As much as I’d love to dive in to the main topic of my post, the sad truth is I can’t do it without touching upon the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. I remember coming home on a balmy evening in Delhi, though I don’t recall from where, and watching what I thought was scenes from some new Hollywood movie but turned out to be the news. It shocked me quite a bit, and saddened me even more. It was an event that left a major impact on the whole world, and we were left reeling from the after-effects of it for months and years to come. There is no more to do but take a minute of silence to pray for those who lost their lives on that day.
Coming back to writing, I’ve been thinking of a few bad quirks that writers pick up. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that writers are an eccentric lot. I’ve listed only a few of the points, but I’m sure you can think of many more!
Here’s what I think writers should NOT do:
- Submit a story that hasn’t been revised multiple times
Even when I was starting out, I had an inkling that my first drafts were not palatable. Leave aside sending it to an editor, I couldn’t even dream of zipping it across to a fellow writer for critique. Nowadays the time between my final draft and first draft is at least one month, if not more.
- Succumb to envy of other writers
I’m sorry to say I’ve been a victim of writer envy more times than I care to count. It’s quite natural, and judging by my Twitter feed, its more common than one might imagine. But I’m happy to report that, with a little self-introspection, I’ve managed to conquer this. Nowadays, whenever I come across the announcement of a fellow writer’s publication or award win, I am able to greet the news with genuine enthusiasm and wish them a hearty congratulations.
- Submit a story to a journal they haven’t read even a sample story
My submissions in the early days would follow the strategy of ‘throw it and see what sticks’. I’d send out stories willy-nilly, not even checking if they matched the aesthetic or the tone of the journal I was submitting to. Most literary journals post excerpts or entire issues online, so it should not be an excuse to skip this step.
- Avoid submitting to top venues for fear of rejection
This is somewhat the opposite of the previous point, wherein imposter syndrome takes hold of a writer and they refuse to send work to the best journals, confident that nothing but a rejection lies in the offing. It took me some time to adopt the attitude of ‘what’s the worst that could happen – they would reject it’. So, I do send to the best venues, careful that I submit my finest work, and have been rewarded with publication and even personal rejections that praised my stories.
- Forget tracking their submissions
This is a big no-no. It is crucial for writers to track where they’ve submitted, to avoid sending stories to venues that don’t accept simultaneous submissions, and to follow up with publications if more time has passed. Simple spreadsheet templates are available online that you can use for this purpose.
- Avoid writing just because they got a rejection
I’m guilty of this. Months go by without acceptances and sometimes I don’t feel that nudge to write until those glowing words light up my inbox. With practice and having developed a thick skin to rejection, I’ve now got over this, and continue writing no matter what, no matter the number of rejections streaming into my inbox while I write.
- Respond to rejections with nasty comments or even questions asking for feedback
The temptation to reply to editors and/or agents with all manner of curses and insults may prove difficult for most writers to resist, but resist you must! Nastiness to someone whom you hope to work with is an obvious no-no, but so is soliciting feedback. To us writers, its just one email asking for feedback or detailed reasons for rejection. But on the receiving side, it’s a veritable flood. The best solutions – vent to a writer friend who understands, or draft that email but don’t send it out. But under no circumstances must you succumb and respond to a rejection!
- Air their grievances about querying/submitting/rejections on social media
This is a step-up from the point above. No matter how much or how little I use social media, I’ve never felt the urge to vent publicly and rant about my writing-related frustrations there. Even if you do so, make sure to not name the publication or make it obvious who you are talking about. I’d just say to avoid it in the first place, but if not then do all that you need to, to avoid getting blacklisted.
- Keep saying “I’ll write” but never get around to doing it
I used to do this, but regular practice has helped me get over both the inertia of writing and the fear of the blank page. If you are a writer, you must write, even if it’s a few pages every other Tuesday.
- Give up on their writing and their dreams!
This is one I tell myself all the time! I love writing too much to give it up anyway, but even so, I and many other writers entertain the notion of giving up as they haven’t met with as much success. So, this is for all those writers out there. Take heed of Richard Bach’s words – A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
There must be more, but these have been on the top of my mind recently. Can you think of any to add to the list? Do share in the comments below!