The best writers keep reading, stay curious and embrace feedback
Editor's note: This story is part of a series from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for National Book Month. Read more from this series: 16 books to read this Halloween and ASU collection of rare books made accessible online.
Writing a book and getting it published can be challenging to navigate for a first-time, aspiring author. How do you begin? How do you get published? How do you deal with rejection?
For National Book Month, faculty, staff, students and alumni from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University shared their advice on overcoming obstacles and achieving success when it comes to writing a book and becoming published.
“Read! Buy books and listen to writers. There is plenty online, and we have our independent bookstores and libraries. Lots of people dedicate their lives to literary art, in lots of ways. To be in community with others who read is nourishing and inspiring. Reading is also the best cure for writer’s block. Also, cultivate your attention and your openness. Writing is seldom about delivering all your wisdom; writing is a way to discover what you don’t yet know you know.”
Ball is the author of three books of poems: “Hold Sway,” “Wreck Me” and “Annus Mirabilis.” Her long poem “HOLD” was made into an award-winning artist’s book by Czech printmaker Jan Vičar. Ball is a professor of English at ASU and an associate director of Four Way Books, an independent literary press based in New York City.
Laura L. Bush
"Authors need to know that quality books require a team, even though the author is the primary source of the content. Any author will benefit from finding a writing partner, or better yet, a book writing coach or developmental editor to offer them feedback, support and accountability all along the way. Authors need to be prepared to invest in themselves and their book if they want to get their book finished and published in a reputable way. Ultimately, almost all first-time authors I’ve worked with may even start slowing down the publishing process because it takes courage to make their ideas public, especially when they’re telling very personal stories or challenging the status quo and opening themselves up for critique by publishing their book. But when a book is done well, the risks and rewards are well worth publishing for appreciative readers.”
Bush graduated with her PhD in English with an emphasis in Western women’s autobiography from ASU in 2000. Upon graduating, she worked at ASU for over a decade, serving in a variety of roles including as an instructional professional, a lecturer and a manager of curriculum design. In 2004, she published “Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts,” and in 2012, she started her own book-writing business, Peacock Proud Press. She has continued to grow her business to offer a variety of services including coaching, e-courses, editing and publishing.
“Rejection is inevitable in the publishing world, but it can definitely be discouraging, especially since our writing is so personal and raw and close to our hearts. I know I felt that way when I first started submitting my poems to journals and magazines. I think it’s so important to remember that rejection doesn't mean your writing isn’t valuable or necessary. There are so many factors that go into a book being accepted for publication and your work will find the right home eventually! Keep writing, keep sharing your work and continue to listen and learn from those sharing their art with you.”
Davis is a poet and student activist currently studying creative writing at ASU. He is in his third year, working toward earning a bachelor’s degree. Austin's first two books, “Cloudy Days, Still Nights” and “Second Civil War,” were published in 2018. He is also the author of “The World Isn't The Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore” and “Celestial Night Light.” He serves as a student mentee at ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.
“Curiosity is a skill that you can cultivate by reading books or studying subjects that are hard to understand at the time. Generally, students assume that if a book or subject is hard, they aren't ‘naturally’ good at it, and thus should move on to a subject that comes more easily. I tell my students that failure is an important part of learning and that they can't become curious about the world around them until they stop to examine its complexity. I've met and worked with a lot of smart writers, and no one simply rolls out of bed and discovers complexity. You work your way into complexity, which always shows you how little you knew at the outset. Hopefully, the more you learn about what you don't know, the more curious you become about what else is available to know.”
Jensen is a professor of English and the director of writing programs at ASU. He specializes in writing studies and modern/contemporary rhetorical theory, with a specific focus on archival research and technologies. He’s authored or co-edited three books, “Reimagining Process: Online Writing Archives and The Future of Writing Studies,” “Abducting Writing Studies” and “The War of Words.”
“Make sure you have a unique message that is easily understood and applied. Be sure to write without jargon and in an authentic voice. That’s much harder than you can imagine. I’ve written many professional books and articles but finding the right voice and tone for a popular book was a challenge. Schedule big blocks of time to think and to write and rewrite. I organized my time so I wrote all day on Thursday. I had very long days at the office on the other days but I cherished my time at home in sweatpants focused only on writing. See writing as a team sport. Get a good editor. Welcome feedback.”
