It feels weird to be in a position to be helpful to early-career writers. I mean, I’M an early-career writer, despite not exactly being… ahem… the youngest chicken in the coop. But now that I’m part of Team Rick Riordan Presents, I’ve already been asked by many people how I scored a break this big. So I’ll tell you.
Luck + preparation + endless pools of hope + literally cannot imagine not being a writer, therefore could never stop trying.
I wrote my first poem, a limerick, when I was in first grade, and my teacher liked it enough to let me read it over the school loudspeaker during Announcements. In fourth grade, I had the chance to read stories I wrote on WQSA, an AM radio station (and you young’uns out there, Google “AM radio” to learn how people used to hear music during the Pleistocene era). In my graduating high school class, I was the Distinguished Student in English. I wrote poetry through my early 20s, published some of it, then switched to fiction when I was 27. I got a Ph.D. in English when I was 29, reading and learning about writing craft and the world of books.
I went to school to become a published writer, and I loved my time as a student (so much so, that I’m a professor now). I had some successes along the way. But it turns out, I also had more studying to do.
In my 30s, I focused on writing a LOT. I wrote stories and submitted them, and the rejections piled up so high, I’m pretty sure some bearded Victorian dudes would have mounted an expedition to climb them. I mean, if there were any Victorian dudes left by then.
But every once in a while, one of those stories got published. Some of those I’m pretty proud of, and some, in retrospect, weren’t as, shall we say, memorable. Thank goodness! 🙂
Fast forward a decade: a lot of the more successful stories were gathered into my collection, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria. It got some reviews I’m really proud of, and a few where the review was TOTALLY WRONG. #notbitter
Most importantly, though, the collection scored me a few readers. One of those readers was Rick Riordan.
I consider it a stroke of luck—like, winning Powerball level of luck—that Rick: 1) even knew my collection existed; 2) read my collection; 3) liked my collection (!), and; 4) was looking for authors to tell stories that featured cultures that get less representation in U.S. media. Which is something I do.
So, based on all of that, here are my tips for writers:
- Sit down and write.
- Don’t get up.
- Okay, go make a sandwich. Sandwiches are delicious, and will give you the calories you need to write.
- Now go sit down again and write, for, like, 40-something years.
- Also read constantly.
- Also talk to everyone about writing.
- Also submit your work, and when an editor tells you it’s not right for their magazine, believe them and don’t believe them at the same time. Edit the work, or don’t, and submit it somewhere else.
- Did I mention writing? Because you should be writing. Like, right now.
Do these things, and when your Riordan appears, you’ll be as ready as you can be to capitalize on your chance of a lifetime.
Of course, if you’re like me, you still won’t feel ready. But you’ll feel terrifically grateful, and you’ll put everything you’ve learned from studying writing for 40-something years into your book, and pray to all that’s good in the world that it’s enough.
And if it isn’t? Well, that’s why writers have editors.