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Opinion: When Writing Ambition Is Suppressed By Teachers

Opinion: When Writing Ambition is Suppressed by Teachers

Why do so many authors start publishing books relatively late in life? Often because they've been programmed by well-meaning but misguided schoolteachers into believing that writing isn't really a career. Sue Johnson shares her story of why she's glad she found the courage to bring out the author trapped inside her – a story that we're sure will chime with many indie and self-published authors.

Photo of Sue as a child

A young Sue Johnson and furry friend

I have written stories and poems ever since I could write. I remember ‘that’ lesson at school when the teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to write stories and draw pictures. The teacher’s face turned a sort of mottled purple. She said:

“I don’t think that’s a proper job do you dear? You’d better write about being a nurse.”

My interest in poetry died when I moved to my High School.  Mrs Penny made up for her lack of inches with a beehive hairdo and stiletto heels. Her voice was razor sharp as she said:

“If any of you feel like messing about I have to tell you I’m very good at handing out lines and detention.”

We learned the poems she set us, terrified that we’d forget a line and incur her wrath.

30 Years On…

Photo of Sue Johnson as adult

Sue Johnson, living her writing dream

I started taking writing seriously again in my late thirties and tried to book onto a novel writing workshop at my local library. It was full, and so I reluctantly enrolled on the poetry one. It exceeded my expectations. It was magical. The tutor, Carole Burns, taught me to see poems as little stories or short films that could grow or shrink like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

That workshop marked a turning point for me – and I also met the man who has been my partner for the last eighteen years!

Now Unstoppable

Since 1st January 2013 I have written a poem a day every day. Some of these poems have evolved into flash fiction and short stories. Also, I recently discovered that each of the eight novels I have written have at least thirty poems connected to them that explore characters, settings and scenes.

Cover of Writing Success

Encouraging others to pursue their writing ambitions

I've also written a book with the aim of helping and encouraging other writers. I feel I am lucky to be doing work that I love and very much want to encourage others along the same pathway. I have given information about six word stories, flash fiction and short stories. There are also fifty two ‘starting points,’ each with three exercises – aimed at taking away any excuses for not writing! I also give ideas about where to send work and where writers can find further information and help. I aim to have as many pieces of work in circulation as possible (currently 50) as it stops me worrying about rejection.

My overall aim is to encourage other writers to grow and recycle their words, develop confidence and have loads of fun experimenting with new ideas for poems, flash fiction and short stories. It will also help anyone suffering from writer’s block as there are lots of opportunities to play.

My overall aim is to encourage other writers to grow and recycle their words, develop confidence and have loads of fun experimenting with new ideas for poems, flash fiction and short stories. I also want to take away any excuses for not writing, no matter what your teachers might have told you!

It's never too late to start writing or to become the author you've always wanted to be.

OVER TO YOU How instrumental were your schoolteachers in making you the writer you are today? Did they inspire or discourage? We'd love to hear your anecdotes!

Why you shouldn't let schoolteachers deter you from your #writing ambitions says @SueJohnson9 Click To Tweet



Author: Sue Johnson

Sue Johnson is published as a poet, short story writer and novelist. She is a Writing Magazine Creative Writing Tutor and also runs her own brand of writing workshops. Further details of her work can be found on her website www.writers-toolkit.co.uk.


This Post Has 26 Comments
  1. In 1978, I was in second grade–it was a rainy day, so we had recess inside. I stapled lined and blank paper together to write and illustrate a book. The teacher paused over my desk and asked what I was doing. When I explained I was writing a book, her response was, “What a waste of paper!” She then grabbed it off my desk and threw it away.

    I never stopped writing. I have bins of notebooks stashed away with handwritten stories. I’m now finishing up my fourth novel to be published this year, and have had short stories published in journals and anthologies. I’ve always been a rebel! 🙂

  2. Hi Dean:

    My pleasure to share it with you.

    My book file is in a PDF form in the WordOffice2010 format so I have to send it via e-mail.

    Then you save it to your documents section you are off and running.

    My e-mail address is in an earlier post, just scroll up.

    Remember you HAVE to have Word Office 2007 or 2010 to open the book file with.

    Believe me it will make it was less daunting.

    Best of luck,


  3. I’m coming in through the side door here. I’m an Illustrator by trade. I have also written and published 10 childrens books. Several with co-author Stephen Krensky. Ship of Dreams was my first book and it sold 400,000 copies the first year. I have had a blast doing Illustration but the art direction can get a bit overbearing. I wanted more control so i wrote my first book and man what a ride. i got a 40 city national tour out of it and all kinds of things changed. I am currently re publishing my first book . I have had this urge to write a novel that simply wont go away so Ive decided to give it a try bouyed by all your comments about never being too old. I will take your advice. Now i need to get on with it and learn how to write a novel.I have several ideas but I imagine there are many a failed book that contained a good idea at its heart and it is buried under poor writing so i know I have a long way to go. Indie seems like a really fascinating concept. Id like to try it out. I’ll take all the advice I can get and i’ll be watching this site for inspiration. Best of luck to all you writers out there.

    1. Hello Dean:

      It’s clear to everyone that you have been blessed on all levels. So many life experiences along your journeys. And now you’re directed towards penning your own book.

      This is a wonderful group of writers.

