How to Become a Published Writer in Weeks Instead of Years

Start Really, Really Small

Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

This is for people who either want to start writing, period, or want to start publishing, either traditionally with an editor or through sharing on social media.

As someone who only wrote Really Big Things (books) for a long time, I’ve been loving publishing essays. They don’t take that long to draft! The editorial process is weeks rather than months! I also get paid faster, which is nothing to sniff at, people.

That said, as a novelist and the director of an MFA that focuses on novel writing, most people come to me for help writing the big thing: books. And yet I want to emphasize the importance of sharing your work early and often, in short form.

“But you went right to novels, Nicole!” jeers the peanut gallery. And that is, like most things, kinda true and kinda not. Yes, my first published work was a novel. But before that, I’d been sharing shorter works for years as a student and an English major. Every essay I wrote was shared and commented upon, either in class peer-reviews or with teachers and professors. I brainstormed ideas with other students or with tutors. Really, nothing I ever wrote (besides journal entries) was not shared.

And this is important. I went the “traditional” path as an English nerd, but a lot of people who love to read and write were not English majors. They only shared a few papers, maybe, in classes where feedback could be scarce. In other words, you may be reading this because you really want to write, but you’re scared to share. Maybe you’ve never really shared your writing, or maybe you haven’t done it for decades. Maybe you’ve never shared writing that mattered to you. Or maybe you did share, and were burned for it. Whatever the reason, it’s legit scary to start exposing your inner-world.

Now, you may be someone with a robust network of fellow-writers to critique your work, that you take advantage of. In my experience, however, this is rare—even for people who have such a network, they might not feel they’re ready to take advantage of it, so they keep their work in the dark.

But you have to get over that fear, and, to be honest, writing books isn’t the best way to do this. Books take forever to write. And asking someone to read even a chapter is a lot, let alone an entire novel.

Flash fiction, flash memoir, and micro-poetry (all of which I love) can be written quickly (if not easily). It can be revised in a reasonable amount of time. And it can be shared in a way that’s not onerous. “Do you mind giving me feedback?” is a lot less of an ask when the piece is a few lines or paragraphs.

But what if you have no one to ask? Another great thing about flash writing is that it’s conducive to community. There’s Write the World, for young writers, and Commaful for everybody. Then there are hashtags like #vss365 and #flashfiction. Joining these communities can get eyes on your pieces and, even more importantly, help conquer any anxiety over sharing your work.

Sharing is one thing, but what about publishing? One way to “publish” is through the small, small versions that proliferate on the internet. Personally, I’m obsessed with Yrsa Daley-Ward, whose micro-poetry inspires me daily. She’s a great example of someone who shares her work in a very accessible way (through social media), which she’s leveraged into a book contract with a Big Five publisher.

Besides social media, there are much more traditional ways of publishing short pieces, in publications ranging in accessibility. Here’s a great list of online and in print publications. You may not think you’re ready to publish, but that’s the great thing about flash: you can find out, fairly quickly!

Write something. Revise it. Share it. Revise it again, based on feedback. Repeat as needed till you’re happy with it OR your eyeballs will actually fall out if you see it one more time (both are perfectly acceptable definitions of “finished” for writers). Then send it out. Plan to get rejected. Hope to get rejected with editorial commentary you can use to revise (again!). Treat yo’self if it does get accepted. While all this is happening with that one piece, write more pieces that you’re also doing this with!

What you’ll be doing is real publishing. This is how publishing works, whether it’s a flash piece of 350-words or a 350-page novel. You’ll just be doing it within weeks, instead of a months or a year.

So flash away! Just not the kind with trench coats, please.

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