37th English Festival
Students encouraged to ‘revise, polish, share’
Author Helen Frost provided insight into her writing process, offered practical advice and answered questions asked by aspiring writers during Bluffton University’s 37th English Festival held on campus March 22, 2022.
About 50 high school students joined Bluffton students for the day of immersion into the pleasures of reading, writing and the fine arts.
During her Forum presentation, “Poetry for the Ages: Bringing Poetry to Young Readers,” Frost shared her process from a rough idea to publishing and offered reassurance.
“It’s very rare to graduate from college, write a book, get it published and live on your writing for the rest of your life,” said Frost. “I don’t think I know anyone who that’s happened to. But it’s not unusual to have a love of writing and art that helps you find other things to make a living with. Just knowing how to write well is so important. You may be able to make a living with it, or it may be a struggle. Be prepared for both.”
Frost worked as a teacher and refined her skills for years before her writing was published by a major publisher for the first time in her 50s. Now, she makes a living off writing and has written or edited a variety of books from board books for babies and toddlers to novels for young adults to anthologies and collections of poetry. The key to her success is a simple process of revising, polishing and sharing with a trusted reader.
For those with difficulty starting, she shared simple prompts such as: I’ve never seen a book about…, I wonder why…, and I love the word…
After that, her advice is to keep writing:
- If you write something that makes you happy, keep going.
- If you start to cry or feel like crying, keep going
- If you scare yourself, pay attention, and keep going.
- If you think you can’t write, keep going.
- If you think no one else will ever care about this, keep going.
- When you think it’s finished, know that it probably isn’t.
English Festival participants read Frost’s novel-in-poems “All He Knew” ahead of the event. Set in the 1940s, the story follows a deaf boy sent to live in a bleak institution. The boy eventually meets a WWII conscientious objector sent to the institution for alternative service. With the bleak subject matter, Frost turned to the phrase popularized by Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers,” when choosing to feature a conscientious objector as a character.
During the research stage of the book, Frost spent a day in Musselman Library’s archives searching through the collections for information on conscientious objectors. Looking through the information, Frost found a directory of civilian public service jobs with William Stafford, poet and conscientious objector, listed as well as information about a family friend from her childhood.
The English Festival also included workshops led by the featured author, faculty and Bluffton students.