The One Thing Wrong with Your Writing: A Guest Post
Every year WriteAtHome adds new writing coaches to our team, and I’m always excited to introduce them to our students. This year, I’m particularly thrilled to introduce you to Fred Durbin, a published author and experienced writing teacher. His background is impressive, but what convinced me to bring him on board is his skill with words and his obvious passion to share his love for writing with students. Fred shares some thoughts for student writers in today’s guest post.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are very good that you’re a Reader with a capital R. You’ve been reading all your life, every chance you get. If I asked you to, you could list several books that you absolutely love. Perhaps you remember where and when you first read them. Have you re-read them? Do you like them because of unforgettable characters whose struggles you shared — characters whom you were sorry to part with at the end of the story? Or maybe you enjoy those books so much because of the worlds in their pages. Scenes imprinted in your memory . . . lines of dialogue that made you cry or cheer . . . wisdom you gained . . . journeys in which you took part, and that are now always a part of you. There is so much to be gotten from books, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. You could tell the same to me, and I’d agree with you!
Have you ever wondered about the people who write books? What are they like? Were they born with super powers, completely different from you and me? The answer is a resounding No. All writers — even those magnificent authors of your favorite books, books that changed your life — are people so much like us it might surprise you. Once they were twelve, fifteen, seventeen years old. They made mistakes, and most had trouble with some school subjects. Even now when they’re grown up and maybe famous, not everything they write comes out well. Those amazing books? They weren’t exactly that way when the authors first wrote them. It took patience, time, revision, and dedication to get those stories into the form you know and love.
When I was in high school, I went to a writers’ conference and met a famous author who read part of a book I’d begun writing. He had snow-white hair, twinkling blue eyes, and a warm smile. I felt a sense of awe to be in his presence. I know the story I’d given him wasn’t very good. It was my best effort, and I was excited about it, but I still had a lot to learn. The famous writer was kind and encouraging, pointing out all sorts of things about my work that he liked, that showed promise. We talked about books and movies that we both enjoyed. He loved cool stories, just like I did. The difference between us was that he was older and had been living and writing for many years. I’ll never forget two things he said to me that day.
The first was, “There’s only one thing wrong with your story. It’s not finished. I want to read more!”
The second was the message he wrote in a book that he signed for me: “For Frederic — a fine writer who knows about enchantment.”
Those were just about the best words of encouragement he could have given to a high school kid who wanted to be a writer. They helped me persist when I faced rejection, my own laziness, and that glaring blank page that can be so daunting to all of us.
So now I’ve lived and written for many years. Now I’m a coach with WriteAtHome, and I get to read papers written by students just starting out on the writing path. I realize that students are all unique, and not everyone wants to become a published writer. That’s fine! Whatever your ambitions are, studying writing with this service will help you. Skillful writing will come in handy in college, in whatever career you pursue, and throughout your life.
Some of you students, I suspect, do dream of seeing your own writing in print someday. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding your book on the shelf—your name on the cover, and your story inside, for thousands of other readers to enjoy! If that is your dream, it’s a good one, and I encourage you to work toward it all the time, letting every month, every year bring you closer to that goal. I give you my word on this: it is not impossible. If I can do it, you can do it. Whatever course you’re taking here, you have a coach who believes in you and is eager to help.
In fact, there’s only one thing wrong with your writing. It isn’t finished! There’s a wonderful journey ahead of you, and we all want to read more. And also this: somewhere inside you, I strongly suspect there’s a fine writer who knows about enchantment.
Frederic S. Durbin grew up in the countryside of rural Illinois, where his parents opened the town’s first bookstore, and his mother was the librarian for the local elementary schools. He attended Concordia College, where he majored in classical languages, devoured English literature, and graduated with highest honors. He taught English and creative writing at Niigata University in Japan for over twenty years. In summer 2011, he relocated to Pittsburgh, PA. The author of two published novels and many short stories for adults and children, he has conducted creative writing workshops for students of all grade levels. There is no greater joy, he believes, than helping young writers discover the wonder and excitement of setting their own words effectively on paper.