You Will Never Publish a Word

Last week I blogged about my husband’s liberating writing advice exactly four years ago to “just start.” And start I did. During 2007, I wrote random chapters, first paragraphs of stories, essays–anything and everything. This was three years before I started the blog.

Eventually the false starts got tiring. As a self-proclaimed new “writer” with no training whatsoever, I decided it was time for help. I enrolled in a twelve-week novel-writing course on Thursday nights while Bryan, apparently the perennial hero on this blog, watched the kids.

The instructor was generally hateful. He started each class with a writing exercise then asked each of us to read our paragraphs aloud. He despised everything. “Doesn’t work,” he’d say half-way through someone’s piece, or simply, “Nope.”

I didn’t mind the honest feedback, but he never once in twelve weeks heard something he liked from any of us. Even worse, after his disgust he’d share a page from one of his published novels to grace us with an example of what did work. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez he was not.) He spent the rest of the time reading directly from his notes about basic plot structure–information most of us had read two or three times already from James Scott Bell for $16.99. (Thank you, Mr. Bell.)

BUT THEN, during the final class, this otherwise discouraging instructor shared the most valuable writing advice I’ve heard since Bryan’s “just start.” And I’ve probably read every craft how-to out there, twice, so that’s saying a lot.

He said, [I’m paraphrasing] “Most of you in this room will never publish a word. You’ll give up. I’m no more talented than any of you or anyone else. I just work harder, that’s all.”

Hold on! Life-changing aha/light-bulb moment or whatever Oprah would say. His words seem soul-sucking at first, but pay attention. “Work harder” was something we could at least control. There was no golden ticket to publication, but certainly without the strength to persevere we would fail. That message has kept me going ever since.

Some time later (probably a year and a half because I had another baby in there somewhere) I’d written two novels and even experienced some excellent request rates after querying one of them–though ultimately no agent. I’m downplaying the pain of that process. Trust me, it was excruciating. But I got through the disappointment, and I’m still in the game. Next time I query agents (I’m estimating two years from now or more) I’ll have several short story publications and essay publications to mention in the “publishing history” paragraph I had to leave blank the first time around. Glass half full, people. Glass half full.

My friends and acquaintances who remember my boastful tales about “this agent” or “that one” reading my partial or full manuscript (oops, wouldn’t recommend all that sharing) will still sometimes rightfully wonder, “What ever happened to your book?” And I tell them in my most zen-like voice, “I didn’t work out. I tossed it. I’m writing something new.”

“How can you stand it?” I’m often asked.

I shrug. “This is how it works. It takes a long time.” And believe it or not, I’m at peace with that truth.

I won’t give up. I’ll just work harder, that’s all. NOW WHO’S WITH ME?

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at and Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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131 Responses to You Will Never Publish a Word
  1. Lara Taylor
    March 28, 2011 | 10:57 pm

    Nina, as hokey as this sounds, I learned a lot from Mary Kay! lol When I was doing direct sales make-up, MK had a lot of nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to everyone and I have taken them right with me as I jump into writing these last few months, blogging away, writing for others and snatching time to work on my novel. I’m trying to flex and work my writing muscles and build a resume. But what I always remember from MK are these nuggets: (all paraphrasing) “It’s a numbers game. The more people you ‘warm chatter’ [or in our case, cold query!] the greater the chance you’ll hit on a new client. If you sign one out of every ten people, then you know you’ll need to talk to thirty people to get three signed up.” I keep that in mind for when it’s time for me to query!

    And she also said something to the effect of, “You never know. You maybe gave up at call number 10 and it was call number 11 that netted a new client and a huge order. But you’ll never know because you never made the call.” She talks a lot about perserverence, faith, belief and hard work. She also talks about prioritizing (she said the first thing an MK consultant should do upon making regular money: hire a cleaner. You have better things to do! lol) and sticking to a schedule (she got up at 5am every morning to do MK work before her kids got up for school. I’m not so much about the getting up early as I am about the staying up late! lol).

    I recommend even writers to read Mary Kay Ash’s life story if you haven’t. It will inspire you to keep going! :)

    (sorry so loooooooong!! ) :)

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 11:53 am

      Lara–this was GREAT! I’d never heard the Mary Kay tips and they absolutely apply. Although sometimes with the numbers game you still have to no when something isn’t quite right. Sometimes when people hear I “only” queries 30 agents with the book that enjoyed plenty of query success they think I was crazy to stop. I felt after revising several times for two different agents that I could not get the story where I wanted it to be (or where they wanted it to be.) I’d stopped believing in that particular novel and knew in my heart that it was time to move on even though technically 30 is a low number in the query world.

  2. Elissa J. Hoole
    March 28, 2011 | 11:03 pm

    Wow, good for you to be able to distill that hard-work message from that rather ridiculously awful workshop experience. I still remember the very first time I had an agent request to read a full manuscript–I leaped about my life, telling all my friends and relatives the great news–not knowing how awkward that would be when the agent fell off the face of the earth shortly thereafter, and I put that novel away and started working on something else. But that something else? Will be published (*fingers crossed tightly*) some time next year!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 11:55 am

      I loved this comment! So encouraging. Congratulations on that “something else.” If you’re not on Twitter it’s time to get set up there well before the book promotion starts. (Says the girl without a book deal . . . but I DO “get” Twitter.)

  3. Anita Howard
    March 28, 2011 | 11:53 pm

    Me, Nina!! I’m with you, even tonight as I’m nursing my sad writer’s soul after yet another pub pass on the MS Agent Goddess is shopping for me, I’m still hopeful. Still trying. Even as I’m sitting in front of my WIP that I adore, trying to gather the courage to “write on” despite the rejections in this biz, I’m telling myself it’s all for the better. It will make me stronger in the end. I want the editor who will love me, just like the agent who loves me. So you see, even once you get the magical representation, it’s still about tenacity and perserverance. So to you, my writer sister, I say Viva la stories. As long as we keep writing … we’ve still got a chance.
    :-) I wish you luck, longevity, and an endless supply of premises!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 11:58 am

      Thank you! I just checked out your blog (though I’ve been there before) and saw your agent is a goddess! She’s a dream agent! You’re in good hands. But it’s true, I’ve read often about novels the author and agent believe in 100% that can’t find the right editor. I’m sure it will happen. And if it doesn’t, then it will happen with the next one. You’ve already crossed two major barriers: writing a great book and finding an agent who loves it. Good luck!

