7 Things I’ve Learned so Far, by S.B. Divya

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by S.B. Divya, author of RUNTIME) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent—by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

S.B. Divya, author of RUNTIME (May 2016, Tor.com), is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. After spending twenty years working as an electrical engineer, she gave more weight to fiction than reality and became an author. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards. She’s currently the Assistant Editor for Escape Pod, a podcast of science fiction short stories. Follow her on Twitter.

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1. Take a class or workshop. There’s nothing like a deadline and a guaranteed audience to motivate you to finish a story. I took an online class with Gotham Writers Workshop, but there are plenty of other good options, both in-person and online. Most will require you to submit a finished work and learn to give and receive critiques. Many will also force you to produce something new during the class or workshop, which is a great exercise in silencing your inner critic.

2. Join a writing group. This one can come with its share of pitfalls, so choose carefully. After my first short story was published, I joined the Codex Writers’ Group, a forum aimed at neo-pro writers of genre fiction, where I found an incredibly active, supportive, and informative community. I knew about them because I’d seen them mentioned in story notes by authors whose work I admired. When choosing a group, consider the type of writing that group does, whether the skill level of the other members is comparable to yours, and whether you can reasonably meet the group’s schedule for submitting and critiquing.

3. Short stories are a gateway. Science fiction and fantasy have a long history of supporting short fiction. If you don’t mind stepping away from your bestselling novel dreams, writing and publishing short fiction can be a great way to establish yourself in the community and also to polish your basic storytelling skills. This is also a good route to consider if your lifestyle doesn’t give you lots of time to write. It’s much faster to draft, revise, and submit a short story than a novel.

4. Say yes to everything. When opportunity knocks, answer it, even if it isn’t something that was in your original master plan. Early in your career, you can afford to take chances, and many things can be taken as learning experiences. I said yes to writing for a video game, yes to being a first-reader for a magazine, and yes to a novella contest, all of which have paid off in different ways, including leading me to my first standalone publication and an agent. The one caveat here is to beware of overcommitment. Like any other job, don’t take on so much that you can’t deliver on your promises.

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5. Participate in conventions. If you have the time and money, going to science fiction and fantasy conventions is a great way to forward your career. You’ll have access to panels on craft, business, and fandom. Many offer writing workshops. They’re great places to meet other authors, editors and publishers, though it’s healthier if you see these as opportunities for long-lasting friendships rather than making deals.

6. Be supportive. You reap what you sow, and while it’s true that we’re all competing for market share, there are plenty of readers out there. Give supportive critiques to others. Cheer their successes and commiserate over their rejections. Support projects like anthologies or new magazines by contributing to and promoting their efforts. Genre fiction, in particular, seems to go through cycles of drama and upheaval, so be aware of that negativity. Steer clear of it if it starts to discourage you from writing and reading what you love.

7. Send it out. This one applies to all kinds of fiction. Get yourself a few beta readers who are familiar with the subgenres that you’re writing. Have them check your story for things like world-building consistency, overuse of tropes, and suspension of disbelief, in addition to the usual building blocks of fiction. Use their comments for judicious editing, and then submit your story. Whether you’re sending out queries to agents or full manuscripts to short story magazines, you won’t get published unless you try. Perhaps you feel like you’re shooting for the moon. I certainly did when I sent my novella in for an open submission call, but sometimes the orbital paths align, the hardware doesn’t break, and you get to land somewhere new.


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