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There is no wasted effort: An afternoon with Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser

Beer in hand, I listened to Ron Rollins interview Jessica Strawser about the writing life in an Oregon District garden last weekend. The editor of Writer’s Digest, Strawser grew up writing. She even remembers asking her babysitters to critique her stories.

“It’s beautifully written,” they’d tell her, “but you might want to consider having something happen.”

Good advice for all of us, I’d say.

For an hour, Strawser answered questions from Ron Rollins (an editor and former colleague at the Dayton Daily News) and the audience. Here were three of my favorite takeaways:

1) What do all the writers you’ve interviewed have in common?

It’s one of the most common questions people have for her. “They’re all just people,” Strawser says. “But they’re some of the nicest, warmest people you’ll ever meet. They can all vividly remember the early days of getting rejections.”

And they all know that things can change. Just because you’ve published once doesn’t mean you’re going to get the opportunity to do it again.

(My autographed copy of Strawser’s book)

2) Give yourself an “accident forgiveness” clause.

We’ve all heard this: if you’re not writing every day, you’re not a writer. With a husband, two kids, and a full-time job, Strawser says she can’t write everyday. And she’s got to be OK with that. That’s why she gives herself weekly quotas (not daily quotas). It’s like having an accident forgiveness clause in your car insurance contract. It lets you make up for days when life gets in the way.

3) There’s no such thing as wasted effort.

Strawser’s book, Almost Missed You, took her just 10 months to write. That’s counting all her rewrites with her editor. Hearing that made me feel like an arthritic, crack-shelled, wrinkly tortoise — especially since I’m approaching four years of working on my first book. So, I walked up to Strawser after the talk and said I couldn’t believe she’d written her book so quickly.

“Well, that’s not counting the six years that I worked on my first book,” she said, “the one that never got published.”

I could have hugged her just then. It’s a reminder that there’s no such thing as wasted effort. Staying on the path is always more important than your speed.

Strawser will be a faculty member at the upcoming Antioch Writers’ Workshop at UD. Check out her debut book, Almost Missed You (I’ve been listening to the audio on my commute for the past week and trying to figure out what’s really going on), and learn more about her on her website. If you feel like a good cry, check out her Modern Love column from the December 14, 2014, New York Times.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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