Remembering Paul Swearingen, Unsung Hero of the Writer’s Digest Forums

If you haven’t visited the Writer’s Digest forums in the last year or read any of his books, you may not know much about author and educator Paul Swearingen. But for many members of the Writer’s Digest community, Paul acted as a shepherd and a mentor on their writing journeys as a volunteer moderator of the forum.

Paul passed away on September 22, 2017, at 72 years of age, in Topeka, KS. He is remembered not only by his family, but by his students and dozens of writers who posted to the forums, as well as readers of his YA novels. He taught high school English, Spanish, photography and journalism and worked as a counselor and adviser. He enjoyed collecting stamps and coins—and indeed, was recognized as a numismatic expert in the trade—excelled in photography, and was an active member of Modern Woodmen of America.

“As far as Writer’s Digest is concerned, Paul was a capable, experienced administrator, but to fellow members of the forum he was much, much more—friend, mentor, teacher, and critic,” said community member Dorothy Piper, who coordinated this tribute to Paul. “Most importantly, he was a fellow writer. He experienced the same frustrations with plot, finding markets and book sales that we did, while always promoting the WD slogan: Write better. Get published. He was also an avid gardener who shared many tips on the YA Fiction board which, during quiet moments, became known as ‘Yard Activities.'”

Today, Paul’s legacy as moderator on the WD forums has been taken up by Terry Rodgers, whose exceptional work helped keep the community running through Paul’s illness and passing.

Dorothy gathered comments from fellow members (using their online identities) honoring Paul and the way he helped and influenced them as the moderator of the WD Forum:

Commentary and compilation by Dorothy Poper.


Updog wrote:

I met Paul once in real life and I can tell you he was every bit the gentle soul he was online. He had family visiting from out of town, but he took the time to come meet me anyway. That’s the kind of guy he was. I know he stayed with Jeff Yeager, too, when he was out Jeff’s way for a radio convention.

Paul mentored many a new writer, both on the forums and through personal messages. He never stopped being a teacher, ever, and was extremely generous with his time. He was patient with my questions, even when we disagreed. We could never come to an agreement about whether “anymore” was an acceptable word. He’d always say, “there’s no such word in the English language. As a result, I think about him every time I write “anymore.”

I think the best writing advice Paul gave (and repeated often on WD) is to read at least 100 books in the genre you want to write in. Pretty much everyone who ever posted a question on the boards has heard that suggestion from Paul. He himself had read over 1000 books and had many of them stored in boxes in his garage (or was it the attic?) He sent me a bundle of books once from his collection. I think he sent a bunch of books to Maia when she was collecting for the library she was putting together on that island [in the Marianas].

…There are so many memories I have of Paul, little moments on the forums that made me laugh. … I miss him.

Cynicalwanderer retrained his writing habits thanks to Paul’s oft-repeated mantra that one should strive to use “all right” rather than “alright”, even though the latter has become more colloquially acceptable these days. Now, every time I type “all right”, I’m fondly reminded of Paul.

Rosedarling remembers that advice, too. Her two fondest memories of Paul are of him participating with a group of forumites on the NaNoWriMo challenge and writing 50,000 words in six days; and when she got stuck on a writing project and Paul told her to throw someone down the stairs. The advice worked and she was no longer stuck. A whole host of us argued with him as to whether you can start doing something, for example, to “start running.” Paul insisted you either ran or you didn’t. I don’t think he won on that one.

Jowen wrote:

I joined the WD Community in the early 2000s, then a lively, sometimes unruly bunch of would-be writers. Paul, a moderator on the Forum, was a much-loved, highly respected mentor to everyone. He was knowledgeable, friendly, encouraging and kind, and despite health issues, ran a tight ship with grace and humor. Although I never met him personally, I always felt he was a friend.

Justhales wrote:

I want to add that Paul was always a very encouraging man who gave me valuable and sometimes hard to hear honest critique/suggestions for my writing (he pointed out what I did well and ALL the things I needed to work on, haha). He helped me and many others develop as writers, and showed us, through his actions, on how to accomplish dreams by self-publishing and marketing his own books. He was also hardworking and stayed positive in spite of his cancer. I never got to meet him in person, but he definitely played a huge role in my development as a writer and never once made me feel discouraged about my writing.

Oldtimer wrote:

Paul helped me so many times, with his gentle humor and wide knowledge. When I wanted to use a photo as an avatar, he told me all the steps and, although I messed it up several times, he kept at it until I got it right. He also enlightened me about how to pronounce “Arkansas” in July, 2009. He wrote: Dorothy, “Are-Kansas City” is correct. I never figured how to pronounce “Kechi”, however. It’s a suburb of Wichita. In the same post he advised another member how to pronounce “Missouri” by writing “Misery”? Good way to get that gunfight started in MO, Julia! You must be back in NM now to be able to say that in public and escape flying lead …

Please join us in remembering Paul and his contribution to the WD community.


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