"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences.
They are the ones who keep writing."
They are the ones who keep writing."
–Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark
In my writing classes someone inevitably reads a stunning few lines from a 5-minute quick write. Her classmates will gush OhMy or mouth Mmmm. Then, I might say, "Gosh, you sure can write." The writer will smile and avert her eyes to the praise. Thing is, writers in writing classes like mine rarely keep writing beyond their graduate school assignments. Most are teachers whose busy lives sap their energy, and the notion of squeaking out 20 minutes at 5:30 in the morning or at recess to work on a short story demands putting off some kid-related chore. Most teachers I know, especially those adding to their week's work in graduate school, put their students at the top of their to-do lists.
But every once in a while someone will come to me and talk about getting serious about their writing. They're looking for advice. If they're interested in writing short stories or articles, I send them off to library collections or bookstores to review magazines and journals. I say, "Read what they're publishing and see where your work might fit." I picture myself back in 1979, fresh from quitting a good job in Indianapolis "to write," going to the UMF library and perusing its stacks of Maine publications like Maine Life, DownEast, Puckerbrush, Maine Sunday Telegram, or Bittersweet. First, I targeted Maine Life and Bittersweet.
The poems I wrote fit well in these magazines. Mine were accessible Maine poems, free from clutter and secret meanings. Same with my articles. I simply told the story of "The East-West Wilderness School" or how the sport of ski jumping in Maine and across the country was dying. I loved the rush of composing and completing this writing. And if the piece made it to publication, I read and reread it, looking at my name, author bio, and the hefty black print on the page. I loved seeing The Title "by Richard Kent" in the Table of Contents.
But my suggestion of looking at publications often takes the writer by surprise. Even if they don't say it aloud, I can sense the "I won't get into one of those magazines." Really, what they're after is the key to the published writer's castle. And at some point, in some way, I always say, "Just write."
I offer other advice like find a trusted reader/editor (sometimes I'll recommend "my" Anne Wood). I explain that they'll need to keep drafting until what they need to say surfaces. I'll probably share Ron Carlson's line, "The writer is the person who stays in the room." I may tell about the 40 drafts of the introduction to Writing on the Bus (and how my first reader Gayle laughed at me--made fun of me-- from drafts 30 to 40) or talk about an article I've recently written that took me 60 or 70 hours to compose over the course of several months. Writing is hard for me, I'll say. And at some point I'll always add, "If you want to be published, you will be published. Just keep writing."
I have good ideas for articles and books, and I'm entrepreneurial. That's my forte as a writer. My writing center book and Room 109 were original. So are my series of books for athlete and teams. Recently, I did a book with my friend Josie Bray… this book, Writing the Dance, may open possibilities for other workbooks-journals in the arts. Beyond my ability to recognize and write about original ideas, I also stay in the room and do the work.
I suppose that's why I call myself a blue-collar writer. Rarely do I produce eloquent prose like those students whose quick-write lines stop us in class. But I do keep writing until the job is done, just like a house painter or a chimney sweep.