The late George V. Higgins revolutionized the crime novel genre with his first book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The story was told almost entirely in idiomatic, tough-guy dialogue, which became Higgins’ trademark through 25 or so more novels. Among his nonfiction books was one titled On Writing. In that book, Higgins wrote, “If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a writer and you never will be.”
Twice a month, our library workshop meets to read and critique our writing among ourselves. By now, we regulars are comfortable with and trusting of one another, and we are committed to the goal of helping one another improve our writing and our stories. Except in rare instances, we do not fear the others’ critiques. We push each other to do better, while cheering for each other’s success at the same time.
We write because we have stories to tell. But if we’re honest, we should admit that we also write because we want our stories to be read.
As wonderful as writers’ workshops are, I think we participants tend to let ourselves off easy by being sufficiently satisfied when our colleagues read and praise our manuscripts. We should commit ourselves to getting our stories read in published form. We should be sending our writing out to magazines large and small, to contests, to websites and to literary agents.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by several writers who are willing and determined to move their material beyond the cozy cove of our workshop into the great sea of submitting.
JoAnn is reviewing a final draft (about No. 15 or so) of a literary novel that she’s about to send to agents. We’ve heard several chapters in our group.
Martin has a book proposal out among agents, has entered a spec script in a top-rated TV show’s contest, and sent a spec op-ed piece to a national newspaper’s pundit search. All of those pieces got critiqued in our workshop.
And Sue, who has recently joined our group for feedback on her novel-in-progress, is a serial submitter of shorter work she often starts in a different workshop. The result? She has published many stories, one of which was nominated for a famous national prize.
Why don’t the rest of us submit our work? Is it laziness, or lack of interest, or lack of time to do so? Perhaps. Above all, though, the real reason is probably fear. More precisely, fear of rejection.
Just the other day, I found some helpful thoughts on this from a writer named Jennifer Blanchard at her blog, procrastinatingwritersblog.com. Blanchard writes:
“Just because your writing was rejected, that doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. All writers get rejected at some point in their careers. It’s the writers who use rejection as fuel to become a better writer and keep putting themselves out there [who] eventually succeed. . . .
“Plus, it’s better to have a ton of rejection letters and know that you’re actually attempting your writing dreams than it is to have none because you were never brave enough to try.”
Hear, hear. Please join me in making a renewed effort to seek to publish what we’ve written.