Successful Writers ~Written by John Brantingham

I asked John Brantingham, my writing mentor, former professor, and a valuable person in my inner circle of writing friends, to write a guest blog on any topic he’d like.

John offers a free gift to a lucky reader at the end of this article.

When Carole told me that I could guest on her blog, I didn’t tell her that I was going to write about her. You shouldn’t think that all the praise I am going to heap on her is self-serving then, but Carole is one of my many, many creative writing students who has left my class to become successful.

I can always tell when one of my creative writing students is going to be successful on the first day of class.

I have to be careful here to define the word “successful” as it relates to creative writing. By that, I don’t mean that the student will go on to become the wealthiest writer on the circuit today, but that he or she will write and keep writing and reach a group of readers in whatever way he or she wants.

For some people, that means wide publication, and for others it means sharing with friends.

If we focus on those who want to publish, however, they are always easy to spot even on the first day. They share a group of characteristics.

1.  They are willing to learn and grow. I had one student flat out tell me once that he knew all there was to know about writing, and he didn’t want help growing. “Why are you in a workshop that emphasizes craft then?” I asked.

He smirked and said, “I’m just here to do my thing.”

No clue what that means.

The successful students are always hungry for information from wherever they can get it. No surprise there. It’s no surprise that successful writers are too. They want to know what their profession is about because they love it.

2. They are exceptionally eager to work.

When I talk about the revision process, some students glaze over and turn off, and other students become excited. They want to revise because they want to get better. More importantly, writing is fun and revision is too. This is intellectual game play after all if you enjoy it. And the successful writers love it.

3.  They ask questions throughout the class. They have wondered about something for years, and they finally have someone to talk to. Often, the best ones will disagree with me about some concept or other. That’s all right (as long as they are respectful). They love what they’re doing and they’re exceptionally passionate about it.

Obviously, the key word here is “love.” The successful students love what they’re doing and would do anything they could to improve and reach people with their work. If they don’t love reading and writing, they will never be successful, but there’s no surprise there.

And Carole is one of those students who I knew right away had everything she needed for success. It’s fun watching a student like her turning into a great writer, both in terms of skill and acknowledgement.

So here’s a question and a giveaway. Carole will determine the winner by the best answer given, and I will give away a copy of my book East of Los Angeles. What do you think makes a great writer great?

John is the author of Mann of War, Oak Tree Press 2012-2013, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods, World Parade Books 2012-2013, and Study Abroad, Wormwood Chapbooks, October 2012.

I am grateful to all of John’s help and support in my writing endeavors. Here’s to both of our successes! Pre-order John’s latest chapbook, Study Abroad:

20 thoughts on “Successful Writers ~Written by John Brantingham

  1. A Great writing like John and Carole have both taught me is someone willing to learn about how to create wonderful world from your imagination and putting it down into words on a peace of paper, then learning never giving up once you started, being open to learning new things to help create your story (if it wasn’t for John and Carole teaching me new things every day I would have never improved as a writer, and wouldn’t have gotten one of my poems published), being open to criticism because not everyone sees the world through strawberries and sunshine and might not believe that your work is as epic and great as you think it is, and truly love writing. Don’t be a writer because you want to make a lot of money, be a writer because you love the art form because you want other people to read and see how crazy or twisted or outgoing your imagination is. Be brave and write about what you know and love. One important and only good things i learned from my horrible mother is that imagination is one of the best things you can have, and express it in your art form so you can be truly happy.
    That is what John and Carole my two writing mentors taught me what being a great writer is.
    Francesca Terzano

    • Thank you for your epic compliments, Francesca. I’m so glad that we have been able to help you move forward in your writing, but really, you deserve all the credit for applying what you learned and putting out the effort. I’m always here for you!

    • That’s really kind of you to say Francesca. Just keep going. You’re a great writer already and you’re only going to get better.

    • Hi Patricia,
      Thank you for responding to John’s article. I agree with your viewpoint on success and happiness. It’s so important to do what you love. When I’m caught in traffic because of an appointment that called for travel during the rush hour, I look at the stream of cars and wonder “Who does this every day?” I wonder if the hour or two in traffic means they really love their job or if they just don’t give themselves permission to pursue the dreams of their heart.

