazine or book in your hands with your story in it?Ē
If the genie were
to appear to Philippa Gregory or Dean Koontz and offer to trade them
all the books they have written in exchange for having watched more
TV, would they take it?
Now, having cleared
out a chunk of time, you sit down to write.
But you arenít
just another form of fear. You fear that you wonít be able to start.
You fear that you wonít have anything to say once you do. But most
of all, you fear that what you do write wonít be any good, and you
will be rejected.
It may help to know
that a dozen publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book before
Bloomsbury accepted it. Yet before anything can be accepted or
rejected it still has to be written and then sent out. There is
nothing to fear from rejection, except what you might tell yourself
it means. All a rejection letter ever means is that someone wanted
something other than what you could give them. I guarantee you that
editors will not telephone you late at night and mock you
unmercifully, and the beautiful thing about rejection form letters
is that they are impersonal. No one I know has ever received a
rejection letter reading something like:
Andrew, this is
abysmal tripe. You are an embarrassment to writers everywhere,
Andrew. Not only should you not quit your day job, Andrew, you
should get a second one.
In fact, if you are
lucky enough to receive a note from an editor detailing what she
didnít like about the story, then you should immediately rewrite it,
fixing those elements, and resubmit it.
You are the writer,
not the editor. It is not your job to decide if a magazine should
run your story or a publisher print your book. If you write
something (or worse, just think about it, but donít actually write
it) and then think, ďEh, they wonít like this; Iím not going to send
it in,Ē then, hey, youíre right. Any story you donít send in has a
100% chance of not being accepted. Any story you do send in has some
If the genie were
to offer you a publishing contract in exchange for putting some
pages in an envelope and walking to a mailbox, would you take that
offer? (And you donít even have to do that. Most editors prefer
electronic submissions. What would you like in exchange for typing
an e-mail address and pressing ENTER?)
That is, ultimately
The Secret. Ask yourself what you are trading in exchange for not
doing what you want to do. Ask yourself what you would be willing to
give away in exchange for doing what you want to do.
Now . . . pretend
youíve never heard of me.
You are the genie.
Upcoming from Kevin Lauderdale are
"James and the Dark Grimoire," which will appear in Cthulhu Unbound,
a cross-genre Lovecraftian collection from Permuted Press, and "The
Laughing C'rell" will be published in Neo-opsis magazine.