Brewing the Potion to Become a Writer of the Future: An Alchemist’s Tale
New writers love writing advice and tips. They seek them everywhere, in hopes that one of the blogs, videos, essays, or forum posts has the magic piece of advice or writing tip needed to transform a novice writer into a pro—ideally a pro with six-figure book deals and movie options and legions of fans cosplaying as their characters. I am no different. I collect writing advice as ingredients to my “How to Make a Writer” potion.
The first special ingredient I added to my potion was writing advice from Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein’s Rules, as they’re known, push writers to finish their work and seek publication. Then somewhere along my search I came across a quote from Heinlein which I now know to be likely misattributed. Loosely paraphrased, it goes “all new writers have one million words of crap to write before they start writing publishable work.”
With a solid goal to aim for, I track my word counts in a spreadsheet. I thought it would be interesting to see what my word count would be at the point I made my first sale. Heinlein’s apocryphal advice was echoed by Jerry Pournelle in an interview for Writers of the Future where he said, “that in my experience, it takes somewhere around half a million to a million words” to become a competent writer and at that point, “you’ve got a chance.”
On Friday, October 18, 2019, my total word count sat at 452,748 words. I sat in the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, on my way to visit an old friend. For the coming weekend, writing was the furthest thing from my mind.
My First Professional Sale
Then my phone buzzed with an email from Flametree Publishing, a pro publisher that creates beautiful hardcover anthologies and books. The subject line read: Your “A Dying Planet” Story Submission. Great, I assumed. Another rejection. I opened it out of habit.
“I am delighted to inform you…”
Wait. Nobody had ever been delighted to send me a rejection before. I looked at the email title again. I had missed the word “Congratulations!” I read the whole first sentence. The word “publish” leapt out at me. I started shaking. I read it again. Yup, it said what I thought it did. I read it a third time. Somewhere in there I started crying. I’m sure the nice lady sitting next to me thought someone had died. I jumped up. Sat down. Stood up again. Called my parents, and my husband, and then read the email in earnest. Slowly, it dawned on me. I had done it.
I’d sold a story! To a professional market! I was going to be in a book!
When I Started Writing Fiction
When I started writing fiction in January of 2017, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d finished my Masters degree, my last baby had turned one, and I had the time, finally, to pursue that dream of being a “writer.” I eagerly sat down with my tablet, a bluetooth keyboard, and wrote while the baby napped.
Somewhere around the 30,000 word mark in the novel, I finally realized I had no idea what I was doing and started looking for that magic ingredient. One of the pieces of advice I read suggested writing short stories. I started looking for short story advice, and markets that took them. If I was going to write it, I’d follow Heinlein’s Rules and send it out somewhere.
Lucky for me, one of the first places I discovered was the Writers of the Future contest. Free to enter? Excellent. Only novice writers? Even better. So I wrote an 11,000 word monstrosity and sent it off, dreaming of a trip to Hollywood.
It was rejected. That rejection hurt, mostly because it was my first. I’d learned more about writing in the meantime, though, and I knew it was justified.
I bent to the task and kept searching for the potion ingredients I needed to achieve my dream.
Sifting through writing advice can be like a prospector with a pan of gravel, but I struck gold with The Writing Excuses podcast and the subreddit /r/writing which I now co-moderate. Of all the sources for writing knowledge I discovered, though, the single most helpful one has been the Writers of the Future Forum.
One of the most amazing things about Writers of the Future—and there are many—is their online community of writers who gather in the Forum. There, I found other new writers like me, trying to figure out how to tell a story. More, I found writers who had been around the block, earned their chops, and stuck around to share their own collection of potion ingredients with the community. I read every post. I asked questions. I swapped critiques with other forumites.
Then the true magic of writing as a community, and especially the Writers of the Future Forum, became apparent. More than once, someone reading my story took time—lots of time—to go through and tell me where my writing had succeeded, and where I’d failed. More, they told me why—sharing their personal mix of ingredients.
Proof I’m Getting Close
I sent my second story to Writers of the Future and crossed my fingers. When I received an Honorable Mention, I screamed so loud my toddler started crying. By then I knew the value of an Honorable Mention, which should be taken as a sign that you’re close, you have good ideas, don’t give up. I framed that beautiful blue certificate when it came, and wrote my next story. I’d seen how many HMs other forumites had racked up, and knew I still had work to do.
I kept at it, learning and growing with the continuous help of other writers on the Forum. Another great thing about Writers of the Future is the rolling quarterly deadline built into the contest. Every three months, I had a solid reason to write and submit a new story. When I got them back, I had stories to submit to other markets. I’ve submitted to Writers of the Future every quarter since June 2017 and have earned four Honorable Mentions. I will continue until I win or pro out.
In thanks to the many patient helpers who guided me on my journey, and because I believe everyone has a story to tell, I have a standing offer to critique any story on the forum. I read anywhere between ten and twenty stories each quarter, and I do my best to give each one the same thoughtful aid I received. I’m working on my third novel. I write stories, send them out, get the rejections, and look over the stories to see how the knowledge I’ve gained while they sat in slush can improve them. Then I boot them out the door again.
The proof is in the potion. I sold a story to a professional market! Regardless of my future successes or failures, I’ve achieved something magical. The skills I learned from Writers of the Future and the Forum helped me obtain my first professional sale.
I’ve met the kindest people through the Forum. In 2019, I added some Super Secret ingredients to my potion through a challenge by winner Wulf Moon, improving my craft tenfold. I’ve read Wulf Moon’s story, and Preston Dennett’s Topanga Canyon tale. I’m not giving up, not ever. I’m just lucky I have the Forum and the Writers of the Future Contest to guide me on the journey.
It’s helped me whip up a powerful brew.
Rebecca E. Treasure grew up reading science fiction in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She received a degree in history from the University of Arkansas and a Masters degree from the University of Denver. After graduate school, she began writing fiction. Rebecca has lived many places, including the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Tokyo, Japan. She currently resides in Texas Hill Country with her husband, where she juggles two children, a corgi, a violin studio, and writing. She only drops the children occasionally.
Her story “Whose Waters Never Fail” will appear in the forthcoming anthology from Flametree Publishing titled “A Dying Planet.” Pre-orders are available here.
For Rebecca’s thoughts on writing and more of her fiction, visit www.rebeccaetreasure.com.
I absolutely loved your article, Becky! You speak for so many of us on the forum who are going through the same struggles and are doing everything we can to improve our craft. Nothing is better than seeing a fellow writer and friend succeed – I’m rooting for you!!