Earlier this week, I attended a panel discussion at Westminster College featuring four published writers. They ranged in age, genre, and experience. As I sat in the audience alongside other aspiring writers, I had two thoughts:
- There are a LOT of people out there who want to be a writer
- How on earth can I make myself stand out among so many people who like me, are just trying to make a profession out of what they love most: writing.
As I listened to the professionals address the student wannabe writers in the crowd, I did not hear any advice that answered my question above. Instead, I couldn't help but feel discouraged--a feeling that I had not at all anticipated when preparing to attend the discussion.
Three of the four writers strongly encouraged students NOT to publish. The overall message to their advice was to wait. Wait, wait, wait. Keep practicing your writing in your journals, meet with peers who like you are wanting to one day publish that piece. Whether it be a work of fiction, a screenplay, or a book of poetry; practice and wait.
Admittedly, I am not as experienced as the distinguished professionals who sat on that panel. However, as an older graduate student sitting with younger undergrad students listening to writers telling us to hide our work, I felt frustrated. I thought back to my undergrad days when editors at the University of Utah art and entertainment magazine took me under their wings and helped me develop as a writer. I interviewed people within the community and my articles were published in the magazine. The people I interviewed read those pieces as did people on campus and online. Would I post some of my old articles up for all to see now? No. Can I look back and see how terrible some of my stories were? Yes. Would I change any one of them? No.
Some of the professionals on the panel warned us of the damage that publishing too soon could do for our future careers. I can see their points. However, if I had not had the guidance of better and more experienced writers then I would not have developed to where I am today. And to that point, I am still working towards becoming a better writer--asking for criticism even though it can hurt at times.
I wanted to speak up at the discussion, but chose not to. Instead, I asked my favorite panelist some questions regarding early publishing after the discussion and found that she disagreed with some of what her peers had to say. I was happy to know that she encourages publishing but with guidance; just like I had. I am still seeking guidance and so far, I have found just that at Westminster.
To the naysayer panelists I say: have a little more faith in what younger writers can do. And if you are going to adamantly discourage us to attempt to publish in journals, etc., then please follow up with some advice as how we can find and work with experienced and successful mentors. While peer-editing is great, if we are all on the same level, I do not see how that will help our cause.
I would love to know what other aspiring writers or even current published writers have to say on this subject. Where do you stand? What advice would you give?
I say, without submitting pieces to be rejected, you will never really grow as a writer.