If the answer you receive is not what you wanted to hear, maybe you’ve asked the wrong question….

Sometimes I’m asked what a writer-in-residence does. There’s bound to be some variation, but I imagine most residencies involve similar duties. A significant amount of time is meant to be spent on my own creative project (yay!)– I’m currently working on a new YA novel as well as a secret project! Aside from one’s own writing, the w-i-r makes herself available to the writing public, who seeks one-on-one consultations for feedback on their writing. I’m also available for public readings, classroom visits, panel talks, etc. 

When people come in to see me with their project I try to offer feedback that will have them consider ways they might make their writing stronger. A significant number of people want to know where they should submit their work for publication. A legitimate question, I suppose, because if the writer comes in seeking a consultation, they are moving toward making their work enter the public space. 

It pains me when I have to say that I don’t think their writing is ready to be submitted for publication. I also think that the question of publication should come much later in a writer’s development, and should never pre-empt the question: What can I do to further develop my craft? 

There are many paths to becoming a published author. Workshops, writing groups, MFA programs, continuing education courses, correspondence courses, mentorships, independent study, etc…. Clearly, the developing writer’s goal to become a published author is reasonable and necessary. But if this goal becomes the primary objective it can impede that which would lead you to become a publishable writer in the first place– developing strong writing skills. 

I don’t want to be a downer…. But the reality is that there are soooo many writers in the world, and all of them are seeking publication. What will make your work stand out? 

The careful development of your own voice and style. Your unique way of seeing/thinking/dreaming successfully transformed into words on a page that will evoke/elicit in the reader that which you sought to evoke/elicit. Writing a line, crafting a sentence, building a scene, developing character, playing with language, handling plot, or getting rid of plot entirely, transporting the reader into a different place and time, taking an old story and shining it new…. 

It’s a long, long path with so much to observe and integrate. Sure, some hares are bound to win some races, but the tortoise will always outlast and endure. 

Develop your craft and all else will follow.