      I am at the lowest rung of success, even after penning 24 western frontier eBooks and writing 6,200 pages, yet still I am optimistic.

      What I can offer you to take away some of the pressure you are feeling taking on a book is a pre-made book format, page numbered too. All a writer need to is swap out the cover photo and title, copyright info and start at chapter one.

      I created it for myself so it would be easier for me to just start writing. Then I realized I could help other writers with the format.

      It is daunting enough to try to pen a book but to try to format a manuscript into book form can be very intimidating.

      The file is in Word Office 2010 format to open it.

      I use Verdana 14 to write and Verdana 16 in Bold for Chapter 1 and so on.

      Should you or anyone else want my book format file feel free to shoot me an e-mail at: [email protected]

      1. Thank you for your generous support Raymond. I would love to have your format to work off of. I ,of course, would expect to pay for it.Please charge me and let me order one. My address is Dean Morrissey
        238 Clapp Rd.
        Scituate, Ma. 02066
        Id like to say thanks again for making this undertaking a bit less daunting.Best of luck with your books. Take care. Dean

  4. Hi Sue:

    Though I am the poorest author on the web, my story is an incredible one. In 1983 I enrolled in a 5 credit Creative Writing class in college ‘Only’ because the description of the course said there were no books to buy, no exams, just show up and get a ‘C’. That fit perfectly into my plans and budget. It was simply an elective. At that time I had absolutely no interest in writing a poem, story or book.

    But almost everyone else in class was. From the first day of class, Mr. Art Wicks the professor as well as most men and women of all ages in that class felt an electricity in the air. I too felt it. Some students were bold and bare their souls in what they wrote while others were timidly shy.

    One day Mr. Wicks asked, “Raymond, why don’t you write a poem?” I remember laughing and asking why? He replied, “You might like it.”

    Well I fell in love with a gal that month though not from class. Suddenly the poems flowed from the depths of my heart and each one I read in class. I am sure they were very poorly written back then, lol. My instructor even told me jokingly, “I want you to bring in the woman who did this to you.” The whole class celebrated meeting the woman who opened the door to the world of poetry.

    Anyways, Mr. Wicks touched the lives of thousands of students, both interested in writing and those who weren’t interested, me. For years I wrote poetry and graduated to short stories.

    From 2002-2009 I wrote ghost stories, nearly 1,000 pages of them. I took a break in 2010.

    In 2011, I wanted to add 10 more pages to a western romance story I had been adding pages to each year and I had reached 50 pages. A long story yes, but far short of a book.

    That month I exploded and wrote 200 more pages and had my first book.

    I would have never written another book had it not been for my long time best friend who said, “The next book you write make me a gunfighter!”

    I was in shock and never believed for a moment I could write a second book. But I made my best friend a gunfighter and called the book, “A Gunfighter’s Promise!”

    So began my journey down the dusty trail of western frontier eBooks.

    Now with 24 eBooks written and 5 more planned, I owe everything to Mr. Art Wicks, my writing instructor. He passed away in 2013 and that is a sad loss.

    No one will fill his shoes or inspire even the uninterested to pick up a pen and bare their soul for all to see.

    Thank you for sharing your story in this article.


  5. Hi Sue, I started writing after I retired. First I wrote a memoir thinking my life would interest others. Then I learned about rejection more times than I can remember. Then I fictionalized my memoir into a novel. Today 28 March 2016 is the last free on Kindle day for 4 of my 7 works. World-wide directs to them are http://www.lrd.to/miss-williams (teacher that failed me awakening me to economic need for survival) And http://www.lrd.to/slush-pile-inspector (contains poetry and humor re publishing) And http://lrd.to/atlantic-city-nazi And that novel is adapted to feature length-screenplay http://lrd.to/rc-and-ruby-screenplay I recommend writing a screenplay because the construction differs from the prose in novels thereby providing a new experience in literature. Best regards, Charles

    1. Hi Coreena:

      Searching for a local writers group in our community I feel is a huge first step toward nurturing of creative talents, be it a club, a group online or from a college creative writing in our town or near us.


  6. Hi Sue. As you know I was well into my 60’s when I attended your workshop. My creative side had not really surfaced until then and you have been the one to inspire me and keep me going to the point where I am almost ready to publish book number three. I thank you for that and hope anyone reading this and thinking they are too old to start, you are never too old!

    1. Hi Joy and Sue:

      I am grateful to every article I find in my e-mail box.

      I have had two head injuries and it’s not always been an easy life for me but writing seems to be my calling. I am 62. I am glad your creative door was opened Joy.


  7. I don’t think I’d be a writer now if it wasn’t for Ms Pratt … secondary (high) school English lit teacher. And Gus Martin, an outstanding university teacher who also edited our wonderful text books: Exploring English and Soundings. But when I teach F-R-E-E-Writing, I become aware of just how many people were not so lucky. So many people who can’t express themselves in writing because they’ve been terrorised by the grammar and spelling police. Freeing your voice from that is not easy, thanks for facing down Miss Penny, Sue, and for sharing.

    1. Hi Orna:

      “So many people who can’t express themselves in writing because they’ve been terrorised by the grammar and spelling police.”

      No truer words were ever spoken.

      I got a ‘C’ in college English. