How We Bullied Each Other Into Publishing

We basically bullied each other into publishing. 

When we met almost eleven years ago, neither of us had ever published professionally.

What we both did have were notebooks and files of poems, short stories… and even a couple of truly terrible novels that will never see the light of day. 

Nope.

As new, introverted nerd friends are wont to do, we shyly sent each other some of our best pieces. And then we screamed a lot internally, thinking: what if she doesn’t get it? What if my writing is horrible? What if I’ve just bared my soul to this person and all I get is fricking crickets?!?

Then, when we read each other’s work, there was the new, inevitable round of internal screaming: OMG WHY IS HER WRITING SO MUCH BETTER THAN MINE? I AM A FAILURE! WHY HAVE I WASTED ALL THIS TIME TRYING TO WRITE WHEN THIS SUPER COOL JERKFACE CAN JUST DO IT, SO MUCH BETTER THAN ME, EFFORTLESSLY?

(Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever read a poem or story or novel and just started shrieking on the inside because, if it exists, what can you possibly offer that will measure up?)

(Yeah, we thought so.)

And that could have been it. We could have both shrunken back into our introvert shells, died of embarrassment, and never spoken of writing again.

But something amazing happened. 

Instead of wallowing in the “don’t look directly at my word-baby, it will sizzle away like a vampire in sunlight” feels, we decided to become each other’s cheerleaders. And more than that: we decided to help each other get published.

We helped each other come up with titles. (Sometimes, it’s weirdly easier to sum up or extrapolate from someone else’s work than doing it for your own work!) We mercilessly slashed out each other’s excessive adjectives and tweaked little phrases here and there. We researched likely journals and sent each other poems that reminded us of each other’s work. 

And, finally, we sat on Sara’s dining room floor and swore to hit send

This is where the bullying bit came in. Neither of us wanted to hit send. At all.

Send meant that someone else was going to see what we’d written. Something personal, that we’d poured our hearts into. Something that whoever was on the other end of the internet might not give two figs about.

“Three! Two! One! Send!

Nothing.

“Okay, seriously, we’re going to hit send now!”

Our fingers quivered like sad little aspen leaves on our keyboards.

“Why aren’t you sending?”

“Why aren’t you?”

In the end, we had to switch laptops and hit send for each other. Whereupon, we each drank a glass of champagne and shared a tiny and deadly chocolate cake from Wegman’s. That stupid, delicious cake became a symbol of our victory throughout the rest of our MAs in Virginia. (When we moved to Columbus for our PhDs, we graduated to chocolate caramel brownies and mint-chocolate martinis at the Chocolate Cafe. Are you sensing a theme yet?)

Both of the stories that we submitted that night? They were accepted to those very first journals.

Trust us though, we’ve had plenty of rejections over the years. Our personal favorites were the ones that called our writing “overwrought” (rude) or “decidedly unfeminist” (to which we can only say “LOLOLOL”), but having a writing buddy to share the triumphs and disappointments with has made all the difference.

Writing can be such a solitary act. But it doesn’t have to be. There are people out there who will get you, who can help you see where you’re going, and who will cheer you up when you experience rejection. 

As you can probably tell from this post, we love writing (and cats.) We love dreaming up moments and worlds and making them shine on the page. And, just as much, we’ve loved helping each other become better writers.

Because of this, and the absolute avalanche of requests that we’ve received from you for the last few years, we’re finally doing it. Later this month, we’re opening the doors to our first-ever Carterhaugh writing workshop. It’s going to be tiny, intimate, and jammed-packed with inspiration and feedback from us both. Plus you’re going to get your very own group of people to support you and cheer you on!

But before then, we want to know: what do you struggle most with as a writer? What would be most helpful to you? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to happen to make your process easier?

Comments

  1. Jessica Schmidt

    Thank you for simultaneously cute and inspiring post. I struggle with procrastination and at 47, the feeling like it’s just too late already & I should give up, even though I did very well with writing when I was young. It’s stupid, I know, but there it is!

  2. Tricia

    I am TERRIBLE at naming my own stuff. I am querying a novel right now and it’s frustrating and difficult. There’s a lot of fear that nobody will want my book but me, or that there’s not a place for me and my writing to even be published.

    1. Tricia, we so understand. We’ve been sending out queries for a book too, and it’s a very difficult process that frequently leaves everyone downhearted. There *IS* an audience for your book, we know it, it just sometimes takes a while to find the editor/publisher/agent/whatever that’s a part of that audience. They’re out there though!!

  3. Maryn

    I have so much wonderful (I mean, really wonderful!) stuff I’ve already written (up to about 10 years ago) that I can’t push through to thinking about new work … I want to get the good, already-written stuff out there! AND I want to do new work! Both! At! The! Exact! Same! Time! … (so of course neither one moves forward)

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