7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Paula Bomer

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Paula Bomer, author of BABY & OTHER STORIES) 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.

Paula is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Ann won.)



Paula Bomer grew up in South Bend, IN, and is
the author of Baby and Other Stories (Dec. 2010,
Word Riot Press), which O Magazine called a “brilliant,
brutally raw debut collection,” and received a starred
review from Publishers Weekly. Her fiction has
appeared in dozens of journals, including Fiction,
Open City and Nerve. She’s also the co-publisher
of Artistically Declined Press and the supervising
editor of a literary journal, Sententia.
See her website here.


1. There’s a whole wide world of publications out there. Getting published in the big magazines or journalsThe New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, The Missouri Reviewis a great goal for the short story writer, but it’s not the only way to gain an audience and build a reputation. Once I opened my eyes to the tons of great small magazines and internet journals out there, such as Word Riot, JMWW, Night Train, Storyglossia (I really could go on here for a long time), I started getting published more frequently not to mention discover a fantastic indie writing scene. This isn’t really setting your standards lower; it’s understanding the diversity of publications out there and the great way the Internet has changed the power structure of  the publishing world.

2. It’s OK to be bothered by rejection, but we must move on.
I wrote for more than two decades before I got my first book published. Pretty much every story in my collection was rejected around twenty times before finding a home. I used to save my rejection letters
fondle the ones with encouraging notes scribbled on them. And that’s finethe little hope I derived from tiny words of encouragement! This is a really tough business if you don’t have some sort of inas in, your father is the head of Random House. I generally don’t pretend to be tough about rejection; it hurts. But, you let it bother you, and then you get back to work. I often wrote some of my best stories after a bunch of rejections. To prove everybody wrong.

3. Have the compulsion to write. You have to really, really want to write. I’d die to be Nora Roberts, or really, Philip Roth, but the reality is that there isn’t money in this, there isn’t fame, so why bother? I love writing. I’m not always pleased with my writing, and I go through terrible bouts of writers block, but I know I’ll do this, write, until I no longer can.

4. Let your work mean something. When I was younger, I often tried to be clever and “dark.” This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it is a youthful thing. I often still like to cause trouble in my writingas all the reviews of my book will attest—but really, it’s about the heart. Rip your heart out for your work. Clever can be empty.

5. Try not to be precious. This is really hard for me and I don’t always succeed. Do I really need to write only in the mornings, at my desk, after the kids have gone to school? When I can relax and just write wheneverduring the baby’s nap, slap down some ideas while cooking dinner, have my seven year old scribble notes for me while I’m drivingthen I’m not being precious. It is, after all, just writing, not brain surgery.

6. Read. I don’t trust writers who don’t read a lot. Read books that you wish you’d written. Read the classicsthey’ve been around for a reason.

7. Remain positive, even if it’s only occasionally. I don’t pretend to have not gone through some very dark times where I doubted if I’d ever get published. I’ve been through agents, failed book deals, failed attempts at writing a novel. But I wouldn’t have kept doing it if I didn’t have moments where I thought, I can do this. It will happen.


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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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21 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Paula Bomer

  1. Kaela

    I agree with others, #4 is a downright brilliant piece of advice. I am going to write "Rip your heart out for your work. Clever can be empty." and put it above my writing desk! Thank you Paula.

  2. Valerie Norris

    Thanks for a great post. I’ve been writing and have had small successes, but no book yet. I was encouraged by the length of time it took for you to get a book published.

  3. Anthony V. Toscano

    I enjoyed your list, but I’d add one more item. At some point admit that you have talent enough to write something publishable, or admit that you don’t own the talent. Self-appraisal is essential. Writers conferences and How-To-Write books make big money by capitalizing on dreams. But writers conferences and How-To-Write books would flounder in their ventures if ever they admitted that not everyone owns sufficient talent to write with skill and voice. I don’t trust writers who won’t admit to this fact. I’m an old man who has written much over the course of many years, and who will write until he’s unable to do so; but I wasted far too many years trying to believe that I could publish (not self-publish). Why is it so easy to admit that you cannot make it as a professional football player, yet so difficult to admit that you cannot make it as a a professional writer?

