7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tom Bentley

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


Tom Bentley has run a writing and editing
business for more than 10 years. He’s published
many freelance pieces—ranging from first-person
essays to travel pieces to more journalistic subjects
—in newspapers, magazines, and online. He’s also
a published fiction writer. See his lurid website
confessions (and the range of his writing
services) on his website.


1. Submit the project and move on. Whether it’s a personal essay, flash fiction or a tone-poem rewrite of Finnegan’s Wake, endless dithering over whether there’s too much passive voice or too little interior dialog means the work is endless too. Ship it.

2. You’re only as good as your next sentence. Resting on your post-published laurels is much like resting on your hind end. Comfortable, but it won’t keep the hounds of “what have you done for me lately” at bay. By the way, thinking that something you’ve done is “good enough” might mean it isn’t—but being paranoid is really the province of serial killers and tax assessors, so keep that keyboard warm.

3. Fifteen minutes of work on something is 100 times better than thinking about working on something. Heck, write it by hand, write it after a crisp martini, write it on one of those diver’s slates for writing underwater. Write for 15 and you might write for 15 more. Tolstoy only did a half-hour a day, and look where he went. (Note: this is a lie, but I like to think of it as a “writing prompt.”)

4. Reading writing blogs, publishing news, and/or cleaning up your submissions spreadsheet is not writing. Sure, all those things need doing, and in good time. But not in the good time that you could be spending writing. Writers write (though you can forgive yourself for imagining the publishing party and that killer black dress you’ll wear).

5. Trust your voice, even if you occasionally hear all your favorite authors and your mother among them. You do have a voice, don’t you?

6. If you’re not fearless, fake it. Do you know that info about people “fake smiling,” and it having a positive effect on their moods? Fake your fearlessness: Write about things that make you uncomfortable, that are edgy, that sting. You’ll fear them less and less after you brush their hideous fangs up close and personal.

7. Don’t worry about two editors or publishers or agents hand-wringingly wanting your book at the same time (through simultaneous submissions); this is like expecting to win the lottery, get that first elusive kiss, and bake a perfect lemon chiffon pie the first time out. Worry about wrinkles or the demotion of Pluto instead.


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10 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Tom Bentley

  1. Kim/Kenaipi


    Great list. I love it. Imagine my surprise to run across you here – I usually see you in a different forum!
    Congrats and I enjoyed your ‘voice’. 🙂


  2. David Eastis

    Excellent guidance for authors. "7 things I’ve learned…" is one of the thousands of helpful advice columns written on a myriad of interesting topics from "Seven health tips" to "Seven keys to financial success." From my research in writing the first seven book, "7"–all about the popular number 7, I’ve found most advice features have seven points. Why not 6 or 8 recommendations for how to improve relationships? Writers choose 7 since it resonates with people. To learn more about the 7-phenomenon, check out the first book about seven. http://www.the7book.com/
    "7" by David Eastis

  3. Lara

    I love #6. Writing is all about faking it, isn’t it? Even when we wonder if anything we write is worth reading, we have to keep writing–faking the confidence to believe that other people will care (will need!) to read our work.

    Thank you for a witty, inspiring post!

  4. Tom Bentley

    Thanks folks; glad you got something out of my meanderings. I tried to come up with an eighth thing, and the well was dry—thank goodness this allows what’s learned "so far"; still far to go.

    And Joel, I’ll lie to you too if it will help you get things done faster.

  5. elle robb

    Excellent post – best advice I’ve read in a long time. I’m sharing this with my critique group and then printing it for posting (I’m thinking bathroom mirror, closet door, next to my laptop, refrigerator door . . . )


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