7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mary Potter Kenyon

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Mary Potter Kenyon) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

Mary Potter Kenyon has had more than 100
essays published in magazines such as Home
Education and Woman’s World, and in the
anthologies Chicken Soup for the Mother’s
Soul and Voices of Caregiving. Her first book,
Homeschooling From Scratch, was published
by Gazelle Publications in 1996. She is currently
searching for a publisher for her book chronicling
the journey of a couple through cancer, a true love
story. Mary also blogs about writing and mothering.


1. The hardest part is getting started. Whether it is a book, an article, or an essay you want to write, stop talking about it and start doing it. There have been too many times in my life that I have spent more time reading about writing and talking about it than actually writing. Bottom line, at some point you have to sit down and start typing. Do it sooner, rather than later.

2. Your first draft is probably crap. But don’t let that stop you from writing it. When I first began writing, I’d sit down at my desk and quickly crank out an essay or article, then immediately submit it,with very little revision. I should have been editing and revising. Now, when I read my early writing, I’m embarrassed. Some of those pieces are not very good.

3. When you think you’ve completed something, wait before submitting it. You might not be finished with it. I always set what I have been working on aside overnight to look at with fresh eyes the next morning. Often, I’ll be surprised to discover what seems like a very obvious error.

4. Have someone else look your work over before you submit. No, I don’t mean your mother or your husband, unless they, too, are writers or an editor. Whether it is a writers’ group, a writing friend, or an obliging English instructor, it helps to have someone else critique your writing. The first time I had my friend Mary, also a writer, take a look at something I’d written, I was dismayed when it was returned with complete sentences crossed off, words circled and little notes in the margins. When I got over the initial shock and took a good long look at her comments, I made some changes and my article was better for it.

5. When something comes back, rejected, immediately submit it elsewhere. But first, take a look at it to see if you can improve it. Print out a fresh copy. Never use the original wrinkled version that was returned. With e-mail submissions, do the same thing; print it out and look it over again. Then send it out with any revisions. Have things out constantly, working for you. Right now I have 22 things out for consideration. This helps keep me from playing the waiting game, too. If I have several things out instead of just one or two then I’m not just sitting around, waiting for an answer on those two items. Instead, I am keeping busy with more writing and submitting, upping my chances for acceptance.

6. Rejections mean you are submitting. The only true way to avoid rejections is to not submit anything. Realize, too, that there are bad rejections and good rejections. The good rejections come with a personal note and maybe some feedback. Those are the rejections to aim for. If you are getting good rejections you know you are on the right track.

7. Don’t wait to write until the children are older or you have an empty nest. Write right now. Get up early before the kids are awake or stay up late after they are in bed. Write while you wait in the doctor’s office. Pull over to the curb and write when the baby falls asleep in the car seat. Sit on the lid of the toilet and write when the kids are taking baths. I’ve done all those things. I’ve been mothering eight children for a total of 30 years and writing for 20 of those. My youngest is just six years old. If I’d waited to write until my children were gone, I’d still be waiting!


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3 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Mary Potter Kenyon

  1. Professor Beej

    How bad is breaking #4? I don’t know a lot of people who care about my kind of fiction (or know a lot about it), but I met my wife in graduate school, and she is just as (if not more) qualified as anyone to edit/rework writing.

    I live and work in a small town, and I don’t know a single professional writing group in it. I’d love to find one, honestly, but I just don’t think there are any. Given my circumstances, I’m stuck in either password protected online workshops or my wife.

  2. Eric J. Krause

    These are excellent tips that will make writers even better. I know I’ve been guilty of thinking a story was done and immediately sending it out, only to find silly errors later in it that I probably would have found if I let it sit for another day or two. Also, the tip about rejection is spot on, as well. Writers shouldn’t let rejections get them down. Rejection isn’t an end of the line. Most every story I’ve had published has been rejected a few times before finding a home. If something is rejected, send it back out.

    Great article!

  3. Kathleen

    This is advice that I really needed to hear today: keep sending it out. With little ones in the house, waking me up at 4:30 a.m., it’s sometimes really hard to keep the energy up. It would be easy to give up. Thanks for the shot in the arm!


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