The open book: what writers don’t tell writers about writing (part 6)

Caren Gussoff Sumption
5 min readMar 28, 2022
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

As I’ve worked, on and off, on this series, I’ve tried to consolidate the questions and blind spots I see (and have personally encountered) on creating — and thriving — in a writing career. I get asked, and see others asked, what the single best piece of advice they can give to writers just starting out…and the best answer, across the board, is to read. Read everything. Read, read, read. Reading does more to help develop voice, style, and a sense of narrative shape than a hundred writing workshops will.

It’s never the answer people like to hear. But it’s true, nonetheless.

The second best answer is: write. Write a lot. Write garbage. Write well. Doesn’t matter. But write something, revise it, finish it — and repeat. For the first several hundred thousand words, no one writes anything worth much, usually. Maybe you’ll glean a story or two from it. But don’t assume that this is when you’re productive. Assume this is when you are learning to be productive.

This is also very true, somewhat unpleasant advice. And I give it, along with the reading shtick pretty frequently. But I also realize that I haven’t been centering the third piece of advice that is also very good and true, if not kind of a pain in the ass — the bit of advice that helps actual writing, albeit indirectly, but, more pointedly, helps focus the blobby bit between writing and profession, that actually helps quite a bit when new writers are starting to navigate the great muddy waters of Lake How-The-Fuck-Do-I-Get-Published.

There is something I can suggest. Be warned: in its way, it’s both a shortcut and a distraction. But it is one of those very few activities that feel like writing but which aren’t writing…only this actually has measurable, reproducible benefits for a writing career (that sitting around with other writers, for example, talking about what you want your work to do…doesn’t). And while it takes a little legwork, it’s absolutely doable.

Read slush for a publication.

Slush reading is a slightly disparaging term for an essential stream into Lake How-Published. When magazines or sites have submission periods, open or timed, all the submissions that were not directly solicited are considered “slush” in the…

Caren Gussoff Sumption

Writer, dabbler, bon vivant. Nerdy words for nerdy people.