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Advice to Young Writers

Every once in a while I get a list of questions from someone who needs the answers RIGHT NOW to get an A in a course. Here's my favorite:

And here, in response, is my list of DO's and DON'Ts

1. Make reading your main out-of-school activity. Turn off the TV, quit texting, cancel your trip to the mall, and pick from a wide variety of good books.

2. Write something every day. Keep a journal, work on a story, make notes on your research.

3. Learn the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Go over your work for errors. Do not hand in, submit, or email your mistakes--it makes a terrible impression.

4. Learn to accept criticism. You're still learning. (So am I, and I've been at it for a long, long time.)

5. Do at least three drafts before you even ask someone to read your poem/story/novel.

6. Don't ask how to get published before you even learn how to write. It may take years. You wouldn't dream of playing at Carnegie Hall after a year of piano lessons; you wouldn't try out for the Olympics when you've been skating for only a year—would you? The same is true of writing.

7. Don't ask writers how much money they make. It depresses us, because only a lucky few earn enough to live on. Here’s what I tell people: “Writing is a terrible way to make a living, but a great way to make a life.”

8........Well, I can't think of any more. This will have to do it for now. And besides, I have to get back to writing.