      • That’s the best definition of success, I think. So many people turn away from fulfilling themselves because they think sadness is a virtue. We teach our kids that some times.

  2. You got me thinking, John. I’m not sure what it means to me to be a successful writer. Outrageous wealth due to the multi-billion dollar deal would certainly count. Crafting a well-rounded thrilling story does too, but it feels like a different sort of success. I’d sure like to be able to make a living from it. I don’t think I’d quit my day job, but I’d sure like to be in a position to consider it.

  3. I once had a wise chiropractor say “He wins who wants it most.” I look for that hunger and drive when I talk to potential authors for the publishing house I work for. I believe in competition because publishing is a tough world and only those who are tenacious and believe in their work succeed. I also think a writer should compete with themselves to make each effort and story better than the one before. Good post!

    • Hi Sunny*,
      Good post, good reply! Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

      *Sunny Frazier is the acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press which picked up John’s forthcoming novel, Mann of War.

      • That drive can take people a long way towards their dreams. People can’t know how much talent is locked inside of them, but they can have drive, and that’s what unlocks hidden potentials.

  4. Excellent post! Every writing teacher and student should read this on the first day of class. Those who don’t like it should drop the class. Writing and editing skills can be learned but the student must supply the drive and enthusiasm.
    What makes a great writer great is the ability to tell a story in a way that engages, entertains, enlightens, educates and emotionally moves the reader.

  5. Absolutely. Now, many of my students are there just to fill in credits and that’s all right. The ones I don’t like want to be writers but don’t want to work for it!

  6. What makes a great writer great? That’s an interesting and perhaps an ambiguous question, because, who do I consider to be a great writer? But since I am spontaneously coming to the question, I will just observe who rises out of my subconscious and think about that.

    I think authenticity is what makes a great writer. Regardless of genre, it is when we read a work and know that the writer has traversed great depths to get to the core of what they are writing about, when they are able to visualise something about humanity and share it with a reader, articulate it in a way that resonates within us, makes us understand something that we may or may not have known, but that after reading, we absolutely understand.

    A few years ago I listened to a panel of 4 writers speak about their work, one of them, the least prolific, was Bao Ninh, the author of ‘The Sorrow of War’. He introduced himself by saying he wasn’t a writer, that he had written a book as a way of dealing with a significant experience in his life and that he was merely a simple man living his life quietly. As he spoke, the whole room went quiet, listening to this simple man who had a way of sharing his significant experience and its consequence in a way that humbled his audience. I believe he is a great writer.

    • Thank you, Claire, for your exceptional comment and for sharing your meaningful story. I appreciate how you expressed your thoughts in as humble a manner as Bao Ninh. I look forward to visiting your blog. (I took a brief look and it feels like a nice escape with a cup of chai latte!)

  7. Wonderful post, John and Carol. I teach mostly adults, with some undergrads joining in my community college writing workshops (they don’t get credit), and they are there, nearly all of them, because they’ve lived, they’ve loved, they’ve won and lost, and they have a lot they want to say. Whether memoir or fiction, so much writing from the heart is created, via prompts I give out usually. A bond of trust is formed (especially in classes at libraries that I’ve been running for over three years), and the resulting work makes me so happy and the writers happy. It does help to have a teacher/mentor who cares, as I do and as John obviously does. My students and former students stay in touch, for which I’m grateful. Sally is right. This is great material to take to first classes, so this dialogue of yours will be with me in October. Many thanks.

    • Hello Eileen,
      Thank you for responding to John’s lovely guest blog. You sound like a wonderful instructor. It’s so important for ‘green’ writers to have someone to help them further their work. We need to be in a writing social circle to continue to be inspired, to learn, and to safely apply our new knowledge. Our mentors are the ones who are there when we get our toes wet and nudge us to go in a bit deeper each time we write. Thanks again!
      Sincerely, Carole

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