May 18, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: Persist – Guy Stewart #1

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!
The online dictionary says that persistence is “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

My experiences in writing to get publication is the personification of those words. Maybe your experience is, too.

I wrote my first story with a pencil, on lined, loose leaf notebook paper. That was because I was a seventh grader at Osseo Junior High School in 1970. I’d just finished reading the WHITE MOUNTAINS trilogy by John Christopher. I remember the cover of that book (by the late Roger Hane, plus I just discovered he did the 1970 Collier-Macmillan cover of LION, WITCH AND THE WARDROBE ) vividly and the story even more clearly. I can say unashamedly that these books changed my life forever.

When I was done with the last book, I knew I wanted it to go on, though in some vague way, I was aware that while I desperately desired to know what happened next, John Christopher (whose real name was Samuel Youd) was the only one who could write the story.

I took a daring step in my young life.

After a late-bus ride home from school passed by a autumn dried field of harvested corn, I wrote my very first story: “The White Vines”. I remember that it had something to do with plants taking over the world and while it did not survive the 44 year trip to the present, I was clearly hooked. My second story, penciled in immature handwriting, did survive. I recently transcribed it and you can find it here: (Warning – it’s awful! But I wrote and finished it, which is what I’m talking about here.)

For the past 44 years I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing – writing stories and sending them out to publishers. At first, there was no response at all. As a slush reader for STUPEFYING STORIES, I understand now how painful reading can be. I understand in a visceral way how bad stories can be! Mine were truly bad during those years of lonely apprenticeship.

But I kept writing. I read about writing. Though I never spoke to a single person about my writing habit, I gave my English teachers my writing. Two of them took me seriously: Miss Barnes in 9th grade, and Mr. Schwandt in 12th grade. I don’t know whatever happened to Ms. Barnes, but Mr. Schwandt had novels published and though the last time he published anything was ten years ago, I wish I could track him down and tell him how much he inspired me to keep on writing.

With their encouragement; with the books on writing I read and reread, I got better. I kept writing. I sent out more and more of my writing. Though I kept “sort of” records before 1990, that was when I began to do the serious logging. Since that time, I’ve submitted over 850 manuscripts and less than ten percent have been published. Each year though, my statistics get better. Not dramatically because, as Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master”; but I am getting better.

I currently have eleven manuscripts out; I still have an agent, and one of the writers listed above has agreed to read my current science fiction novel and make some comments.

I have been working hard at my writing for the past 44 years. Can you think of a better definition of persistence than doing the same thing with only incremental change over four decades?

Hey, who said, “Isn’t that the definition of insanity?”

Later, folks!

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