Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write XIII

Iteration – it means you repeat it, you do it over and over again. And this ability, to iterate, is a writer’s greatest virtue. It is what separates him or her from all the other people who would like to be writers but who don’t sit down to write every day.

If you want to be a writer, especially a novelist, you have to be stubborn.

Writing a novel is about writing, reading what you have written and rewriting. It is about taking that second draft, reading it, rewriting and then rereading and again rewriting over and over again until it works.


If you want to be a writer, especially a novelist, you have to be obstinate.

In the process of writing a novel there is a lot of space for self-doubt. Can you take the knocks, do the rewrites, end up with seventy or one-hundred-thousand words, the vast majority of which are essential to the whole manuscript?

Make your own list of now famous novels that were turned down x number of times before some indomitable writer insisted that another publisher’s reader take a look at it.


If you want to be a writer, especially a novelist, you have to be pig-headed.

6 Responses to “Learning to Write XIII”

  1. Steve Clackson says:

    “stubborn obstinate pig-headed” OK my wife says I have all three!
    I’m a writer….er…..unpublished writer all I need now is luck.

    jb says: Oh, yes, Steve. You need luck to find a publisher. But you’re half-way there . . .

  2. Richard Madelin says:

    An excellent book which examines the ways writers have changed their work is ‘Revising Fiction’ by David Madden. He takes dozens of specific examples. Also a great quote at the beginning: ‘The art of writing is rewriting.’ – Sean O’Faolain.

    jb says: I don’t know the book. But I love the quote.

  3. M.E Ellis says:

    I’m only pig-headed to do with my writing, obstinate in my goals. Once I decided, after a ten year break, to get back into publishing, I didn’t falter. And I never will.


    jb says: Oh, yeah, me too, only pig-headed in relation to the writing. The rest of the time I’m sweeter than Nita.

  4. My second book (nonfiction) went to at least 20 publishers before Berkley picked it up. (Peter Workman turned it down, much to his regret, I am sure [heh, heh], since the book did very well.) When I look back on the 19 names of the editors to whom I sent my proposal lo those many years ago and who rejected it, I realize that I wasted my time and theirs. They looked like the correct recipient (trade paperback, nonfiction), but they were not. I accidentally hit an interested editor. Lucky me.

    I’d approach the whole process of pursuit of literary agent and/or editor very differently today, and, yes, I agree, you’ve really got be persistent.

    jb says: Hi Lynne. Do tell us how you’d approach it today.

  5. Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here’s one:

    I tell writers who cannot find a literary agent or editor to go to the bookstore and find books of the same genre that have sold really well, read the acknowledgement in the front of the book to find the name of the literary agent or editor, READ the book(s), make some positive comparisons, and incorporate them in a very personal sounding (perhaps, er, even slightly flattering) query letter.

    See John Barlow’s recent post, The Whole Hog, and you’ll see what I mean…

    Lynne AKA The Wicked Witch of Publishing

    PS Did you see my px with editors Ron Hogan and Sarah Weinman on Thursday? Too much fun!

    jb says: Thanks for the tip. I expect there’ll be a few well-researched letters like that landing on agents’ desks in the next few months.

    And yes, I’d seen the John Barlow post, but didn’t mind reading it again after you mentioned it.

    Not so much luck with your px on mediabistro, though. Have they taken it down?

  6. john baker says:

    Ah, here’s the picture of Lynne at the Galleycat party.