Lessons Learned

Last month, I turned 38 years old. I submitted my first story for publication at 19; it was rejected. With nearly twenty years of trying (and mostly failing) in the books, I thought others could learn from my experience. It’s said that we learn more from our failures than our successes. It feels true in my case, and I’ve learned a lot. This is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s also a more personal one than you’ll find other places. Enjoy.

  • Write. Simply write.
  • Read. Simply read.
  • Be yourself (I’m working on post about this topic, as it’s an important recent lesson).
  • A writer must have thick skin. You’ll spend dozens of hours on a story (much more in the case of a novel). That story will become an integral part of your life; it’s your baby. You’ll show off that baby to others (magazine editors and literary agents among others), who don’t find it as darling as you. They’ll thrash your baby. You’ll get defensive, being the protective parent you are. Don’t.
  • Rejection isn’t personal.
  • Rejection isn’t personal (the lesson so important I listed it twice).
  • Don’t immolate your heroes. There are dozens of people already doing this. Instead, be original.
  • Only editors like editing, but nothing makes a story better than a proper edit from the creator of the story.
  • Be thankful for the words that come because there may come a time when the words stop.
  • Know when to listen to criticism and when to put your fingers in your ears like a five-year-old repeating, “I can’t hear you.”
  • Celebrate achievements. There’s usually someone who has been missing you while you’ve been tucked away in the office working on that “damned novel.” Take them out to show your gratitude.
  • Your self-worth shouldn’t depend on others.
  • Story is everything…
  • Unless it isn’t. Voice matters.
  • Let the story speak to you, go where it chooses, haters be damned.
  • Write what you know sounds good in theory but is also bullshit in most applications. Sure, a lawyer writing a legal drama makes sense. In the horror world, however, few of us are experts on serial killers or ghosts. But…
  • Do your research. Your search history will look questionable, and you’ll likely end up on a watch list by the FBI, but it’s the price to be paid when not an expert in the field.
  • Social media isn’t that bad.
  • Finish the story.
  • It’s okay not to finish the story. I’m aware this counteracts the previous lesson. Look, there are times when a story doesn’t come together for various reasons (too vague of an idea was my main failure in my twenties). It’s okay. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it, but it’s okay.
  • Don’t take breaks from a story. When I was a young writer, I took a long weekend away from the keyboard. That weekend turned into a week. When I returned to the laptop, the story didn’t come with me. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was blocked, but I couldn’t find the right tone again. Perhaps that is blocked, sobeit I was blocked.
  • Unrelated, seemingly trivial stories can connect to become profound.
  • If you learn from failure, it becomes a lesson. If you fail to learn, it’s simply failure.

What lessons have you learned from writing? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

Stephen Roth

A Note: Some may have noticed this is my first post in some time. I apologize for my absence. A full-time job, a wife, four kids, and my creative writing have my plate filled. However, I will try to post on a more regular basis. Thanks again for reading.


Published by stephenmroth

Stephen Roth is a horror writer focused on making his dreams a reality.

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