7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mare Swallow (The Etiquette Bitch)

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Mare Swallow) 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.

Mare Swallow is a writer and performer in Chicago.
She writes the blog Etiquette Bitch and regularly
appears as a guest on WGN Radio in Chicago.
She’s also a featured memoirist in the
book It All Changed in an Instant.


1. Publishing isn’t about your “art”—it’s a business. After my book (about a really awful real estate experience) was rejected more than 20 times, I moaned to an editor friend of mine, “Why are they dinging my creative pursuits?” She pointed out to me that for a publisher, this isn’t about my “creative pursuit”—it’s a business. They need to make money. If my book won’t help achieve that end, I need to change something on my end.

2. It’s okay if people don’t like you. The first time I got negative comments on my blog, I took it personally, and worried that people wouldn’t like me. After talking to a colleague who warned me to stay out of the “zone of mediocrity,” I realized it’s okay if they hate me—they’re reading!

3. When you’re stuck on your writing, do something else creative, and step away from the keyboard. Dance. Paint. Collage. Take photos. Drink coffee and read a trashy novel. Play music. Ride a horse. Go to a video arcade. (Anyone old enough to know what that is?) Just don’t write, and don’t think about your writing. You’ll come back refreshed.

4. Long breaks are okay—you don’t have to write every single day. After multiple rejections, I didn’t write for four months, and berated myself. I think there’s this romantic notion that writers must have an unbreakable routine and write every day. Hogwash. Zadie Smith, according to her interview on NPR, took years off of writing fiction, so I can skip a few months.

5. Get internet savvy—but don’t forget about the real world. My blog, Etiquette Bitch, got attention (and a new home) from the Chicago Tribune because I met someone at a cocktail party. That led to regular radio appearances on WGN radio.

6. Keep making yourself marketable. Even if you’re a killer freelance writer, gigs can be hard to come by. Learn new skills like blogging, video, editing—anything that will make you more marketable in this Facebook-YouTube obsessed world.

7. If I don’t get published (traditionally), fine. I’ve found other creative outlets, including my day job as a workshop leader. But I’m going to keep trying to sell a book. Look out, agents—my query’s coming your way in 2010!


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0 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mare Swallow (The Etiquette Bitch)

  1. Julie

    Re: #4, I agree with Kristan. It’s a lot of pressure to capital-W Write every single day. But the inertia can kill you if you take too much time off at a stretch.

    Write witty emails to friends. Write another page in the most self-indulgent trunk novel in the world, the one you’ll never show to anyone. Just make it something fun enough that you’d miss it if you stopped.

    As for the rest — absolutely! If only it were easy to remember #1 and #7…two sides of the same truth.

  2. Kristan

    I love and completely agree with 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7. But I have a word of caution about 4…

    I’m a huge advocate of NOT beating oneself up for taking breaks, but using Zadie Smith as a supporting example is dangerous. She is by no means the "average" author. Most writers will tell you they have to write and they have to write pretty much every day. So, breaks are okay, but I wouldn’t advise taking them (or excusing them) to be like Zadie Smith, or any other literary superstar.

    Overall great advice though!


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