A Life from Writing: Reflections of a Writer in Residence

This blog post is brought to you by Gene Twaronite, the Library's most recent Writer in Residence, who shares his gratitude with the librarians—one of his favorite kinds of people—who trusted him to fill the position. 

As I look back at my time as Pima County Public Library's Writer in-Residence, the word that most comes to mind is trust. For me, it has been an honor to serve local writers, who have put their trust in me, attending my workshops and meeting in consultations. I met with thirty-two writers, each with different stories. They have freely shared their precious work, from first drafts to finished manuscripts, trusting this old writer to tell them if it is good enough to be published and if so, where. And if it is not yet ready to publish, opening themselves to how the work might be improved. And they have come to me even before writing a single word, seeking only my blessing to pursue a lifelong dream, as if they needed my permission to write.  

Mostly I have tried to be a good listener, and, when asked, offered gentle but honest advice. It reminded me of that time, more than fifty years ago, when I began my own writing journey. I’d like to share a some things that I’ve learned since that time.

Good writing is a group effort

When I first started out, I felt the need for someone to tell me if I had what it takes to be a writer. There were moments when I doubted myself and gave up for a time. Fortunately, there were people I met along the way who helped me. Other writers who graciously offered feedback and shared their experiences. The editors who took the time to respond and work with me on a piece of my writing, suggesting what I could do to improve its chances of being published, sometimes even accepting some of my work for publication. And the many readers who have followed my writing and encouraged me to go on. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is that we do not write alone. Dare to reach out and you will discover people who can help you along the way in your own writing journey. Join a writing group and find a sense of community. 

A good editor is a friend indeed

I was elated when in 1987 an editor at Highlights for Children saw a glint of promise in my wacky story “The Glacier That Almost Ate Main Street,” and helped me to revise, mailing it back to me again and again, until he finally bought it to publish. I went on to sell two more stories to Highlights, and will always be grateful to him for taking the time to work with me on making my stories all they could be. And when a busy editor takes the time to respond, even with a brief comment, treat it like gold. These days, before submitting a manuscript to publishers, I always hire a professional editor to check over my work and make suggestions for improvement. In my case, a long-term friendship has evolved between us, and I sometimes think my editor knows my writing better than I do. (Thanks, Kate!)  

Money should flow to, not from the writer

After writing my first novel, The Family That Wasn’t, and being rejected by numerous traditional publishers, I decided to go with one that promised to design a cover, publish and promote my book, all for a price ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. And I learned another hard lesson. Beware of publishers who promise the sky and only want your money. Fortunately, today there are numerous self-publishing platforms available, where authors can publish their books at little cost.

But don’t be in a rush to self-publish

When some of my poems were eventually accepted and published in small literary journals, it gave me the confidence to continue writing more poetry and submitting them. More often they were (and still are) rejected, but that rare moment when one of your creations is accepted is one of the best highs I know. So I was delighted when my first poetry collection, Trash Picker on Mars, was finally accepted by the small press, Kelsay Books, and they did not ask for money, only the right to publish my book, for which they would pay me a small royalty. One of the things that helped me get published was the list of credits for poems previously published in journals and magazines. Too often, many writers rush into self-publishing without first trying to build publishing credentials, help you land an acceptance, and build your confidence as a writer. And being published in a small journal or magazine can help showcase your writing and make it known to a wider audience.

Trust in yourself

Like most artists and writers, I’ve always had to work at day jobs to support my habit, and have never really made a living from my writing. But I have made a life from my writing. And you can too.   

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