A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Early in my writing career I adopted a philosophy that has guided and nurtured me through more than 45 years of authorship. It has been both my light and my destiny, and I have freely shared it in almost every writing workshop I have ever taught. It has never failed me as an author, and I share it with you as perhaps the most significant piece of advice for your own writing success:
The best writers are those who have as much to learn as they do to write.
Somewhere along the line, I got this notion that if I’m going to be a proficient and life-long writer, I also need to be open to new ideas, new strategies, and new ways of improving myself. For me, writing is never about the product, but always about the process. The complicated steps that lead to the publication and release of a new children’s book are underscored by an author’s commitment to staying “up to speed” on self-improvement and literary upgrading. Maintaining the status quo is never an option; it is, quite often, an excuse.
Recently, I visited a local elementary school and provided time after each grade-level presentation for students to ask questions. Toward the end of one session, a young lady stood up and asked a very penetrating question—one seldom asked of children’s authors. “Is there any one of your published books that you would now like to change?” she inquired. I thought about her query for a few moments and then responded as follows: “Yes, all of them!” There was, as you might expect, a collective gasp from the audience.
I explained that although a book might be published, it only expresses my knowledge, my intent, and my passion for the theme at that point in time. Since its publication I have learned new things, found other information that could be included in the text, or discovered a writing strategy that would have given readers a different perspective or alternative view. Yes, I said, every one of my books could be changed, or even improved, because I keep learning new stuff all the time.
Then, as you might imagine, I put on my teacher’s hat and explained to the group that they, too, could use writing as a way of learning about the world. I told them that knowledge is never static. (According to several researchers, human knowledge—on average—is doubling every 13 months.) As a result, we all have much to learn—whether we are in school or whether our formal schooling is in the rearview mirror. Everything evolves with more knowledge, more skills, and improved attention to the processes that improve our writing over time.
I also explained that each of my published books originally went through 25 to 30 drafts before its submission to an editor. Each draft was an attempt to improve the manuscript; each draft was an opportunity to apply new “learnings” to a specific draft to make it better than the previous one. I concluded by telling the group that the best learners in the world are those who write. That’s because writing opens your eyes to what’s around and what can be learned.
I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that self-education is never a product, it’s always a process. That is to say, it is always going on . . . always taking place . . . always in motion. To stop learning is to stop growing. And when you stop growing, you shortchange your writing career. And that’s never good!
When we acknowledge the potential for growth in our lives, then we can celebrate the possibilities for self-improvement and self-development. People who resist change and say, “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” frighten me. The implication is that if it worked in the past, it will surely work in the future. Coping with the world by clinging to the past makes life static, stagnant, and unrewarding. There is real value in realizing our capacity for growth and development. Growing, changing, and becoming are what writers do . . . or should do! They are part of a lifelong process to be pursued and celebrated.
“Be teachable. You’re not always right!” —Anonymous
Tony is the author of more than 50 children’s books. In addition, he has written From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them. This book offers “insights into the mysteries of creativity and how we (writers) can all become more creative through a ‘growth’ mindset in concert with daily practices.”