  4. Anne R. Allen
    March 29, 2011 | 12:52 am

    What a jerk! I guess what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But I know of other not-very-successful writer/teachers who take out their rage on students. Not a good way to learn to write. But you’re still at it, and that shows you have more than the average amount of perseverance. But wouldn’t it have been nice if he could have helped rather than hindered? “Teachers” like that make me furious.

  5. Barbara Forte Abate
    March 29, 2011 | 6:48 am

    Yes, yes, YES, Nina! It’s so absolutely true that putting on your boxing gloves and preparing for the battle to stay in the game is so often the difference between crying in the closet and holding your published book in your hands. (Which isn’t to overlook that we might be in the ring for years ducking blows, but it’s that we’re still standing at the final bell that counts.) It also helps to get a little angry, as sometimes that’s the thing that makes us dig-in to work harder and write better.

    And absolutely, ditto, with what Lara said. Mary Kay Ash’s book is fabulous and oh so motivational! She was a true dynamo and the suggestions/advice in her book are gems that apply to anyone determined to rise about the pack.

  6. annegreenwoodbrown
    March 29, 2011 | 7:15 am

    Super Valuable Advice! Too bad you had to wait 12 weeks to get to the good stuff! I think he’s right on. The only sure way not to get somewhere is to stop halfway, turn around, and go home. (Hmmm…. I think my next career is going to be writing fortune cookies.)

  7. Amy Sue Nathan
    March 29, 2011 | 7:33 am

    I agree! The only way to succeed is to never stop trying. Quitters never win and winners never quit. And so on with more Brady Bunch inspired clichés.

    I do agree that it’s something of a numbers game, but less so in this publishing climate than years ago.

    Keep going, Nina!! :)

  8. Jael
    March 29, 2011 | 7:39 am

    In short: so freaking true. I am the poster child for It Takes a Long Time. And all the rejections and set-aside novels were painful as they were happening, but now I am honestly SO glad my debut is happening now, with this book. If it happens faster, great, but if it doesn’t, that’s even better, as long as you keep learning and growing.

  9. Pop
    March 29, 2011 | 8:21 am

    “Most of you in this room will never publish a word. ”

    Pffffttt…did you email that professor back and tell him that you hit the ‘Publish’ button on a regular basis?! Sometimes, multiple times a day? 😛

    That is really good advice, not just for writing, but for life. Everyone’s looking for lightning in a bottle; few are willing to put in the hard work it takes to be successful. I can’t wait to see what you publish!

  10. Jenny Phresh
    March 29, 2011 | 8:58 am

    Even though not one word of this comment may ever be published, I am going to try extremely hard! I will fill out my “capcha” word dutifully if asked and hope that I am accepted as a real person and not a spambot impersonating a suffering writer.
    Thanks for these words of advice…your story reminded me of long-ago days of workshops and occasional surly instructors (one who tossed a student’s story out the window; not kidding!), and little threads of hope and inspiration that sometimes poked through the soil. Keep going!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 12:04 pm

      See, I knew from this comment that your blog would be hysterical and it is! So glad you found me and now I’ve found you. Love the image of the story literally getting thrown out the window.

  11. Kristan
    March 29, 2011 | 9:33 am

    Yeah, a Pushcart nomination is nothing to sneeze at.

    Very inspiring post. Thank you for sharing! Sometimes jerks are good for something, eh? 😉

  12. Amy Fellner Dominy
    March 29, 2011 | 9:40 am

    So true — I’m an example of that. I don’t have half the talent of many of my writing friends, but here I am, my debut novel 6 weeks away. I like to joke that I’m an overnight success — if you count the 12,410 nights since my first rejection.
    Thanks for the great post!

  13. Stephanie Faris
    March 29, 2011 | 10:59 am

    Janet Reid’s link sent me here. I’m glad I came over.

    I’ve been writing since I was 24. I’m now 40. That’s a lot of years and I’m still not published in novel-length fiction, although I am agented now. The true test of my writing came during my early to mid 30s, when I went through a divorce and had way too much drama in my life to focus on writing. Yet, I turned to blogging and managed to become a very popular blogger on MySpace (silly, but 10,000+ views a day is no small feat). I learned from all that it’s the writing. It’s just the writing. It has nothing to do with whether I’m published or topping bestseller lists because, no matter what happens in my life, I’ll still writing. I was writing even when I was 13 — silly poems, but still… I think THAT is the difference. If you love to write, you’ll never stop writing because you can’t NOT write. Those are the people who eventually get published. Sometimes those who aren’t in it for the writing get published but they fizzle out quickly. In the end, it’s just you and the computer keyboard and that wears on someone who’s just in it for the “fame and fortune” they THINK they’ll get.

    And teachers who suck the souls out of writers should be gut-punched. That’s just my take on it!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 12:10 pm


      First of all, thanks for letting me know about Janet Reid’s blog. I couldn’t figure out why the insane amount of blog traffic today because I haven’t had the chance to put the post on Facebook yet. Now it makes sense.

      I loved your comment. It’s so true that the love of writing has to matter the most. You have to love write for the sake of writing and not just to get published. It’s too easy to get confused about motivations to write. If you don’t love it, there’s no way you can stay in it for the long haul. At least I don’t see how that would be possible.

      Thanks for visiting!

      • Stephanie Faris
        March 29, 2011 | 2:23 pm

        I’m honored to be the first to tell you! But I love your blog and I’ll be coming back for more.

