Being a Resilient Writer

Let’s begin at the end of this Wiscon.

I had the good fortune of being on a panels with Eleanor Arnason, Kelly McCullough, and Sean Murphy. If all those names seem familiar to you, they should. I had the good fortune of being on a panel with three members of the same writing group, all of them at very different places in their career and in very different stances regarding writing.

Let’s introduce the cast:

Eleanor Arnason: Five novels, countless short stories, living legend luminary, Tiptree Award winner. Photo of her hanging out with Ursula LeGuin on her site. How cool is that?

Kelly McCullough: Hard-working fantasy and SF writer, Writers of the Future Winner, responsible for 200K words this year, and married to a physics professor. How cool is that?

Sean M. Murphy: Has sold his first short story, but is a newbie, much more like me. However, he has made a pro sale. How cool is that?

And you know me. A few stories published, one book published, all small press at this point. Rejections getting better all the time.


The name of the panel was “Being a Resilient Writer.” For a Monday morning, it was packed. While there were not too many Secrets of the Universe (TM), here are some truths that seemed to come out during the panel.

1. Writing initially is like hitting your head against a brick wall. (Kelly’s metaphor). And you wonder why you do it, because your head has more give than the bricks. Eventually, if you keep at it, the wall gives.

2. Anytime someone gives you an absolute about your writing (you’ll never sell; you shouldn’t write novels; your career is over), you shouldn’t listen. Eleanor gave examples of when she had listened, and how she has regretted it.

3. The resilient writer is flexible. Sean told the story of how one member of Wyrdsmiths had been told by her editor that no one was interested in her name any more, because she had sold few books. The author began writing under a different name.

4. I talked about finding time to write. After a lifetime of being too busy, I told everyone that I decided I wasn’t going to wait until I had finished…everything to write. Sit down, make x’s in your schedule, and get busy.

5. Many high numbers of rejection letters were touted. Everyone gets rejected. Still. Kelly told a story of a friend who talked to Ray Bradbury. The friend asked Ray about rejections and what he did with them. Ray pulled out an origami boulder and illustrated what he had done with the one he’d gotten that morning.

6. Eleanor, Sean, and Kelly talked about writing group support and how important it was to them. I too talked about this. We mentioned that a locale group like Wyrdsmiths is great. I talked about how much support I get from my Viable Paradise classmates. I mentioned workshops as an excellent way to meet writers. Also, Kelly mentioned the Online Writers Workshop and Critters.

7. We talked about places to send stories. We talked about contacts. I brought up and as great databases for short stories and agents (send them money!) Sean also mentioned how fast the market changes, and how important it is to stay current regarding where to submit and who’s agenting.

8. Kelly talked about what it’s like to not write. Most of us concurred that we wrote because we had to, even though sometimes it was quite the slog. Kelly writes to keep “the weirdness from leaking out.” Having experienced this phenomena myself, I know of what he speaks.

9. Kelly and I both gave examples of the skepticism of receiving an acceptance. Kelly mentioned he thought one of them was ads. I mentioned that I seemed to need to lose body parts before I got mine.

10. One of the audience members expressed her discouragement about getting older and not having publications. I told a story about a student who was 60 when she came back to school. Her goal was a degree in social work. She decided to do this because a friend told her she was going to be 60 anyway, so why not have something to show for it.

11. Eleanor talked about the changing nature of publication. This led to a discussion of ebooks, which was helpful and contemplative.

12. Ebooks in turn lead to a discussion about self-promotion. Kelly was not of the opinion that self-promotion converted to a lot of sales. I mentioned how some people were so into self-promotion that they sort of forgot to write the next book. Kelly mentioned that was how he actually did self-promotion, and it worked.

13. There was a discussion about how the market can sometimes do horrible things to you, even though you have accepted material. Like a book can close, a publisher can shut down, a market can NOT publish your story even though they’ve accepted it. It is the nature of the business. Grit your teeth and go forward.

14. All of us had some parting shot wisdom. I put in a plug for everyone remembering that they are a writer. I mentioned that my three fellow panelists were all obscure at some point, and that I was obscure. However, in order to become a writer, I must consider myself a writer, keep writing, and improve my game.

15. The Wyrdsmiths responded that reasons like these were exactly why they gave their first Wiscon Wyrdsmith party. Even though they hadn’t published as much as they wanted, they wanted to celebrate that they were writers.


Of course, if any of my fellow panelists see this link, please give me some of the pieces I’ve forgotten to edit in.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Being a Resilient Writer”

  1. Wow! Thanks Cath.

    Awesome summary of an awesome panel.

    Lately, my crazy has been leaking out to much. I guess I better write more.

  2. Thank you for posting this – lots of useful information! This was one of the (many) panels I wanted to attend but could not.

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