If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you might have noticed that an essay I wrote got published at the Washington Post. (Click here to read it). It explores why, as someone who eschews mainstream sports, I find so much joy in my young daughters’ loyalty to the Red Sox.
In it I write, “This morning I received a text from my dad, asking me to tell the girls the Red Sox won the World Series…”
Do not think for a minute that I received that text, enjoyed a visit with my creative muse (PS if she’s reading this, WHERE ARE YOU, B***H??), banged out that essay and submitted it while my kids made their own breakfasts and reminded themselves to brush their teeth, wear pants, and to at least stuff a jacket in their backpacks.
Because that is so not what happened.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself looking at other writers’ wins and thinking they’re lucky, they’re talented, they write faster than I do, they need less sleep than I do, they have more childcare than I do or… you get the idea. The truth may be some combination of any or all of those things but it’s also that they worked hard.
And while I can’t speak for all writers, I can speak for myself when I say, behind every success is a combination of a little luck and metric shit-ton of hard work. It was lucky that the Red Sox won the World Series after I’d been tinkering with that essay for six weeks. But all the luck in the world wouldn’t have helped if I hadn’t started the process of writing and rewriting six weeks earlier.
How exactly can you make luck and hard work work for you to get your work published? Here’s my advice.
1| Write about something you care about
It doesn’t matter what it is. But if you don’t care about it before you begin the excruciating task of writing about it, there’s no way you’re going to care about it when you’ve read it so many times your eyes are bleeding and you don’t even know what the pages say anymore.
I literally cannot get over the beauty in the bond between my kids and their grandparents. I’m getting vehrklempt just writing that sentence. That’s why I started exploring the topic of this essay in the first place. I have no interest in sports. So why do I love that my kids root for the Red Sox?
What started as a bunch of word vomit in a spiral notebook became an exploration of my relationship with my dad, a guy whose idea of a perfect day is sitting on the porch with an ocean breeze, a cigar, and the Red Sox on the radio. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say at first, but because I was curious about the topic, I kept writing until I knew what my message was.
2| Accept feedback
I wrote a version of that essay and showed it to Dan. He said something that sounded like “Blah blah blah blah… and I’d delete the paragraph that just might be the best thing you’ve ever written in your life.” I ignored him. Then I showed it to my writing friends, who both said it kind of sounded like two different essays, so I needed to pick one and go with it. And also, that paragraph I was so in love with didn’t fit. I told Dan what my friends said and he said, “So they agree with me.” Doh.
I rewrote it and showed version two to one of my writing friends. She said it still wasn’t done. I wrote version three and showed it to her. She said she thought it was done. (Neither of us quite realized the Red Sox were playing in the final game of the World Series at that very moment.)
3| Be flexible
When my dad texted me that the Red Sox won, the first thing I did was tell my girls. The second thing I did was rewrite a paragraph to include that piece of important, timely information. Then I submitted it.
But what if the Red Sox hadn’t won? As a friend recently suggested, I certainly could have hit Control + F and replaced every “Red Sox” with “Dodgers” (In which case the essay would probably have been published anyway and my dad would have disowned me). Alternatively, I could have tinkered with the ending. I could have said that no matter who wins the Series, nothing can break the bond between my kids and their Papa. And who knows, there’s always next season. Then I could have waited till next season to submit it. I might have tried to submit it for Father’s Day or made it relevant to some piece of Red Sox news. I would have even read the paper (or more likely, relied on my dad) to keep those events on my radar.
Or perhaps I would have shifted some of the story to focus on football, depending on my kids’ interest in the Pats this winter, and submitted it around the Super Bowl.
If you try my tips, let me know how it goes. If you have others, please drop them in the comments. And for a fabulous resource written by a seasoned pro, I cannot recommend Susan’s Shapiro’s The Byline Bible highly enough.