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 at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Paula Bomer. Paula Bomer grew up in South Bend, IN, and is the author of Baby and Other Stories (Dec. 2010, Word Riot Press). She's also the co-publisher of Artistically Declined Press and the supervising editor of a literary journal, Sententia.
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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.)

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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 journals—The New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta, The Missouri Review—is 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 fine—the little hope I derived from tiny words of encouragement! This is a really tough business if you don’t have some sort of in—as 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 writing—as 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 whenever—during the baby’s nap, slap down some ideas while cooking dinner, have my seven year old scribble notes for me while I’m driving—then 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 classics—they’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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