Monday, April 1, 2013

Guest Blogger: Stay out of the hot tub!

5 lessons from a half-baked writer
By: J.R. Roper

Not all hot tubs are problematic, so hear me out.

Time is a great teacher, and what I have to share with you about the writing process is a cumulative product of years spent attending conferences, working with critique partners, reading — and gluing my butt to the chair and writing. There is a lot of contradictory advice out there and some is simply the same-old-same-old. Here are a few bits of advice to help you hold onto a thread of sanity (and some of your hair).

Always finish your work and do not submit until it is ready.
Habits are important and this is definitely true for writing. If you make it a habit to complete even the worst drivel that ekes from your fingertips into your word processor, you will find a healthy level of mental success. A story that starts out terrible — but finished — can be fixed. And, when it’s fixed, it might be a well-written story. But when is this well-written story ready for the world to read?

The short answer — when you KNOW it is ready. I wrote a short story in 2009 while on vacation in northern Wisconsin. It was the only short story I had ever written and I never liked it because I didn’t know how it should end. Then in the winter of 2012, I brought the story out of my dreadful writing file and solicited help from my writing group (more on them and the hot tub later). Their prompts about possible endings helped, and in the end, an offspring of their ideas worked brilliantly. This short story, titled “Of The Lake,” became my first piece of writing accepted for publication! Had I sent it out before fixing the ending it might’ve never been accepted, and with short stories, the market for specific themes is limited.

Write every day? Seriously?
This advice is probably the best writing advice ever, but also the worst advice for anyone with a day job, spouse, children, dog, house to keep up with, need for sleep to remain sane, and smallish reading addiction. Writing and rejection are inseparable, like Star Wars and popcorn. The problem with this best-advice-ever is it leads to feeling like a failure if you do not or cannot follow it, and that’s the last thing you need. My advice is to scrap everyone’s advice and figure out what works for you. If aiming for a daily word count leads to constant failing, why not aim for a weekly word count to hold yourself accountable? That way, when the juices are flowing, you can write, write, write. And if you need a night to drink beer and watch The Bachelor, you’ve got it!

Try a different genre.
I have always thought of myself as a fantasy novelist for middle grade and YA readers. And for many years, this was all I worked on. I wrote and rewrote the first two novels in my middle grade trilogy until the characters’ souls were pressed from the page. Then, one day, I heard a friend tell a real life story that absolutely frightened me. So I sat down and tried to communicate that terror in a story of my own. In the process I realized that I love writing horror! Since then I have had five horror stories accepted for themed anthologies. I certainly will not get rich writing short stories. But it has pushed me to keep writing something even when I’m stuck in the novel doldrums. It has provided connections to several editors I’d love to submit more work to in the future. And hopefully, these little bits of success I find by having my name in print will help relieve the near-constant sting of rejection that inevitably comes with writing.

The stream of ideas will not dry up.
If you are alive and listening, if you read often, and if you jot down the occasional compelling dream, you will continue to develop good ideas for stories. In fact, you might not have enough life to write them all. Your best idea for a story is probably your next one. So when you finish your current project, don’t wait. Get started again right away. Common worries for new writers stem from fears like this is the only publishable idea I will ever come up with and if I don’t write this now, someone will steal my idea. There really is nothing new under the sun. Your story idea has already been done in some way, shape, or form. But no one can tell your story like you, so as Dori says, “just keep swimming.”

Stay out of the hot tub!
Writer friends and critique partners that feel like family (but aren’t actually family) are your most important allies in the quest to write great stories and have them published. Some of your friends (see Kelly Stanley from the January guest blog post) will experience success before you do. Some of your best writing friends whom you met at writing conferences might already be successful authors (see D.E. Johnson, Kelsey Timmerman, and Julie Hyzy). Other writing friends are on the cusp of being published (that’s you, Sarah Schmitt!). The point is these are the people who care about your long-term success because they love you as a person. I workshop with two writing groups, one made up strictly of fantasy novelists, and the other a rich mixture of fiction writers and poets. The people who attend are some of my best friends who aren’t afraid to tell me when my writing stinks to high heaven.

So what’s with the hot tub? At a writing conference in 2011, a hot tub full of literary agents invited me to join them! A writer’s dream, you say? Maybe, but I did not get in the hot tub. All of the agents still requested full or partial manuscripts at the conference and a few gave awesome feedback, but ultimately they all passed on my story. And had I gone into the hot tub, the story would have still been rejected, and my wife might have murdered me. Instead, on that fateful hot-tub-bubbling night, I went out and had a drink with my writing buddies. And guess what? They are all still with me — my writing family.  

J.R. Roper is a speculative fiction writer and teacher living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is working on his third novel, a YA fantasy and several short horror stories. For more strange tidings and publication updates visit

As a side note from Sarah, he's also one of the coolest kids around and can rock a bald head like nobody else I know, except maybe D.E. Johnson.


  1. Glad to be part of Joe's critique group. We are so proud of his success and now...he has written and submitted poetry. The poets are exerting their influence. The mix of genre's have strengthen each of us in our own writing. We trust each other to tell the truth.

  2. If only they served dill chips in the hot tub!

  3. The coolest kids come to Midwest Writers Workshop.

  4. Irene's fabulous poetry inspired me! MWW and the people who run it are awesome!