        Oh, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the ones who get published a year after picking up a pen (so to speak) for the first time. I’ve seen the ones who get caught up in RWA politics and live and breathe RWA ’til you finally realize they really aren’t all that interested in writing as much as “having written,” as the old saying goes. I even attended an RWA workshop once where a multi-published author admitted to hating to write. She just loved going around and speaking and her 50 bajillion romance novels a year gave her a reason to do that. (Yeah, I too have wondered how THAT ever happened.) Mostly, though, I’ve seen people who just lost interest in it over time and moved on to kids, work, scrapbooking…whatever the next hobby is. Oh, they mean to write again but that’s something they’ll do later. And THAT is why people fail. It’s rare you hear of an author who works at it from the time she’s 20 until she’s 90 and never makes it. Mostly it’s the ones who give up…or for whom writing was just one in a long line of fleeting hobbies.

  14. Sarah Allen
    March 29, 2011 | 11:10 am

    Glad I found this! Its actually very inspiring and hopeful to hear that I have at least some control over some area of my writing career. I think your professor is probably right, it really is a matter of hard work. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  15. Sophie Playle
    March 29, 2011 | 11:33 am

    That tutor sounds like a right arse!

    But seriously, this is good advice. But so, so, so hard to execute.

    I would wish everyone good luck – but as you say, its not really about luck is it? It’s about not giving up!

  16. Amanda Hoving
    March 29, 2011 | 11:41 am

    Work hard, work hard, and keep on working hard. Yup. I’m with you, Nina.

  17. Lise Saffran
    March 29, 2011 | 11:47 am

    This is so true and can’t be repeated enough! I got my MFA from Iowa in June 1998, one month before the birth of my first child. That kid is now almost old to have a Bar Mitzvah–and my first novel has just come out. Only four (unpublished) manuscripts, two kids and thirteen years later…

  18. Matthew MacNish
    March 29, 2011 | 12:15 pm

    This is basically scripture. It’s very hard to accept at first, but it’s undeniably true, and it actually get’s easier … eventually.

  19. Kate Hopper
    March 29, 2011 | 12:22 pm

    Nina, this is a wonderful post. First, shame on that teacher. That one helpful comment doesn’t make up for being discouraging for 12 weeks! I can’t imagine.

    I always tell my students never to give up. It reminds me of what Kate DiCamillo said in an interview once. She said, “I decided a long time ago that I didn’t have to be talented. I just had to be persistent.” You can read more about DiCamillo here ( and listen to an interview with her here (

    I had no idea how much persistence it would take to be a writer. I do now, and I’m not giving up, dammit.

  20. Ashley Graham
    March 29, 2011 | 12:28 pm

    I can’t even imagine how hard that must’ve been. I think I would’ve cried in a class that harsh! Sadly, he was right, though…about most people never being published. The ones who work hard, who never give up…those are the only ones who do.

    Such an inspirational post. Thanks for this!

  21. Lara Taylor
    March 29, 2011 | 12:28 pm

    ARG, you know what else I just thought of? MK also used to say (again, paraphrasing), “When people don’t want the make-up or the sale, it’s not a rejection of you! If you offer your friend a stick of gum and they say ‘No thanks!’, are you devastated? No, of course not. They don’t want your GUM. It’s ok.” I know it’s still hurtful the thought that someone wouldn’t want our BOOK (not the same as gum! lol) but still, not a personal rejection, not like we’re feeling anyway. It’s about the right fit. I’m totally prepared to wait for the right fit! :)

  22. Julia
    March 29, 2011 | 12:34 pm

    I’m definitely in. For a long time, years, I caved in to the reality that I might never get a book published. I put away all the manuscripts and focused on for-hire writing. Then, time passed, and I realized that if I never tried again, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy–so I started again. Blogging really helps because (in addition to a scattering of essays and stories) I am finally being read–and encouraged by a wonderful community of understanding writers like you. Thanks for an encouraging post.

  23. Stephanie
    March 29, 2011 | 12:35 pm

    Absolutely one hundred percent true!! I’ve seen many many writers give up..or not even get started. They ask me how I complete so much and how I’ve gotten as far as I have. I work hard…I keep working…I put other things aside (like the dirty dishes!!) so I can write. I know I will never get where I want if I sit back and expect it to just fall in my lap.

  24. MZMackay
    March 29, 2011 | 12:35 pm

    This was just lovely. Thank you for reminding us to just keep plotting along.

  25. Marsha Sigman
    March 29, 2011 | 12:38 pm

    I am so with you, sister. As long as we work hard and don’t lose the love of it then everything else will eventually fall into place.

  26. Julie Musil
    March 29, 2011 | 12:42 pm

    Heck yeah, I’m with you! “Work harder” is excellent advice. I love it when established writers attend conferences and ask great questions. It’s a great reminder that we’ll never know EVERYTHING, and that we must continue to grow. Thanks!

  27. Scooter Carlyle
    March 29, 2011 | 1:02 pm

    You’ve made some excellent points. Writing is something that I feel I have to do. Publishing has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I also realize that needing to do it is different than writing a high enough quality to be published and creating a story that is engaging and marketable.

    I have no idea if I can accomplish my dream. Here’s to hoping!

  28. Stephen Parrish
    March 29, 2011 | 1:06 pm

    Janet sent me. Wonderful post, Nina. Should be required reading for every aspiring writer.

  29. Tawna Fenske
    March 29, 2011 | 1:24 pm

    Fabulous, fabulous advice! Thanks so much for sharing this. I had a particularly long and bumpy path to my current three-book romantic comedy deal, and this is something I tell writers all the time. Talent is great, but it’s not what will get you published. The ability to keep going in the face of rejection and sleep deprivation and discouraging feedback and changing markets and toenail fungus…THAT is what will get you published.


    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 4:43 pm

      Tawna! I’ve read about your path to publishing on your blog and it’s definitely a story of perseverance. Everyone should be reading your blog! Thanks for visiting mine. Even with the mention of toenail fungus. 😉

  30. Elizabeth Flora Ross
    March 29, 2011 | 1:37 pm

    The timing of this is really interesting. I have a post scheduled for tomorrow where I look back at the last year of querying. I’ve accomplished nothing. I have gotten nowhere. I feel completely beat down. I know you understand that. I’m NOT giving up, but I am taking a break. Have to steel myself for another go ’round… :)

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 4:44 pm

      The conventional advice on waiting to hear from agents in this: You MUST work another project in the mean time. I made the mistake of not doing that when I was waiting. Time I’ll never get back.

