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Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 4



In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The fourth step:

We have made a searching and fearless inventory of every old unsold scrap and fragment of manuscript in the bottoms of our filing cabinets, in hopes of finding something we can sell to somebody, somewhere.


Sitting beside me is a MS I will read then send to my agent—even after she told me she’d be happy to handle my NON-science fiction stuff, but just didn’t know what to do with my science fiction.

A bit of history, though. The reason it was never submitted...well, it WAS submitted. I worked with the editor of CRICKET BOOKS on it for nearly a year. She would send pages of suggestions, I’d rewrite and send the changes back. She’d make fewer changes, etc. All very cool and above-board.

Then something happened that I have never understood. I’ve pondered it for 11 years and I still don’t understand what happened.

Someone else published my book.

It’s true. Once day I was writing, happy as a clam, with a very possible publication contract approaching. A week later, the editor said I’d done good work, but we were done.

My book was an historical/fictionalized recounting of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1895. The event was not only full of excitement, but terrifyingly horrible. The same editor I was working with purchased and published a shortened version of the story in CRICKET MAGAZINE (where not only was it the lead story of the July 2001 issue, she also bought a “fact” sidebar! In my mind, I was practically THERE!)

Then the “other” book came out and not only did it recount the adventures of Maggie—but my character was named MEG…

That was eleven years ago. The “other” book is out of print, the author hasn’t written anything new in years and my novel, while similar, just needs a bit of brushing and a time travel novel for YA.

I also sent off a short story that might or might not be dead. See, I “trunk” stories all the time. Most of the time it’s because they’re hideously bad. But sometimes I “trunk” them (I should probably change that. “Trunk” is an antiquated reference to taking a paper manuscript, tying it with twine and tossing it in an old-fashioned, round-topped sort of giant suitcase sort of like a pirate’s treasure chest)…sometimes I archive them because even though I LIKE them a lot, no one else seems to.

As has been my experience in the past, I just have to find the right someone. For example, “Mystery on Space Station Courage” was written specifically for HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. They weren’t interested. When I sighed and sent it to the second market, CRICKET bought it and the relationship there was a long-standing one and the editor has moved on.

I had written “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” specifically for ANALOG and while the editor thought it was nice, he didn’t buy it. I sent it around, then archived it. When I stumbled across a newer market whose audience was exactly the one I was aiming at, I sold it for a little bit of cash to CAST OF WONDERS in England. They made a podcast out of it that was fantastic!

While Bruce meant #4 tongue in cheek, I think I know him well enough to see that there’s a grain of real advice in there that has gotten me sales in the past—and just might get me sales in the future, as long as I stir in a modicum of honesty when evaluating those old stories…



Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS ( where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.


NEXT TUESDAY: Step 5, We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers. 

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