How To Keep A Writer In Suspense

How to keep a writer in suspense?

Short answer: accept their stuff for publication, then sit on it indefinitely.

Long answer: (I deleted the long answer. It was starting to sound kinda whiny.)

Suffice to say, I’ve written a bunch of stuff that is waiting to be published or otherwise made manifest. But forget that “very important context,” [1] the real point I want to make (perhaps to myself), is one I made to a friend a while back after she suffered a particularly stinging rejection of her novel: “if you’re in it for the long haul, it doesn’t matter how many rejections you pile up on the way to success. Keep writing.” [2]

That sentiment was inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s 2014 NaNoWriMo pep talk, in which he outlines his struggle to publish his debut novel.

You really ought to read the whole thing, but here’s the gist: he wrote twelve novels, without managing to sell one of them, and was rejected by every MFA program he applied to, before an editor bought his sixth novel. [3]

That is simultaneously one of the most inspiring and sobering essays on writing I’ve ever seen. On the one hand, if Brandon freaking Sanderson had to write twelve books before he sold one, who am I to complain? On the other hand, if Bandon freaking Sanderson had to write twelve books before he sold one, what hope do I have?

I revisit this essay, and my comment, at least once a year—either encouraging another writer or reminding myself. While it’s frustrating to put so much time into this and have so little to show for it, the successes are piling up; they’re just not very visible yet. The road is long, even for the best. That’s one of the reasons I’m so obsessively focused on process, because the results side of the business seems to be pretty haphazard.

Next time: Crunching the Numbers


1. Sarcasm quotes intentional.

2. She later self-published that novel through Amazon (congrats, Sarah!), but recently “unpublished” it, so I’ll just link to this lovely review instead.

 3. That sixth novel was Elantris, which is very good. It’s the first thing I ever read by Sanderson, and it grabbed me right away. I’m not generally a big fan of prologues (more on that in another post), but the prologue for Elantris is just about perfect—short, engaging and directly relevant to the story. You can read it here. See if it grabs you too. (It looks like you can actually read the first three chapters online if you just keep going.)

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