Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach

Do you view your writing life as a profession?

May 25, 2021

I watched the professor of my advanced poetry class open the lid of a metal box crammed with 3x5 cards. He wiggled out one of the worn cards covered with notes and held it up. 

On this card was the title of one of his poems along with the date of the latest version. Below that he had written names of literary magazines where he’d submitted that poem, followed by their response.

“One poem per card,” he said.

He showed us how he tucked the card behind the month when he was supposed to hear back—a simple system to track and follow up with every submission. 

He passed one of the cards around the room. I held it in my hand and studied the notes he’d scrawled on the front and back. 

The Box

There was no magic to his system. It was not fancy or expensive. Yet, he was a respected, prolific poet on campus for a semester, showing us how it’s done.

When the last student finished looking at the sample card and handed it back to him, he slid it back in its spot. 

I stared at that box.

I was in an advanced poetry class because I’d already had The Moment; that is, I’d already begun to think of myself as a writer. I viewed myself as a poet.

The day of the box was different.

After class, I walked straight to the bookstore, bought a pack of 3x5 cards and a maroon plastic box with a hinged lid, then headed to my room where I started logging each of my poems on those cards: one card per poem. 

The Shift

While I’d had The Moment, this was different.

I walked into that bookstore because I'd experienced "The Shift."

What's "The Shift"? It's when I shifted from viewing the work as an assignment or hobby to something deeper, more serious. 

It's when I committed.

Like that poet with his metal box packed with poems, I too was committing to the craft and to a lifetime of word-work. 

It would still be several years before I made any money as a writer, but I saw myself differently.

I was a working poet. And because of this shift and the resulting commitment, I organized myself—however simply and humbly—with the intention of writing and submitting my work to publications.

Looking back, that plastic box seems like so much more than a storage container. It held my intentions, my resolution. 

I don’t know what it’s like for other writers, but for me, the day I bought that little box was the day my life tilted in a new direction.

The Practice

The professor gave us vision. We got a glimpse of who or what we could become. He nudged us to take a step forward.

And it worked. I was ready to send my work. I was ready to ship.

One card per poem. 

One piece at a time. 

I had to write the poem, record it, track it, and ship it.

Seth Godin recently released The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. On the first pages, he explains why he chose those three words in the subtitle. The first word, “shipping,” he says, is “because it doesn’t count if you don’t share it.”1

He included “creative”: “because you're not a cog in the’re a creator.”2

And he added work “because it’s not a hobby. You might not get paid for it, not today, but you approach it as a professional...and the work is why you are here.”3