Local authors use experiences to help others

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Books line the walls of libraries, colleges and classrooms while the people behind the words on the page continue to fight for a spot on the shelf.

Students and faculty on campus are among some of the many writers who struggle to get works published. Stephen Armstrong, associate professor of English at Dixie State University, has published multiple articles and books, using his experience to help students do the same.  

“I wanted to be a writer,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t want money or fame, it would have been nice, but I wanted to be someone who was good with the pen, the keyboard or the typewriter.”

Armstrong practices both creative and academic writing, but it was a reading assignment in high school that sparked his passion for writing. It was when he first read “The Great Gatsby” where he decided he wanted to be a writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald, he said.

“Not a drunk or a guy that destroys his family or his career, but a guy who can write a good book,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong explained the different aspects of the formal publishing process. It’s not about having one good idea but multiple great ones, he said. Trends and pitches and proposals have to be considered and presented before a writer can move on to the editing and publishing of his work.

“You have to have a good idea,” Armstrong said. “You have to be able to present that idea to an acquisitions editor and that oftentimes means throwing out 10 or 15 ideas to yourself, writing them down, and seeing where trends are going.”

Armstrong said it is only after analyzing the ideas and trends that a writer will find the book he thinks should be published. Afterward the writer will make a pitch and if the “green light” is given he will have the opportunity to present a proposal.

Despite all of the advice Armstrong has given, he said there is one common characteristic among all great writers.

“The best writers are those who read a lot,” Armstrong said.

Few students on campus find ways to publish their projects while continuing to write and study. Tay Gallagher, a sophomore creative writing major from Kanab, began writing short stories and expanded into novels and screenplays.

“One of the things I like about writing is it allows you to freely express your thoughts and ideas while vocally you might have a tough time expressing [them],” Gallagher said.

Gallagher looks to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Rick Riordan for inspiration, he said.

“As a writer you need to have the patience and perseverance to continue on with your work,” Gallagher said. “You can’t expect to be a published author if you aren’t working.”

Both authors see writing as more of necessity than a luxury.

“Writing is not adventure,” Armstrong said. “Writing is wearing out the seat of your pants and getting neuropathy in your feet because you’ve been sitting too long; your hands hurt and you have dents in your fingers. That’s what writing is.”

Although many writers have yet to be published, they continue to write and work toward seeing their ideas become novels. Jessica Chatwin, a freshman media studies major from Hildale, started writing from a young age and uses nature to inspire her stories, she said. Going on hikes and finding beauty in nature calls her to write.

“Writing is my emotional outlet,” Chatwin said. “Whenever I’m sad, excited, angry or confused, I write.”

Having been homeschooled from third to ninth grade, Chatwin poured herself into her writing.

“Writing is a way to tell a story that can reach more people,” Chatwin said.

Chatwin said no matter the circumstance, aspiring writers should write every day.

“Even if you think you’re bad at writing, write,” Chatwin said. “If you think you don’t have time to write, write.”

Armstrong currently teaches English classes while helping students understand the publishing process and what goes into becoming an author.

“You have to put your time in at the writing table,” Armstrong said. “You have to write an hour a day or 10 hours a day. I’ve had 16-hour days of trying to get an article written and the misery of editing a book. You sit there, you find your tunes — your music — or the window you like to look out of and you have a cat or a dog. You just work.”

All three writers agree that without writing, something is missing from their lives.

“I don’t think I’m alone in this sense, but when I am not writing I go crazy, and I feel like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” Armstrong said. “It keeps me healthy, and it keeps me intellectually fit. That’s one reason I do it; it’s self-rewarding. You don’t have to be published to get that sense of completeness each day.”