What advice do you give a beginning writer?

ANNOUNCEMENT: Lee Bennett Hopkins died this morning. His husband Charles just posted the news. Lee spent the better part of his professional career championing poetry for young people. He holds a record in Guinness Book of Records for the most anthologies of children’s poetry. Lee will be greatly missed by people everywhere who love poetry.

Hi everyone,

It rained hard yesterday but the clouds moved out and we were able to take our meal out by the lake in the early evening. The sunset was better than expected. We can’t see the sun set because our house and those across the street are in the way. But we can enjoy the play of light across the sky.

This week I met with a young woman who is headed to Emory (my alma mater) and plans to become a writer. She asked what advice I would give her.

I told her to take the writing classes, seminars, and workshops to learn how other people go about their writing and what to look for in excellent work, but she would become a writer when she’s made enough mistakes of her own, written enough awful stuff, blundered and felt terrible and tasted failure until she eventually teaches herself what works for her.

I suggested setting realistic, doable goals, to proudly keep her first (of many) rejections.

I said she should consider letting other people know she’s an aspiring writer in the early stages of acquiring a difficult skill. She might want to share her dreams, failures, and progress with kids in schools. Goodness knows they need to understand that grownups also struggle as they attempt to learn how to do something that’s very hard to do.

I told her to study the market and to understand the odds of what she will write matching up with what an editor needs are slim and many other writers are submitting their own dreams too.

I told her the first time she sells something — anything — she will join a select group of people around the world who have survived the same struggles and finally seen their names on a publication. I promised her that first time she sells something will be a cause for major celebration. She’ll hear music. She’ll want to dance. She’ll smile to herself and know what success feels like. She’ll feel the same way about the second thing she sells, and the one after that, and every single one that follows.

I told her a lot of other things too. I hope I didn’t scare her into changing her major.