14 April 2011

Guest Post by Catherine Schaff-Stump: So, you want to be a writer, do you?


Catherine Schaff-Stump
Let's talk about the quality that all writers must have before all things. Before tenacity. Before skill. Before work ethic. Let's talk about patience.  Where is the first place you will encounter a need for patience? With your manuscript. You will finish it, and you will want to send it away. Don't. Put it in a drawer for a couple of months, and then work on revising it. 

Get some feedback on it, and then, after a few times through it, send it out. I rework mine several times, and if it's not taken on somewhere, chances are good I will do substantial revisions on it sometime in the future. Creating a good work of art isn't quick. I'm getting the years perspective in my mind's eye, you betcha.  

After completing the work, the next place you'll need patience is when you submit your work. The urgency you will feel as you wait for the world to give you feedback will be in direct contrast to the size of the abyss you send your work into. Be mellow about it. Own your patience. Get on with your life. You can't sit by the computer refreshing your inbox and hoping. If you wander the Internet landscape, you'll hear about writers getting book deals years after they've submitted to slush. Or worse, rejections, years after. Give over the response to the universe, and do something else.  

It can take a long time after you've gotten an agent to sell a book to an editor. It can take a long time to get your career balanced where you want it. It can take a long time to get an acceptance from a box store market. If your work is accepted, you'll need patience continually. Waiting for the edits, waiting for the publication, waiting for the proofs, waiting for the check, waiting, waiting, waiting. 

This is the nature of publishing. I've heard that the cycle of a book going from accepted manuscript to published product is about two years at a minimum after you've done all the writing, revising, and shopping around. Writing taken from this perspective seems to be an occupation for the self-flagellating type A. You'd best become a type B mellow person in regard to your writing life. Given this information, I think if you're looking for a life of recognition and fame, petty crime is better. 

There's another piece to this, and that's what happens to the impatient. Some writers give up. I say you should, absolutely, if you can. Waiting is not satisfying. Some writers self-publish. I say if you do, make sure you want to be a PR person, an editor, and a sales force, in addition to writing books. Some writers publish in small press, or publish for free. I have done this, but if you do it, consider the implications for your career. Strangely enough, this doesn't work linearly, like it does in almost every other occupation. Consider the reputation of the venue, how much you'll be paid for your work, and the overall impact on your writing career. I'll just assume you're waiting for one of those. Here I am. Waiting. 

Current manuscripts given over to the cosmos. Writing the next project. Walking the walk. Talking the talk. Waiting for the next opportunity to revise. Waiting for the agent, the sale, the publishing. Waiting for one short story to come out. Waiting for the edits on another. Waiting for the rejections, the partials, the fulls, the revision requests. Waiting for chance and skill to combine together into opportunity. Not even chewing my fingernails. Nope. Because this is the writer's life. Writing, sending, waiting, rejecting, rewriting, sending, waiting. With the occasional acceptance to keep things interesting. I'm walking tall. I'm a writer. You? 

Do you have the patience and the guts to send your work out, and wait for your writing to be good enough to get you the results you're hoping for? And then the ability to wait some more while those pieces fall into place? I hear Solitaire passes the time when you're tired of writing the next thing. Me? I sew, talk long walks with my husband, and pet my cats.


Catherine Schaff-Stump is a writer, teacher, researcher and novelist based in Iowa. Catherine's blog can be found at Writer Tamago and she can be followed on twitter at @cathschaffstump 

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