  31. Marybk
    March 29, 2011 | 2:49 pm

    Thanks for this post. I needed it just now. Working harder, starting right this second!

  32. a3writer
    March 29, 2011 | 2:52 pm


  33. The Writing Goddess
    March 29, 2011 | 3:53 pm

    Also here via Janet Reid – great post. Yes, we will never publish anything if we don’t keep plugging away. And we may not publish anything if we DO – but I’d rather die trying than be full of regrets over what I didn’t do. (Agented for 10 years, still unsold, still getting “good” rejection letters, “TWG is a great writer, BUT…”) Congrats on your Pushcart nom.

  34. Jim
    March 29, 2011 | 4:35 pm


    Just found this blog and I couldn’t agree more with the comments from the jerk. I’m curious about one thing – what’s your writing regimen? How many hours a day/words a day do you try to work/create? How often are you successful?

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 4:53 pm

      Hi Jim,

      Good question! I write at least two pages a day during the week or more. I’d do EVEN more if I could but I have three kids ages 6, 4, 2. But honestly, sometimes even getting those two pages is a battle.

      On the weekend is when I work on a blog post (I only post once a week, sometimes twice). If I’m really stuck on the WIP, but have more time after the two pages, I tinker with the handful of half-written short stories on my hard drive. As for success . . . that’s hard to measure. In the four years I’ve been writing I completed two novels. No agent, so I wouldn’t say that’s conventional “success,” but the fact that I finished them made me happy. On the brighter side, the first story I ever submitted (that was in mid 2008) was listed as a Glimmer Train finalist, which gave me the confidence to keep sending out other stories. Every story I’ve finished and submitted has eventually been accepted somewhere, even if it’s taken a year. One story that was rejected several times was published and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. All of those publications occurred in the past few years–maybe all in 2010 actually with some forthcoming in 2011. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I should just stick to short stories. 😉

  35. Anne R. Allen
    March 29, 2011 | 4:54 pm

    Woo-hoo! I just saw you got a plug from Janet Reid! You deserve it. This is such a profound truth: “This is how it works. It takes a long time.”

  36. Nina Badzin
    March 29, 2011 | 4:55 pm

    THANKS EVERYONE FOR SUCH GREAT COMMENTS. I can’t respond to every one of them individually, but I’ve loved reading them and knowing I’m in such good company with so many other writers out there.

  37. Sandra Branum
    March 29, 2011 | 5:27 pm

    I prayed that I would be successful with my writing. People now read my blog. Whatever else happens is just “icing on the cake!”

  38. Julie Nilson
    March 29, 2011 | 6:06 pm

    I also came here by way of Janet Reid, and just wanted to thank you for sharing that instructor’s single nugget of wisdom (especially since you went through a lot more to get it yourself). We all hear stories about authors who, one way or another, “lucked” into a publishing deal and we wonder if it will happen to us. But the reality is that those authors worked long and hard to have a great manuscript ready to go when that lucky opportunity presented itself!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 9:05 pm

      Exactly! So perfectly put. You make your own luck in this business.

  39. […] newfound resolve–this helped—and just a little guilt, I’ve stopped watching Torchwood in the middle of season two and […]

  40. Lisa
    March 29, 2011 | 6:29 pm

    This is one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve read in a long time! Thank you. And I’m definitely with you!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 9:07 pm

      Thanks, Lisa! That means a lot coming from you. I really admire your blog.

  41. Jeanmarie Anaya
    March 29, 2011 | 8:11 pm

    This was a nice way to start off my evening of revising my current manuscript. You’ve lit a fire under my butt!

    I’ve had teachers like that as well. It’s funny how they always seem to push us to work harder, even though I don’t know if that’s the intention from the start. Usually it’s just a lot of ego-tripping on their part, with a few hidden gems if you read between the lines.

    Good luck ony your query journey!

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 9:11 pm

      Ahhh, I love the revision stage. I’m in the first draft stage–AGAIN–which I find the most challenging.

  42. Trisha
    March 29, 2011 | 8:15 pm

    Great post and I am with you too! 😀 Perseverance is key. I’m glad that instructor had something useful to say by the end at least :)

  43. Celia
    March 29, 2011 | 8:26 pm

    Hi Nina, I hopped over here from Janet Reid’s page as well. Lol, you’re going to be busy! I’m so happy you mentioned your experience with the writing course. As a beginner, that helps me to trust my instincts more. Does the doubt/second-guessing/what-the-hell-am-I-thinking ever get any better? Best wishes on your writing journey.

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 9:13 pm

      Sadly, I don’t think that part gets better. You just learn to live with it. I’ve been lucky to get to know several published novelists in the past few years and they seem as full as self-doubts as the rest of us. At the point you have reviews, sales, and the next book to worry about!

  44. Perri
    March 29, 2011 | 8:56 pm

    Such a great post! One one level it makes so much sense– of course it takes time and work and that this– rather than the ethereal “talent”– is what makes the difference, but on the other hand, it feels so daunting some days! I too, have three kids (11, 9, and 7) and work full time and, although I can conceive of ways to make my manuscript better (usually during my long commute with no pen handy) I have to fight the impulse to let it be “good enough”.

    Also great advice on not talking about the close calls. My mother-in-law assumed the call from an agent (who later rejected a revision) meant publication and I had distant relatives calling to buy the book! Oy!

    Great blog! I’ll be back.

    • Nina Badzin
      March 29, 2011 | 9:17 pm

      Thank you! I smiled at your mother-in-law’s reaction. I think it’s important for those of us who read blogs about the business and know all the terms and process to remember that “normal” people don’t know what a query letter is let alone all the hoops from agent to editor to shelf space, etc. I’ve found now the less I bore regular people with all that the better. I save it for all of you! 😉

  45. corine
    March 29, 2011 | 11:05 pm

    I am SO with you. Your epiphany resembles my own.

  46. Alison Miller
    March 30, 2011 | 4:48 am

    I am so glad I stopped by Janet Reid’s blog. What fabulous, inspiring advice. I’ve written two with fairly decent request rates, and often, I have been so tempted to toss the netbook and vow off writing forever. But I can’t. My heart prevents it every time.

