Dear Word Friend,
Here are answers to questions I get asked a lot.
I started writing poems in second or third grade. What got me interested
was hearing poems read aloud at home. I just loved them! I loved stories,
too, both those read to me -- fairy tales, Bible stories, Golden Books
from the grocery -- and those told around the kitchen table. My mother
often played with words, delighting in their possibilities as she talked,
and she also played imagination games with me. My home was rich ground
for a writer to take root in!
It took eleven years to get Mountain, my first book, published. I started sending out poetry manuscripts in 1972, and Mountain came out in 1983. So it wasn't quick. All those rejections were discouraging. But I loved poetry and writing itself, so I kept going. I felt it was what I was supposed to do.
I had a lot of different jobs, of course. I still do, but now almost all of them are connected with writing.
My advice to young writers? Read all you can, including books about writers' lives, so you can see there are as many ways of being a writer as there are people writing. Keep a journal or writer's notebook where you practice paying attention, where you collect dreams, questions, observations, things people say, anything which catches your heart. (You can use it as a scrapbook, too, taping or pasting in things that help you remember. My journals usually include leaves, ticket stubs, things written on scraps of paper, postcards, and pictures.) Find other people interested in writing and share your work with them. Don't be afraid to try new approaches. For example, what happens if you make the last line of your poem the first line and go from there? Don't be afraid to rewrite. I go through many, many drafts before I show my work to an editor. And then there's more work to be done!
Above all, don't confuse getting published with writing. Getting published is good, but it's not the point. The point is to get what's in your heart and head on paper, making discoveries along the way, and then shape what you've written in a way that satisfies you and could speak to someone else. There are lots of ways to share your work besides getting a publisher. You can read it aloud or give it to someone. You can make your own book, by hand or via computer and copier. You can send it in a letter to a friend. Formal publication, if it comes, will probably take a long time. Don't let that stop you from writing. Be tough. Have fun.
May the ink be with you!
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