When I was a teenager—yes, many years ago—I had already been a storyteller all of my life. The only one I told those stories to, however, had been myself. In high school I thought about writing them down enough to sign up for an English class. On our first writing assignment, I got an F. Did that mean I couldn’t write? I thought so. To me, that meant it had to be pretty bad. My first rejection. I transferred out of the class and that experience stayed with me for years, not that it kept me from writing. I just put the stories away when I finished.
In my late twenties, I played at submitting again, thinking the way to go would be with an agent. One told me how great my writing was, but it needed polish. For just a minimal fee he could provide that service. I refused, telling him my ego wouldn’t permit it. He misunderstood my meaning, interpreting it to mean I wouldn’t stand for having my words changed, not that I couldn’t afford it. His response was a hateful, it was commercial, not literature. I thought to write back and ask how long after something was written to make a living was it considered literature instead of commercial but instead considered the source. I also put all thoughts of submitting a story back into the closet. The man didn’t think my writing was any good; he just wanted to make money off of me.
Five years ago, I started submitting again, seriously, with the determination to follow through no matter how many rejections. I told myself I was tough enough to take it. What made the difference? Look for the D word above. When the first five or ten rejections came back, I didn’t toss everything back in the closet. On the few where the person had taken the time to make comments or do some editing, I studied. I read articles in writer’s magazines, books on writing, and I applied what I learned. My stories were not what noone liked; it was my presentation from everything from formatting to comma usage, weak passive sentences and dangling bits and pieces that made what I wrote hard to read.
I had three manuscripts in what I had thought were in submitting condition. I revamped them all—with determination. The first I sent in six months later was accepted. That was twelve published books, four more under contract and three publishers ago.
Just think of the time I wasted by not getting the right message. Don’t let a teacher who is too involved in comma placement to remember to say a word or two about talent discourage you. Don’t let disreputable people only out to make money embarrass you. But, and this is very important, learn the basics. If I offered you two pieces of candy from my pocket, one that had slipped from the wrapper and was covered in lint, one that was wrapped all tidy and clean, which would you take? Why would a publisher or agent spend the time cleaning out the lint of bad grammar and punctuation (which costs them) when he can accept hundreds of clean, well written copies?