    I’m with you. I want this. And I’ll work harder. I’m printing this out and taping it to my computer screen. Thanks.

    • Nina Badzin
      March 30, 2011 | 9:29 pm

      Thank you for such a nice note! It definitely seems there are many of us out here. We’re not alone. :)

  47. Heather
    March 30, 2011 | 7:45 am

    I am, I am!! :-)

    Seriously, I have one of those inspiration magnets from Franklin Covey on my white board that says “Never never NEVER give up.” I had to send one to my mom, also a writer, who’d been feeling little demoralized lately. Even after building her resume with short story publications, it’s still a struggle for her to land an agent or any kind of deal for her novels. Like any kind of art, whether you’re talking writing, painting or even wine-making, you only get better with practice. And for every ounce of creativity you put into it, you have to double up on honing the craft of it to make it shine. Working harder is great, but working smarter is even better, which it sounds like you’ve done.

    Keep plugging away. For every story hammering away in your brain for attention, there’s a reader who’ll be changed by it. That’s what makes it awesome.

    • Nina Badzin
      March 30, 2011 | 9:30 pm

      You make a VERY good point about working “smarter” and not just harder as in “more of the same.” You have to learn from each story, each novel, etc. Otherwise it’s definitely a spinning your wheels kind of sensation.

  48. julie
    March 30, 2011 | 7:55 am

    You have so many comments already, I can’t read them all to see if what I am putting here is redundant:

    This post is awesome.

    (pretty sure someone else said that first, but as long as it wasn’t Ben Franklin, I’ll consider myself reasonably original.)

    Here I am. Working harder. And I WILL be published. (see how I keep telling myself that?)

    You will be, too. And we can buy each other’s books and celebrate with cake (no more “no sweets” for you after you sign a contract…)

    I keep reminding myself how many authors admit in interviews that it took them ten years and five novels (roughly) to finally get published.

    So, okay. I’ll be in my fifties. But I’m pretty sure I’ll still like cake.

  49. liz
    March 30, 2011 | 9:08 am

    It’s a bummer, on one hand, that an entire 12 week course didn’t give you more of what you hoped, yet at the same time, that one line pretty much makes it all worth your while.

    I love your attitude, Nina! You’ll rock the publishing world, no doubt!

  50. kate
    March 30, 2011 | 10:51 am

    I came here after seeing your post tweet RT’d by Allison Winn Scotch. I had given up; life got in the way, and I put my hope aside as I pursued the reality of finding a job. You have just given me the push to realize I don’t have to drop one goal to pursue another. I’ll be working on both. Thank you.

    • Nina Badzin
      March 30, 2011 | 9:34 pm

      I think a good thing to remember is that this isn’t a race. Since you can’t write full time (most unpublished writers can’t) then you do what you can and make the most of that time. The best thing I did was replace any of the time I used to spend researching the industry (agents, etc.) and focus more on CRAFT. When there’s only so much time to spare, you don’t want to put the cart before the horse. Anyway, good luck to you! To both of us! :)

  51. Bekah Snow
    March 30, 2011 | 3:46 pm

    Well, I’m glad I didn’t have someone THAT rough. Ouch. But I am no quitter! I keep working on the next story until I hit that dream. I am too much of an over-achiever personality to just give up after a few, uh, maybe a lot, of rejections. Nice article and blog : )

  52. Cathi
    March 30, 2011 | 6:47 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Nina. Definitely a good rule for us writers to live by!

  53. Melissa Crytzer Fry
    March 31, 2011 | 12:10 am

    Great post, Nina. I’m not sure that the “tough love” approach always works with new writers. But I’m glad you were able to tough it out and continue (and find the glass half full). I’ve ridden in the same boat as you (decent agent requests, telling TOO MANY people that I was in the process, the ultimate rejection). And somehow, I’ve come to terms with the process. I’m writing like mad, working like a dog, but I’m learning, more than anything, the painful lessons of perseverance. Thanks for a great post as usual.

  54. erikamarks
    March 31, 2011 | 7:56 am

    Nina, I can’t tell you how many times on the road to publication I got the old stand-by “Oh, so you tried writing-what’s next?” when I’d decided a queried manuscript would be shelved after enough rejections. And I would look back at them and say plainly, “What’s next? Another book, obviously.” And many of them would seem genuinely perplexed, as if it didn’t occur to them the process of writing was continual. It’s not about one book, it’s a journey of many, many books (hopefully, anyway!).

    I always equate it with finding a life partner. It took what (and who!) it took for me to meet my husband. But I never, NEVER doubted I would find him. Publication is no different. And you’re so right in saying that there is a precious element of perceived control in the advice of “Work harder”–because in this business, sometimes it seems the lack of control is hard to bear. Thanks for such a wonderful post!

    • Nina Badzin
      April 1, 2011 | 10:48 am

      Erika–YES! The “what’s next” and it’s cousin “what now?” We’re a crazy bunch who just keep on going!

  55. Hallie Sawyer
    March 31, 2011 | 10:48 am

    Boy, did I need to hear this. It is exactly what I need to do. I tell my kids about how working hard pays off and slackers never get anywhere. Time for me to walk the walk!

    Thanks for giving me a kick in the rear, Nina! I needed it!

  56. rick
    March 31, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    The greatest thing about learning to write is seeing how bad our first books were.

    “In most cases they were sophomoric crap. The pages bled with extra, unnecessary, and meaningless hyperbole that added a lot of extra words to the otherwise clear narrative and the stellar, brilliant, and profoundly life changing insights on the page were all but, not in a particular way, but in a general way, that is, a way that is neither one way nor the other, but lies somewhere between the two, (but you know what I mean, right?) but/and are unreadable insights,” he said smiling, and smiling again as he smiled at the clarity of his post, reading over it smiling at the sound of his own creative and profoundly, (insert adverb of choice here…then add three more for additional clarity and emphasis…ah heck, add one more to make the point crystal clear) insightful (did I mention he was smiling?) and soothing voice. He smiled and pressed send.

    Why do bad writers smile so much…no one else does. 8 )

    I like your blog. Happy writing.

