Jessica Zafra’s advice to writers who want to get published

It’s lunch break, I’m going through an inspiration starvation right now (quite angry) so I decided to check out Jessica Zafra’s blog and check out her previous posts that I’ve missed to rechannel my negative energy.

While scrolling down,  I stopped at this post from September 19, 2016.  The title piqued my curiosity.

This is the most amazing thing I read for today.

Letter from a Reader: How do you start getting published?

Hello Ms. Zafra!

I’m Mao and I read some of your of your essays from the twisted series. A friend of mine recommended you to me and I thought you were amazing. I don’t really have any concerns, I just really wanted to tell you how great your writing was. I loved how you saw mundane things, how you turned them into experiences worth noting, and existential crisis worth scrutinizing. They were great!

I write a bit and, I was wondering (looks like I have a question, after all. Sorry for the white lie earlier) how you started getting your work published? I’m wondering because I’d like to do it as well. I’m aware that my ideas are nothing special but that’s only because I’m used to them- maybe my random mussing could be a good reference for others. I really just want to get ideas out there. Ideas get people talking and the more ideas we have, the more we help fight ignorance. I don’t know, I just really want to create something. Maybe something that tells me that I’m here, like I’m present.

Lately I’ve been feeling like a wanderer. I do things and become tired and although I get office tasks accomplished, I don’t feel productive. A friend told me I was dead inside because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think I do, but I’m afraid it won’t reap anything good. What I want is to create something and have it out there. Something to prove my existence. Not to others, to myself. I feel like everything I said is a contradiction but I just wanted to get it out there and I really want your advice on this. Ir any words at all. I’m sorry for the bother,

PS You’re amazing and awesome. I’m happy you’re alive approximately the same time as me. I’m happy we share a lifetime.


Dear Mao,

Thank you for your letter. It is always good to get feedback directly from the readers. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I would caution you against admiring anyone too much. At some point they will let you down. It is not necessarily because they’re terrible people, but because we are all complex beings with our own personalities and inevitably we will disagree.

For instance, I learned to write by imitating J.D. Salinger, Pauline Kael, and Woody Allen. (I am not suggesting that I am in their league; lightning strike me if I do.) Salinger was always known to be a weirdo, but since his death more details have emerged. The late Kael was said to be mean and petty. Whenever Woody Allen has a new movie out, his biological son who has disowned him writes an op-ed piece repeating accusations that the filmmaker molested his sister. If I had idolized them I would’ve been destroyed. Fortunately I revered them not for their personal lives but for their work. I still read Salinger and Kael, and I watch every Woody Allen movie that appears, even if they’re retreads of familiar themes. In real life they could be flaming hemorrhoids for all I care; it’s the work that matters. Granted there are always exceptions, but that’s another story.

The way you look at the world spells the difference between soul-crushing boredom and pleasure. If you view your daily routine as mechanical, bleak, and totally devoid of interest, you will depress yourself. However, if you choose to view it as an experiment in chaos, full of unexpected developments (even annoyance is better than nothing) and galloping absurdity, you will entertain yourself. You will also have something to write about. Writing is really a way of seeing. My friends ask me why I persist in watching movies that everyone knows will be awful. I do it in the hope that I will either be surprised that the movies aren’t bad, or be entertained by how ridiculous the movies are.

I started writing short stories when I was in grade school. I’d always been an avid reader, and when I ran out of reading matter I figured I’d give it a whack. When I left college I became a freelance writer/editor. It’s not hard to get started: just write an article on spec, submit it to a publication, and wait. I have to warn you that the income is unstable and it takes months to get paid. The general rule seems to be: “You’re doing what you love, and you expect to get paid big bucks?” Also, the publication may never get back to you. I imagine there are more unsolicited submissions to magazines and newspapers today than in the 90s when I was starting out. Eventually I got hired as a regular columnist. After two decades of this grind I am currently taking a break from column-writing to write fiction. I’ve finished a novel and have started on another one.

If your goal is to be read by other people and you don’t have to make money off your writing, then start a blog and write something everyday. The point of doing this is to get feedback from readers, and to train yourself to write daily. This may address your need to feel productive. As for feeling “dead inside” I don’t know you well enough to dare offer any advice, but watching movies (and now TV shows) always cheers me up. Have you seen Broad City or You’re The Worst? For something more benign, there’s The Great British Bake-Off.

You can reject all of the above, but these tips are always useful.
1. Read your draft to check spelling and punctuation.
2. Be specific about what you want to write. Example: A horror story about working in an office. Monsters are a way of externalizing your personal travails.
3. Avoid self-defeating statements. Tell yourself that you are unique and brilliant, but tell yourself only. Give the outside world time to confirm it.
4. The best way to learn to write is to read good books. Try some Junot Diaz or Ali Smith.

Best regards,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: