by Marie Valentine, editor
Sometimes we don’t want to put our writing out into the world because we fear rejection. To be a successful writer, you are going to experience some of this mental pain. But if you want to keep your promise to yourself to be a writer, you will need to thicken your writing skin. Here are a few suggestions on ways to gently callous your soul so that nothing (well, almost nothing) will bother you in the future of your literary career.
Read Your Old Writing
This step is to give you some perspective and levity for your future toughing up. Look back at your really old stuff, first stories or schoolwork. Remember how awesome you thought your high school free verse manuscript “Random Thoughts” was, and how offended you were to be rejected for prizes on it. (This writer may be speaking from personal experience here.)
*Benefit: Humility-check of your early writings includes a good dose of entertainment value as well.
Kill Those Darlings
The “darlings” are the duds that writers often have a hard time “killing” because we don’t recognize them. (As in “Kill your darlings,” darlings.) These are the clichés, overused alliterations, and gross digressions that it hurts to chop, but if you want to publish, you must slash them.
Journalists know darling-death well because we often lose big chunks of a story due to space limitations in print. To get writing published in any sphere, you will have to submit to someone else’s edits, unless you self-publish (see “Work with an Editor” section below).
So, do not fall in love with your language to the point where you can’t part with it, except in your wordy-as-you-want private journals, which you never have to chop up and can drag out all day long.
*Benefit: Your work will be cleaner and sharper for the slicing.
Beta Readers vs. Critique Groups
Putting work in front of any reader requires bravery, and, along with potentially improving your work, is a surefire way to pump your courage up to move on to the next steps with your project. The earliest manuscript readers with whom you workshop can be a source of moral support on your writer journey.
Not all readers are created equal. A beta reader is a first reader, often a friend or colleague, so, many times these readers are biased toward the author. While they don’t have to be professional book people, try to get beta readers who read within your genre, if you want to get a little closer to the truth when it comes to reader expectations.
Critique groups, too, should be considered carefully. A group of unpublished, first-time novelists is going to have different feedback than a group of agented, published, working writers. Consider the source when it comes to feedback.
*Benefit: You may read some awesome work by others and hone your own critique skills in return.
Submit your Work for Publication
It’s not a masochistic act to submit, contrary to popular writer legend. A handful of rejection slips can train you quickly in what publishers don’t want to see. Sometimes a kind editor who sees promise in the work will give you useful tips toward improvement.
If your work eventually gets accepted after careful targeting of a chosen few publishers that match your project, you will have gained more than a thicker writing skin.
*Benefit: You’ll have done the work of sending out queries and following submission guidelines. Plus, you may get published. Bonus!
Work with an Editor
Once work is accepted for publication, an editor will help you bring your work into polished focus. A good editor will make your work even better than you thought possible. This blooming often comes through rigorous revisions and hopefully not-too-painful cuts to your work.
Swallowing your writerly ego and working through challenges an editor might bring to light is only going to strengthen the piece.
*Benefit: You and your editor might build a mutually admiring and respectful co-creator relationship.
If you are self-publishing and lack the direction an in-house editor can bring, our professional network can help your publication dreams become a reality, while offering you the chance to deliver a finely honed product to market.
Marie Valentine, professional book editor, develops, designs, copyedits, proofreads, and fact-checks fiction and nonfiction books.