    • Nina Badzin
      April 1, 2011 | 10:49 am

      So funny and so true! In addition to smiling, my characters have been known to sigh too often as well.

      • rick
        April 1, 2011 | 12:06 pm

        *big sigh* glad I’m not the only one. Bar tender, smiles and sighs for everyone!

        • rjlouise
          April 29, 2011 | 9:36 am

          Mine tend to smirk or laugh. I just let them through the first draft, and then I tell them to stop being so darn happy and ridiculous during the first couple edits. Glad to know I’m not alone!

          • Nina Badzin
            May 2, 2011 | 8:52 am

            Oh, and I’ve also realized mine sigh a lot. Or “look bored.” AWFUL.

  57. Michelle M. Jones
    March 31, 2011 | 2:06 pm

    That whole ‘baby thing’ can really throw ya, too, can’t it? And no doubt, the people around us don’t always see the behind the scenes ‘persevering’ that we do. There is a strange, almost irrational faith that lies deep. It’s going to happen for you.

  58. Linda Faulkner
    March 31, 2011 | 7:10 pm

    You are right … perseverence pays. If you quit, you’ll never get published.

  59. womenandfiction
    April 1, 2011 | 4:14 am

    It’s like when someone asked J.K. Rowling if she thought she got lucky, and she said ‘I don’t believe in luck. I believe in hard work!’

  60. chitrader
    April 1, 2011 | 9:16 am

    Truer words have rarely been spoken. “I’m no more talented than any of you or anyone else. I just work harder, that’s all.”
    Thanks for reminding us all of that, Nina.

  61. Downith
    April 1, 2011 | 4:11 pm

    Just came over from Janet Reid’s blog. What a great post (and read your link to your first one -what a great husband!)

  62. Karen Duvall
    April 1, 2011 | 8:30 pm

    It took me 16 years, but working harder really does work.

  63. Debra
    April 2, 2011 | 7:00 am

    Just came over from your post one Writer Unboxed. Was drawn by your comment there about keeping your blog posts unrestricted to one topic. I teeter on this one as well.
    Years ago I attended a writing workshop sponsored by Kenyon College. The teacher was somewhat like yours: arrogant, nastily critical, pompous. He was a real guy’s guy who bonded with the other single males in the class and took particular pleasure in denigrating what he imagined my life was a married woman and mother.
    All that negativity just made me dig in and write more, write harder, and better. For myself, not him. On the last day he said that I would get to a place in my writing where I’d want to go to an artists’ colony to write and he’d be happy to recommend me.
    Wasn’t sure if he meant it or not and I never asked him when I did reach that stage.
    The point your teacher made at the end was the most salient.
    The ones who prevail are the ones who don’t give up.
    “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes is a wonderful handbook for those moments when you want to throw your pages to the winds.

  64. Bookmarkable! | Lisa Rivero
    April 2, 2011 | 7:33 am

    […] Nina Badzin wrote a terrific blog post this week about motivation that sparked a fascinating comment discussion about what motivates us and what doesn’t: “Holy crap life-changing aha/light-bulb moment or whatever Oprah would say. His words seem soul-sucking at first, but pay attention. ‘Work harder’ was something we could at least control. There was no golden ticket to publication, but certainly without the strength to persevere we would fail. That message has kept me going ever since…” Read More […]

  65. Katie
    April 2, 2011 | 8:32 am

    Thanks for the encouragement. I have always been a high achiever and I found it difficult that there is no test for writing. You can get an A+ from one person and a D from another, but most of the time, there’s no one to grade your work. It’s just you and your laptop. I have an idea for a novel, and it’s just been wafting around for almost a year, but lately I’ve been doing exactly what your husband told you to do. I have been writing, one day I write part of the ending, another the beginning and sometimes I don’t know where what I am writing will fit into my novel- and I am really getting to know my characters. xx

    • Nina Badzin
      April 2, 2011 | 11:45 am

      That’s such a good point about the grades! I can relate as a fellow high achiever. It’s very difficult to be involved in an industry that’s so subjective. Keep doing what you’re doing. Sounds like a good plan!

  66. Dominic Knight
    April 2, 2011 | 11:47 am

    This was the best thing to read this morning. And I really appreciate what you shared about those wise words from your Professor.

    Working hard is never easy, but eventually it will pay off. As long as you’re enjoying it and have faith in yourself. Seize the day and persevere.

  67. D.J. Lutz
    April 3, 2011 | 7:56 am

    Tough teacher. I don’t know that I would have lasted to the end.

    My mom inadvertantly gave me some of the best advice I have heard regarding writing. After reading the first draft of my first, never-will-be-published novel, she said “Well, not bad. Better than some of the trash that I’ve seen published. Ya’ know, just finishing a novel puts you way ahead of most writers…”

    Hard work, tenacity. Just finishing the story. Success has many levels and that is the first one.

    I am with you! Keep on writing!

  68. Simon Larter
    April 3, 2011 | 2:52 pm

    I needed to read this today. Thanks.


    • Nina Badzin
      April 3, 2011 | 5:17 pm

      Love the fistbump. Seriously–that made me smile. :)

  69. E MURRAY
    April 4, 2011 | 9:00 am

    Me!! I’m with you! I have suspected that all along. . . that one of the main things that separates a successful writer (or successful anything else) is that they DO it. And do it and do it and do it. I needed this reminder today. Thanks.

  70. Hollyann Dodd
    April 4, 2011 | 12:45 pm

    Wonderful blog, wonderful advice! “I will not quit!” has been my mantra for some time now. Thank you for sharing this!

  71. JDaniel4's Mpm
    April 4, 2011 | 1:04 pm

    Taking the time to just write and write until it feels right. What a great tip!

  72. Lisaontheloose
    April 4, 2011 | 1:45 pm

    So true. What’s that line Dory says in Finding Nemo. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. So yeah, just keep writing…. :-)

    • Nina Badzin
      April 5, 2011 | 2:05 pm

      Love it! I can picture that scene in Nemo right now. (Because after many car rides back and forth to Chicago with the kids I’ve seen it 1000 times.)

