Should student writing be published?

The holy grail for writing teachers is to have students who are published authors before they graduate high school.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, think about what writing for publication entails.

Writers cannot just write to please themselves or their friends. As literary agent Caren Estesen wrote in 2009 on blog that’s since been withdrawn by its owners, “If you’re going to be a professional writer, whether you’re writing novels or nonfiction, memoir or poetry, when you’re writing to get published, you should understand that you’re not writing for yourself anymore.”

Writing is work. It entails discipline—what the education establishment disparagingly calls “seat time.” Real writers write whether they want to or not, whether its fun or not, whether they feel like it or not.

A writer has to convince an editor not only of the writer’s merit but of the writer’s long-term value. Book publishers want writers who can produce year after year, not one-book wonders. Magazine, newspapers, and online content publishers want writers who can produce quality content quickly and regularly.

Writing requires meeting deadlines. A student told me this week she had “only” missed the deadline by two days. I bit my tongue, recalling the time an official reprimand was placed in my personnel folder because I missed a newspaper deadline by less than one minute.

Writing means getting criticism. Novelist Carrie Ryan says publishing can “be blunt and brutal.” The 15-year-old novelist is not just competing against other 15-year-old novelists. That teen is competing against silver-haired writers with 30 published novels.

Students who have “only ever shared their work with people who do nothing but praise their efforts,” Ryan says, can be crushed by criticism that comes from publishing for authentic audiences.

You might serve your students better by being hard to please but very supportive than by pushing your top writers to seek publication before their high school graduation.