Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff. He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.
That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other?
To be a writer, you must write. Absolutely, 100%, yes! However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.” Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule. I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends. I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you. The important thing is that you’re writing.
On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks. Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me. Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser. But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1
Now find a publisher. This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually. It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today. Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity. Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers. Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.
I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law. If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!
It messed me up more than once. So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published. (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)
That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.