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Digging in for Winter

ICL-Quote-11-19It’s been my experience that one of two things happen this time of year. Editors work in a white-hot frenzy to clear out all submissions before holiday break (so things you’ve been waiting to hear back about forever may suddenly pop up with responses) or editors become covered over with all the “stuff” that comes around this time of year and anything you submit basically gets an extra month or two added to the response time. So, I said all that to say: it can be frustrating. It’s better to stay flexible this time of year.

Editors are not the only ones frustrated by the busy stuff this time of year. As writers, we are often trying to cram a little bit of writing in a day already packed to the gills. Some of us, just give up and spend the winter on a kind of writing hibernation, planning to get back in the swing of things when our blood warms up. Others only hibernate until January 1, when New Year’s Resolutions push us into a frenzy of writing.

Whether you’re getting any writing time or not, you’re probably feeling guilty. Tis the season to feel bad about the things you’d hoped to do, or planned to do. The reality is that writers are a crazy mix of optimism and gloom. We have these bright spots where we’re convinced we’ll do a blog, keep up with Twitter, get two submissions out in the mail every month, write that book, and so on. Then we have these gloomy fogs when we look at all the shoulds and oughts and decide we’ll never succeed because there are too many things we’ve not done.

You want to know the truth? For every single “you must do” advice given writers, there are successful authors who never did them. Every single writing path is a little different. One author finds a publisher for her first book. Another doesn’t find a publisher until her tenth book. One author wrote fan fiction only, and then one day a publisher approached her to write for them! Another doesn’t know what “fan fiction” means and makes a living doing work-for-hire nonfiction books. One wrote genre fiction for small publishers and big publishers and now does nothing but self-publishing. Another self-published his first book and every one thereafter, and found a quiet niche that has kept him busy for years.

Lots of stories. Lots of journeys. Lots of truths. There is value in listening to the advice and  experience of published writers. But remember, there is no such thing as “you must” or “publishers all require.” Publishing is one of the least uniform industries on the planet. And depending upon where you’re being published and how, your “musts” and “must nots” will be totally different than someone else’s. Be aware of that.

You were commercially published? Don’t expect that means you know how all trade publishers behave. You know your experience. I know mine. If we listen to one another, we begin to understand that publishing is a spectrum, not a single color. And that’s one of the most beautiful things about it.

So as we head into the holiday season, how about you give yourself the best gift of all: a break. The things you didn’t get done, let them go. Plenty of successful authors didn’t get those things done this year either. The things you did get done, celebrate. I’m a huge believer in celebrating every step, because we’re creators. We make worlds in our heads and share them with people. We’re magic. What’s worth a party more than that?


With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.

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