  73. Jack@TheJackB
    April 4, 2011 | 5:37 pm

    I don’t believe that talent always rises to the top but I do believe in perseverance.

  74. Lauren F. Boyd
    April 5, 2011 | 7:14 pm

    This is a great post! I have thought about this advice several times already since I read your blog. What a great (and unexpected) turn of events from the instructor of your class!

  75. LA Juice
    April 6, 2011 | 4:16 pm

    Bravo! this was a very encouraging post and really helpful. I feel like everything you described going through is my own experience and while I haven’t given up, I struggle with the question of why.

    I really appreciated this post.

  76. Helen Page
    April 6, 2011 | 9:30 pm

    Thank you, Nina. I heartily support the message of this post. It is the subject of my blog which addresses the importance of developing a consistent writing practice. As I tell my students, a daily writing practice will not guarantee that you will get published, but not writing regularly will guarantee that you won’t. The one thing that distinguishes published writers from wannabees is not talent, but that they finish their books!! I’m posting this on my blog.

  77. Erin
    April 8, 2011 | 11:53 am

    Hi Nina, The reply I would like to send you just happens to be the sentiment that I posted on SheWrites yesterday…
    Thank you!
    “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
    — Stephen King (On Writing)

  78. Erin
    April 9, 2011 | 1:08 pm

    Nina, I love this post! Here’s something for all of us out there, working harder, and exploring our potential.

    Writing is a thankless job. Sure, if you are one of the select few who achieve a certain measure of success, there will be people who thank you for writing. But for the majority, the rest of us, there is no thank you.

    When I worked in a corporate job, I received at least ten emails everyday thanking me for doing my job, or complimenting me on how well I did it. As much as I appreciated the recognition, I didn’t exactly need it. I was being paid to do that job.

    In my life now, writing full time, I churn out page after page. I work diligently, days, nights, and weekends. Sometimes I isolate myself for days at a time just to focus myself fully on writing, editing, and honing my craft. I expect me, and only me to catch my mistakes. I read my work with a fine tooth comb, which is easier than the greater task, reading my work with an open heart and waiting to feel something I can’t define, but the instinct of whether or not my work has merit.

    Every day I go to work and receive at least one rejection letter. Now there is usually an apology in those. “We apologize for the impersonal nature of this email, but…” Yes, I’m sorry too. I know you are a very busy agent, but automated rejection to the query letter I slaved over doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies either.

    Furthermore, there is an expectation that I will be grateful for this opportunity to work without pay. And I really am. However, thanking my husband for choosing to take this journey with me, as we both give up my portion of our income to pursue my dream wears on me too.

    So for the rest of you out there today, my coworkers in a thankless job; I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for continuing to write.

    My original post from

    • Nina Badzin
      April 9, 2011 | 10:38 pm

      Hi Erin! Welcome to the blog. :) Thanks for your thoughts here. I agree it’s a thankless job (for the unpublished) but we have to remember nobody asked us to do it either! I think Stephen King or somebody noted that in a book about writing . . . the idea that you have to really keep that thought in mind when dealing with the non-writing world. We all choose to pursue this . . . those of us determined and crazy enough stick with it.

  79. Something’s Missing » My Writing Life
    April 10, 2011 | 9:04 pm

    […] of continuing on, I though you guys might like this post from another aspiring novelist. It’s good to hear that other people believe in the Determinator, […]

  80. Lisa R
    April 11, 2011 | 9:09 pm

    This is a fabulous post and oh-so-true. It took me four years to find an agent. I can’t tell you how many times I almost gave up completely. There was even a time I considered not writing anymore–that’s how demoralized I felt–but I’ve been writing so long that I couldn’t possibly stop. Now I’m on submissions and nothing is happening! It’s very frustrating but I’ve always believed exactly what you’ve said in this post. I think the process weeds out so many people just because the rejection is so hard and everything takes so darn long! I think the most important thing (for me) is to continue to write. Maybe one day something I write will break through. Until then, I keep plugging along! Also your husband’s advice: Just Start. Fantastic!

    • Nina Badzin
      April 11, 2011 | 9:21 pm

      I’m rooting for you! I know a few other writers out on submission now after finally landing an agent. It DOES seem there’s anxiety at every step in this “game.” Then there’s reviews, sales . . . OY!! Why do we want to do this again?

  81. Susan
    April 11, 2011 | 9:44 pm

    This is such good advice. In all arts, talent is just one part of the equation for success. Hard work and perseverance are the most important ingredients. As Heinlein wrote (paraphrasing), most people only talk about writing, but never do. Of those who do write, most people don’t finish what they write. Of those who do finish what they write, most people don’t send their work out to market. Of those who do send their work out to market, most people stop when they receive their first rejection. Even given all that, there are still thousands and thousands of writers who do write, finish, send out and keep sending out their work. It’s daunting… I tend to fall in the “don’t send out to market” category, having only sold a couple of short stories to ezines for very little money. Have yet to submit a novel query despite having several novels. I think it’s fear of failure — if I keep polishing my novel, I have an excuse for not getting published. :)

    • Nina Badzin
      April 12, 2011 | 11:50 pm

      Such a great comment, thank you for sharing that paraphrased quote. As for sending out your work and fearing failure . . . I hear you–that’s a real thing. But maybe part of you knows it’s not truly ready? I think most people send things out too early. I know I have!

  82. cat blount
    April 12, 2011 | 4:12 pm

    I hate writing. I love having written. who said that?

    • Dominic Knight
      April 12, 2011 | 7:49 pm

      Dorothy Parker said “I hate writing. I love having written.”

  83. Ella Slayne
    April 14, 2011 | 9:14 am

    Hi – I’m new to your blog and I just wanted to say thank you for the great post. So well put and just what I needed to hear! For me the confidence-lows are the worst for hindering my writing drive – the ideas are still there but it’s hard to find the drive or self-belief to get them down! So far, my technique is to just ride out the lows and catch-up when I’m lucky enough to be on a roll! Oh and try not to panic when I realise that the school summer vacation begins in less than TWO MONTHS (!) and the house will be full of children bombing around again – eek! :-)

    • Nina Badzin
      April 14, 2011 | 10:31 pm

      I’m so glad you found me! Will check out your blog asap!

