The hardest part of writing isn't what you think
When I began this (some might say) crazy journey into writing, I assumed that the hardest part of writing would be the, ya know, actual writing.
The thought of putting my own words down on a blank page felt daunting. Sure, I'd dabbled in overly dramatic poetry in high school (what theater kid didn't?), but writing a short story or, gasp, even a novel felt impossible.
How on earth does one go from a blank screen to a finished work?
Well, you do it by being the type of person who just doesn't quit.
You stare down the blank screen, clear away as many distractions as you can, and you write whatever first comes to mind.
Will it be good?
The first draft of anything worthwhile is flaming hot garbage. But as many a great writer has said "you can't edit what isn't there."
If you thought this was the hardest part of writing, you were wrong.
Once you have the first draft, you get to move onto editing and a second draft. If you thought the first draft was dangerously tough, the second draft is waiting with a penknife right around the corner.
The second draft is where you begin to question whether you know what words mean at all. For example- the word delivered. Is it actually spelled that way? The longer you stare at the word, the more wrong it looks. Soon, the entire draft looks wrong. You rip the draft apart at the seams to rebuild.
If you're like me, once you've accomplished this task, there is more red ink on the paper than actual words. I have been accused many times of being overly critical with my own writing. I'll admit there is some truth to the accusation. But no one has ever seen the flaming hot garbage I was dealing with in the first draft. I'd argue there's also the possibility that I am not critical enough.
If you thought the second draft was the hardest part of writing, you were wrong.
Now that you've ripped it all apart and rebuilt, you can go onto Beta readers if you're brave enough.
I'm usually not brave enough to wait for their responses though, so I'm going to move onto the next phase of writing.
Putting everything into the correct format. Part of the fun that is writing for publication is realizing there are trends when it comes to formatting.
For example- I'm so old that I remember when we double-spaced behind a period. Do that now and every editor you meet will want to scream into the void- single spaces are where it's at. (If you are also one of the old-timers, you can use Ctrl+F and do a "find replace" by typing the double space in the "find" field and a single space in the "replace" field. You're welcome.)
For short stories there are several different style guides you can follow. Each of these guides are dissimilar enough that using the wrong one on an open call marks you as someone incapable of following directions. Not to mention, sometimes the open call has directions to follow for formatting that don't mirror any of the templates at all. Part of being a writer is checking, then double checking the formatting before submission.
When it comes to novels, in addition to formatting the entire book (you poor soul), you get to have the fun that is a query letter. There are multiple guidelines out there for query letters, but what agents are actually looking for in those letters also evolves over time. If you're looking at guidance from 2-3 years ago, the trends have likely also changed.
If you thought formatting and creating a query letter was the hardest part of writing, well, you know the drill. You were wrong.
Once you have the query letter written and book edited, or the short story ready to submit, you have to figure out where to send them. For short stories, sites like Submission Grinder (https://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/) keep track of ongoing markets for short stories in multiple genres. They also have a dashboard where you can track your submissions.
Joining a genre specific group can lead to learning about open calls your story might be the perfect fit for. My two favorite groups are Sisters in Crime (https://www.sistersincrime.org/) for mystery and Horror Writers Association (https://horror.org/) for horror. Both of these groups are also great communities full of people who were at one point starting out themselves.
The Horror Writers Association has a mentor program where you can be matched with a mentor who'll review your work and give you specific feedback. They have local chapters in many areas you can join if you want to meet other writers. My personal favorite chapter will always be the San Diego one.
Sisters in Crime has local chapters pretty much everywhere in the United States. This gives you a chance to meet other writer's in your area. They have an online platform for chatting with each other. They also have an online only group called the Guppies if there isn't a chapter in your area.
For query letters, you could go to the #MSWL on Twitter to find out what agents are looking for. However, not every agent in your genre is going to post on Twitter. You have to do more research.
Query Tracker (https://querytracker.net) is a great site in that you can search for agents who represent your genre You can even submit through their query manager form for most of those agents.
Publisher's Marketplace (https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/) is a great site to watch the latest deals being made in the publishing world. If there is an author whose work you feel aligns with your own, you can use their site to find their agent. Both of those sites charge a nominal fee though, so if you're not ready to actually send the query letter, wait to sign up. *Publisher's Marketplace does have a free newsletter called "Publisher's lunch" which gives updates on the latest deals being made in the publishing world.*
You've submitted your short story or sent off your query letter. Now you can relax because the hardest part of publishing is over. Right?
Most of what you send out will be rejected.
It's going to hurt and it is going to feel personal. I've been on both sides and I can say for sure that when something is rejected, it is absolutely not personal. But I can also say as a rejected writer- it feels pretty darn personal.
Whether we intend to or not, we leave tiny bits of our souls behind in everything we write. When they get rejected, it feels as though we are also being personally rejected.
The only cure for this is to either continue submitting, or update the work based on feedback you received (if you received feedback, give yourself a pat on the back. Editors and agents are so busy that the form rejection is the standard rather than an outlier) and resubmitting.
There's also the third option of shelving your work but you're a writer, so you just don't quit. Or if you shelve it, you only shelve it for so long before you shove it back out of the nest.
You thought rejections were the hardest part of writing? Oh, boy, I needed that laugh.
The actual hardest part of writing?
It sounds crazy- waiting is the easy part. You've done all the hard work already, now you can sit back and wait for the acceptances (or rejections) to roll in. Smooth sailing baby.
And it would be... except you're probably thinking of waiting a week or two for an answer. A week or two would be delightful to most writers. Of the 10 agents I'm currently querying for one book, the average age of the query is approximately 50 days. Maybe that doesn't sound too awful to you. 50 is the average- several of those queries have been waiting on a response for 100+ days.
Submission grinder shows the average response time for short story markets. Some are as few as 1 day, but many are 16 days or more. One publication had a response time of 283 days. That's most of a year waiting on an answer.
Also, in addition to acceptance/rejections, sometimes your story gets held for future consideration. What does that mean? Well, it means that they're not sure its the right fit for their current issue, or current issues already slated, so they want to hold the story to see if its a fit for a different one.
Is there a time frame for when a decision will be made?
Nope. Guess what you get to do more of? If you guessed waiting, you finally got one right. Give yourself a pat on the back- you earned it.
In all seriousness though, if you're a writer currently waiting for an answer on something/anything/everything, I feel your pain. I'm right there with you. Every writer you've ever met has felt this exact same kind of pain.
The only solution is to continue writing and submitting enough things that you don't even remember you were waiting anymore. And maybe ice cream or French fries because there is nothing they can't fix.