  4. Damomma

    Right now I struggle with finding time to write AND read. It also doesn’t help that what I write is not what I read. Love to read pretty much anything of interest, but I am concentrating on writing children’s books, because my children love hearing my made up stories about them. I wonder if I am doing myself a dis-service by locking myself into a genre. Any thoughts?

  5. Brandi Ballard

    Great post. I see getting a rejection letter as an accomplishment. Yeah, my work did not get accepted but at least I had the guts to send it out. Rejection letters motivate me to improve my writing and keep trying. I also try to have a backup plan for a piece. If I sent it to one journal, I already know which one I will send it to next if I get a rejection.

  6. Jeanne Rogers

    Paula, your #4–let your work mean something–makes me think of a statement from an essay "Abandoned Landscapes" by Robin MacArthur: "Our obsessions are the keys to our art; if we pay enough attention to them, we will find ourselves on the road to originality, resonance, truth."

    I think when we are young (or inexperienced), we don’t always understand that clever and dark are only that if they don’t offer something deeper. Find meaning, whether with light-hearted comedy or thought-provoking investigations, and the work improves.

    Thank you for sharing your lessons learned.

  7. Corinne

    Excellent list full of awesome wisdom. I am in the midst of getting over myself and my preciousness. I even bought a netbook to help with the spontaneous side. It is a process, lol.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. Kristan

    "When I was younger, I often tried to be clever and “dark.” This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it is a youthful thing."

    Yes yes yes yes YES! A million times yes. That was me, haha, and I’m so glad I can laugh at it now. Basically #4-7 are genius. Wonderful points.

  9. Theresa Schultz

    Thank you for the encouraging words. I am looking for places to publish shorter pieces this year, instead of waiting for my novel to be picked up by an agent. And I let myself begin the new year in one of those dark places of self-doubt. Fortunately those don’t last too long. It’s time to snap out of it.

  10. Elizabeth MacKinney

    Love that line, "it’s just writing, not brain surgery." Also the idea that we’re all going to face some terrible self-doubts and dark times where we want to throw in the towel. Hard business, really. But when the going gets tough, the tough get writing. Only the tough get published.

  11. Orlando Ramos

    It’s not about fame or prestige, it’s just about writing. I’ve been writing since I can remember. I remember writing love letters I never mail or gave out, when I was in elementary. Later it turned into a journal and after that it was just a hobby. I love that you show the reality of the writing business. You may never get published but that shouldn’t stop you from writing. Some people watch TV, others play sports. You don’t become a famous TV watcher; it’s just what you do. Writing is what I do.

  12. Terri Dunderman

    I used to be precious. Desk, pen, one kind of paper, no noise . . . Thank goodness I have moved on a bit from that. By best tool is my moleskein. I jot whenever I can!

  13. Melanie Murray

    I have just recently began writing my first non-fiction, self-help book for new and expectant mothers entitled "What She Might Have Told Me to Expect: Life, Love & Loss in the Early Years of Motherhood." Thanks for these 7 tips. I can take all the help I can get!

  14. Rowenna

    Would love to enter! I’m originally from the South Bend area, too–those cornfields south of town 🙂 Great point on not being "precious"–what a great way to put it. Fine line between having a routine or a couple goofy tics and just being ridiculous.

  15. Gary Ludlam

    Thanks for the post! I really liked number 5, don’t be precious. I used to be precious. I had to write in my special notebook with my special pen and only when I could get a solid hour or more of absolute quiet. It took me 6 years to write a novel that way. Four kids later, I have a decent text editor on my blackberry. I write in little sips throughout the day: sitting with my 3-year-old while he is falling asleep, waiting for my oil change or doctor appointment, in bed after my wife has fallen asleep, even in places I won’t mention because it would be TMI!

    If you love to write, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Gary


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