Skip to main content

My Writer Success Story Began With Getting Over Myself

Debut author Christina Wyman discusses how getting out of her own way led to her authorial success.

At 40 years old, I’d been writing essays for ten years when I nearly gave up on trying to meet my writing and publishing goals. I’m an academic and researcher and while I’d achieved modest success landing unpaid bylines in obscure niche, regional and trade outlets, most of my submissions went ignored after I shot them off into the black hole of the Internet (otherwise known as editors’ inboxes).

(Keeping the Writing Faith: Defining & Redefining Success to Maintain Your Motivation)

But writing is in my bones, and despite my frustrations, giving up didn’t seem like an option. I had, however, grown weary of donating my labor to outlets that were more than happy to interpret payment in terms of exposure, shares, and likes on their social media channels. Exposure, shares, and likes are a nice ego boost, but they don’t pay the rent.

Still, to say that I felt defeated is an understatement. While writing essays, I’d also been working on a children’s book. On social media, I'd watch other authors announce their successes and feel sick with envy: The Young Adult writer 10 years my junior who scored a two-book deal, or the freelance essayist promoting her third piece with the New York Times.

I’d always prided myself on being a supportive colleague—others’ successes, I knew, were hard-fought and hard-earned and deserved only positive acknowledgement and praise. So I’d honor their good news with a pit of envy occupying my innards like a jagged pebble. I wondered what these authors knew that I didn’t.

In darker moments, I assumed that there was a simple explanation: Perhaps I was a talent-less hack and not cutout for the sort of publishing goals I was pursuing. Most of all, I wondered whether I’d ever have my own good news to share.

Upping the Ante

As the pandemic closed in, I became tired of my pity parties and decided to up the ante. I knew that if I wanted to sell an essay to an outlet that more than a handful of people actually read, I needed to learn to crack the code. It was time to go back to school. Last summer, I decided to take an essay- and pitch-writing class with New York Times bestselling author Susan Shapiro.

At that point, I’d been a teacher for 14 years at both the middle school and college levels. I’d graded scores of essays and even got my students published in some of the same outlets my own writing had appeared in. And yet, nothing could have prepared me for the difficulties I faced when taking a class with a pro.

I saw with fresh eyes how my essays were trite and lacked perspective and how my pitches lacked clarity and appeal. I was equal parts humbled and irritated by the experience. I considered dropping the class midway through.

My Writer Success Story Began With Getting Over Myself

Getting Over Myself

Shapiro’s course, however, was not just an education in how to get your writing published. It was an eight-week lesson in how to get over yourself. I’ll never forget when, early on, she told stories about how hard she’d worked to get her essays out into the world. She was always forthcoming about how much writing, rewriting, submitting, and resubmitting she’d had to do.

“You can be right or you can be published,” Shapiro had said. Her highly regarded book Byline Bible also speaks to the level of dedication required to make it to the big leagues. “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” she writes.

And still, after weeks of writing essays and pitches that didn’t quite make the mark, I once again became sorely discouraged. On a whim, I began writing about how I was born with a severe overbite and deformed jaw—an orthodontic condition known as a Class II Malocclusion and skeletal imbalance.

For our last class together, I submitted an essay about how the requirement to wear a mask had given me a break from the body dysmorphia that plagued me for thirty years. This piece became my “humiliation” essay, Shapiro’s hallmark assignment with which she encourages her students to reveal their most embarrassing secret.

I read my essay to the class and admitted how, thanks to my skeletal condition, masks allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the freedom from wondering what other people were thinking about the lower half of my face. Five weeks later, my essay, I am insecure about my face. For me, masks are liberating, was published in the Washington Post. It was my first piece published in a major outlet and the first time I’d been paid for my writing.

Success Operates on Its Own Timeline

Within days, an editor with Farrar, Straus and Giroux (a division of Macmillan) saw my essay and contacted me to discuss my writerly aspirations. Exactly five months after my piece was published, I landed an agent and a book deal. I am now officially a writer for children. My debut novel, Jawbreaker, follows a seventh grader with a craniofacial anomaly that’s caught the attention of her school bullies—including her own sister. Publication is set for the spring of 2023.

After considerable rejection, landing an agent and a book deal was something that I never thought would happen for me. Taking Shapiro’s class, learning to get over myself, and revealing my most humiliating secret in essay form had changed my life. Since then, my essays have appeared in The Guardian, Marie Claire, ELLE, and other high profile publications.

I continue to set lofty publishing goals, and am no longer discouraged by rejection, hard feedback and silence. It took me ten years to learn that success operates on its own timeline; getting out of my own way and becoming a student again was the first step. 

Blogging 101

A key to success for any writer is having an online presence. Blogging is one way to share your expertise and—at the same time—build an author platform. Don’t know how to start a blog? Not sure what to focus on? Don’t fret! This online writing workshop will guide you through the entire blogging process—how to create and setup a blog, where to start, and much more. You’ll learn how to attract readers and how to market your writing. Start a successful blog today and get noticed by editors and publishers.

Click to continue.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

The occasional bump in the writing process is normal, but it can be difficult to work through. Here, author Genevieve Essig shares five ways to keep your writing rolling.

From Script

How to Write from a Place of Truth and Desire and Bending the Rules in Screenwriting (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with screenwriter Steven Knight (Spencer), Mike Mills (C'mon C'mon), and David Mitchell (Matrix Resurrection). Plus, how to utilize your vulnerability in your writing and different perspectives on screenwriting structure.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Forgetting To Read

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is forgetting to read.

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Tapping Your Memories for Emotional Truths on the Page

Sharing even a fraction of our feelings with our characters will help our stories feel more authentic. Here, Kris Spisak explains how to tap into our memories to tell emotional truths on the page.

Poetic Forms

Trinet: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the trinet, a seven-line form based on word count.

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Tammye Huf: On Real Love That Sparked Inspiration

Debut novelist Tammye Huf discusses how her own familial love story inspired her historical fiction novel, A More Perfect Union.

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Announcing the Second Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the second annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Going Rogue

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character go rogue.

How to Love Writing a Book

How to Love Writing a Book

When you’re in the weeds of the writing process, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Here, author Radhika Sanghani shares her tips on how to love the process of writing your book.