Katzman is a business psychologist, adviser and consultant to the world’s top public and private companies, governmental and nonprofit institutions. She graduated from ASU in 1985 with a PhD in clinical psychology. Her latest book, “Connect First,” is a No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. She founded Katzman Consulting in 1999 and has worked in 32 countries, with businesses including Accenture, Bain Consulting, Goldman Sachs, MTV, PwC and ViacomCBS.
"Care about what you write. Write for discovery. Know why you are writing and what you are adding to the existing conversations. Shake things up, and don’t be comfortable with simply going through the proverbial motions or continuing to support the status quo. Writing and research are exciting and gratifying in the same way that doing justice work is disruptive and uncomfortable, challenging those who are comfortable and satisfied with the way things are and have always been. The other piece of advice that I had to learn later in my scholarly life is that a piece is never perfect or finished. We can revise and edit until there is no tomorrow. At some point, we have to be satisfied enough with a piece to let it go and hope that the world receives it in the spirit that it is offered."
Lester is a foundation professor of English and the founding director of Project Humanities. He has authored and edited several books including "Ntozake Shange: A Critical Study of the Plays," "Understanding Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents," "Once Upon a Time in a Different World: Issues and Ideas in African American Children’s Literature" "Racialized Politics of Desire in Personal Ads" and "Sapphire's Literary Breakthrough: Feminist Pedagogies, Erotic Literacies, Environmental Justice Perspectives." Lester has also published, lectured and taught extensively in the area of African American children's literature. He is currently editing a special volume on global social justice pedagogy for the Modern Language Association to be published in 2021.
“Don’t hide your work. At first, you may feel embarrassed to share pieces that you’ve tried to pour yourself into, but that don’t feel quite ready to see the light of day. There will always be parts to fix and edits to make, but when you write for an audience, it’s really a collaborative process. Feedback is so important, in as many stages as you can get it. Share your work and listen to what your audience has to say, even if you don’t incorporate all of it. Both of my books have been improved so many ways by taking early feedback to heart.”
Moeller earned her PhD in biology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016 and serves as executive education outreach coordinator in ASU’s Office of the University Provost. She manages ASU’s Ask A Biologist, and has authored two children’s books, “Joryn Looked Up” and “Moms, Dads, and Lily Pads.” She enjoys combining her science background with writing, and finds much of her inspiration in nature.
“Perhaps first among the many challenges authors face today is patience. Absolutely everything seems to be fast and big and loud. While the output of a writing career may turn into those things, the actual act of sitting down to write, hour after hour, year after year, is quite daunting. But for a writer, this is where the real action is — word choices and ideas turned into something, into metaphors, into creativity on the page. One thing that has always served me well in all of this is never to use words like ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ or ‘boring’ or anything in that realm. The only useful word is ‘next.’ Something is not easy or hard, but simply next. And then next after that.”
Ríos is Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate, a recent chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. He has authored 16 books, including “Not Go Away Is My Name,” “A Small Story about the Sky,” “The Dangerous Shirt,” and “The Theater of Night.” He has received several awards for his work including PEN/Beyond Margins Award, National Book Award finalist and the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award.
"Try to write a little every day. That helps to keep your head engaged in the ideas, which can help to keep the momentum going. Try to be honest with yourself about whether or not you are a linear thinker. I am, so I know that I have to start a large project on page one. Non-linear thinkers might find it easier to start with a slice of the project that is in the middle because they know the most about that slice, or they are the most excited about that slice, or they can envision how that slice will radiate out into a larger project. Linear thinkers may have a vision of how a larger project will be organized, but they often need to implement that vision in a linear way. Either way works, but the author needs to know their disposition so that they can jump start the project, and keep it going, most effectively. Ignore the negative voices in your head!"
Thompson is director of the Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies and a professor of English at ASU. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Blackface," "Shakespeare in the Theatre: Peter Sellars," "Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centred Approach," "Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America" and "Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage." She is currently collaborating with Curtis Perry on the Arden4 edition of Titus Andronicus. She was one of Phi Beta Kappa’s visiting scholars for 2017-2018, the 2018-19 president of the Shakespeare Association of America, and served as a member of the board of directors for the Association of Marshall Scholars.