Peter Emshwiller

Let’s call a spade a spade – getting your writing published is hard. Being a successful writer is even harder (trust me, I know!). And, ok, let’s say, you do carve out a career for yourself… how do you make that all elusive step to the next plateau? – the plateau where all the full-time writers of the world are sitting in their mansions, their fans salivating in anticipation over each new release as they throw cash at pigeons on their forecourts instead of breadcrumbs…yes, well, you get the idea. I’ve decided to run a series of interviews with well-established writers to offer guidance to young budding creative types. I’m hoping they’ll share their own insecurities and offer an insight into how they got to where they are today.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

Peter – Your question is a great one. And a tough one. The first thing I always pass on to young writers (and also to creaky old folks my age who are new at writing) is that the most important thing to do is finish. Sounds silly, but finish. Just finish. Finish that novel about that ex who stole both your heart and your silverware. Finish that screenplay about space llamas. Finish that short story about zombie gerbils. Finish that epic poem about the sentient foot fungus.

I’ve had new writers come to me and say, “Well you’re a REAL writer because you’ve had novels published by a real publishing house.” I tell them, “No. That’s was as much about luck as anything. What makes a person a ‘real’ writer is finishing.”peter

I run into folks all the time who’ve got half finished screenplays in their trunk or half done novels on their hard drive. In my humble opinion what makes someone a “real” writer (if there even IS such a thing) is getting to the end. That, to me, is what separates the amateur from the pro. Getting published can be a roll of the dice; as much about timing and connections and random luck as it is about talent and the quality of the work. But finishing? That’s on you. Get to the words “THE END” in your first draft, and you’re a winner. Then it’s all about honing and tweaking and rewriting, and, of course, trying to get the damn thing in the hands of an agent and a publisher. (A whole ‘nother challenge.)

When I was writing my very first book, I had absolutely no prospects for getting it published but I plodded away at in anyway. Halfway through I got stuck and had a huge amount of trouble finishing. So I wrote something on the front cover of my legal pad clipboard in big black letters with a sharpie pen (yes, I wrote the first draft in longhand, crazy as that sounds these days). I wrote: “Make It Crap. Fix It Later.” Seeing that every time I sat down to write helped a lot. You’ll note I didn’t write, “It’s Okay If It’s Crap, You Can Fix It Later,” or, “Don’t Worry if It Isn’t Perfect, You Can Rewrite It.” I wrote, “MAKE IT CRAP. Fix it later.” I gave myself permission to go ahead and write a totally awful first draft. A horrible mess of a first draft. Just to get to the end. It was incredibly freeing.

And when I was done with that “crap” first draft, I’d have a lump of clay to work with when I rewrote it.

As for navigating the troubled waters of the publishing business nowadays, I fear I might not be much help. Because of the changes in technology, the industry is in the middle of huge transitions, so it’s hard to say what the right move is. The only advice that still holds true, I think, is the classic one: to just keep sending your stuff out, no matter how many rejections you get. Send and send and send. Be tenacious. And do what you can to connect one way or another with agents and editors at various events so that, when you send your manuscript (or fungus poem) to them, you can write, “it was a great pleasure to meet you when we both peed in the bathroom at unicorn-con,” in your cover letter. Those kinds of “we met briefly” connections actually make a huge difference.

And, of course, in between sending your stuff out over and over again, write new stuff. Don’t ever stop writing stuff. And, most importantly, finish it all. Finish. Finish. Finish. Get to “THE END.”