Earlier this year, my school’s writing club was lucky enough to be visited by the Davidson poet Allison Elrod (http://www.charlottewritersclub.org/allison_elrod). Her savviest piece of advice? That writers set their writing free in the world—to literary journals, contests, publishers. People outside of your orbit. People who know what they’re doing.
“It’s a slow process,” she said. “But eventually those impersonal thanks but no thanks will evolve into personalized rejections—“Dear Mrs. Elrod, Thanks but no thanks—into maybe not these, but how about some others? Until one day your work is accepted somewhere. Anywhere.”
“And that,” she added, “is a good feeling.
It’s interesting advice, especially to young writers. We’re fragile: At best, our work is fledging, the beginning of something that might, one day, be readable; at worst it’s the sort of thing we’ll cringe reading in our journal ten years from now.
And certainly, there is work that won’t ever make it into print, that shouldn’t ever make it into print. It’s our private work, work that is autobiographically based and reveals too much of ourselves or our loved ones.
But much of our writing should be made public. It’s how we get better. It’s how we know our work is good, or at least has a valid voice. It’s not until we start to send our little darlings out into the world that we start to build a writing community. (My poetic voice didn’t really take form until I found a writing mentor, a local college professor.) We’re afraid to be much of anything until someone nods at one of our poems or smiles at a line in a play. It’s only then that the fuzzy outline of our voice, like a fresh Polaroid, begins to take form.
So look for ways to get your writing into the world. Yes, you’re young—you haven’t lived enough to write about much of anything; your work is too contemporary or too baroque; you’re just not ready. But you can’t see the ways in which your work does work when you’re still inside the piece. Let someone else tell you, whether with a thin rejection slip or a contest award.
My next post will be a list of my favorite opportunities for young writers.