  84. […] hard not to feel a little down-hearted.  But I think Nina  Badzin’s recent post –  – serves as a good reminder that hard work and perseverance carry a lot of weight in this […]

  85. John McClarren
    April 22, 2011 | 2:23 pm

    Hi Nina,
    Another Norman Newguy. I couldn’t help but buzz in, even though the last post was a week or so ago. I began taking my own writing seriously about five or six years ago, and I am now nearly 67 years old (and going strong). I began with a nonfiction book on the military (I am retired US Army and a retired high school teacher), and I really thought that it would be snatched up and sell like hotcakes. After trying for over two years to find an agent or publisher for that one, I, with encouragement from others, decided that a memoir would be easier to sell. I finished that project, and have been going the query route for six or eight months now. I have had very few significant bites at that hook so far. In the interim, I began a humor book and am 30,000 or so words into that. More recently I have begun a novel. I figure that I am going to live to be at least 106 years old, and I am reconsidering, thinking maybe 110. That merely means that I still have forty years of writing left in me. I may just make it in those few years. Wish me luck. I am by no means finished with my efforts. Write on all! John

    • Nina Badzin
      April 24, 2011 | 9:10 pm

      John, thanks so much for chiming in. You will NOT be 110. Look at how much you’ve written in 5-6 years! Some people spend ten years writing those first 10,000 words. I think you’ll make it.

      • John McClarren
        April 25, 2011 | 7:52 am

        Thanks for your comments, Nina. I have a few fleeting moments of doubt now and then, but my attitude is generally quite positive, and I am usually on a high throttles setting. I am either writing, revising/rewriting, creating new ideas for my new novel project, or reading guidance from other authors or agents who have already experienced success. I stay busy. I neglected to mention querying, and that continues, of course.

  86. […] 4. You Will Never Publish a Word: Nina Badzin shares motivating advice from her first writing teacher. […]

  87. The Writer
    May 2, 2011 | 1:10 am

    Thanks for this post! Sometimes we forget how much hard work counts in the writing game. You hear stories about Rowling and other writers that make it big on their first novel, with no prior experience. But, she is definitely an outlier. The rest of us have to work–and work hard! Good luck and keep writing!

    • Nina Badzin
      May 2, 2011 | 8:57 am

      Ah, but don’t forget JK had been writing since she was a kid. She wrote several books before Harry and collected MANY rejections before landing a deal. There’s definitely no such thing as an overnight success. Scary but also liberating. Good luck!

  88. thisbookwyrm
    May 12, 2011 | 11:06 am

    The amazing thing is that, unlike actors, singers, or athletes, an author’s potential actually grows with age. With time, one can sharpen the mind and gain life experience to enhance the writing one shows to the world. Keep going!

    • Nina Badzin
      May 13, 2011 | 4:10 pm

      That is so true! I never thought about it like that. No need for Botox when you’re a writer. 😉

  89. sn2snblog
    September 21, 2011 | 5:44 pm

    Working harder is defiantly on my to-do list, as is learning to spell, or put a coherent sentence together. Unfortunately I’m blessed with something i like to call bone idle laziness. The greats didn’t have to worry about all this spelling or whether their grammar worked correctly.
    My favourite part of writing is seeing a story come together, I hate editing! I suppose that’s where I could Work harder.
    I’m currently working on my very own novel project (currently still unpublished, just waiting for that one story that doesn’t suddenly start to suck or become a chore to write), I would mention the title but as of now there isn’t anything beyond “The Tales of Watcher, World & Dreams”.
    I do believe writing is something everyone can do; all you need is the inspiration of something to write about along with a drive to tell your tale.
    That is really good advice though I’m going to commit that to memory.
    Thank you ^-^

  90. Jim Snell
    February 21, 2012 | 3:20 am

    Good post. Reminds me of an interview I read long ago (in high school I think) with Woody Allen. And though everyone thinks of him as a director, he said he is a writer. And I remember he said that even if he’d never sold anything, if he was working as a postman he’d come home after work and write, because that’s what he is: a writer.

    And I remember thinking, I’ll never be like that. But now I get it.

    As someone else said: writers write.

    That’s really what makes the difference. It’s also kinda nice that you had to put up with so much to get that one little gem – kinda like in a story.

  91. A Blogging Facelift | Nina Badzin
    August 22, 2012 | 4:28 pm

    […] a mom, and I’m a blogger. So in a way, yes. But I also write about writing, publishing, reading, friendship, Judaism, social media, and […]

  92. Kilby Shepard
    September 4, 2012 | 10:28 pm

    It reminded me of something Tom Hanks said on Inside the Actor’s Studio. A student asked him how he felt about all his success. He replied, “I feel like the last man standing.” He explained that all his former acting peers from years ago gave up…they got normal jobs and quit acting. He hung in there and the universe rewarded him.

    I just now found your blog. I’m also in Minneapolis…612!

  93. […] Just Start. What are you waiting for?” Nina find balance here as well, a mix of perseverance (“This is how it works. It takes a long time.”) and joy (“If we don’t derive some joy from the process, then why are we writing at […]

  94. […] Advice From My Husband” because it’s a favorite around here. You could also read “The Worst Writing Teacher Ever,” ”I’m Not an Aspiring Novelist,” and “When I Was Pre-Law and Other Wrong […]

  95. Julie
    August 13, 2014 | 2:35 pm

    Thanks for this perspective, Nina. We seem to have led somewhat parallel existences, you and I, although I am not nearly as far along in the writing experience as you are. I have enjoyed several of your posts today, and look forward to the next, having subscribed to your blog. My own blog awaits a new post…and has for a while. You have inspired me to put aside all the reasons this beast we call writing can’t possibly work out, and just WORK HARDER. Thanks so much for this.

  96. […] “Holy crap life-changing aha/light-bulb moment or whatever Oprah would say. His words seem soul-sucking at first, but pay attention. ‘Work harder’ was something we could at least control. There was no golden ticket to publication, but certainly without the strength to persevere we would fail. That message has kept me going ever since…” Read More […]

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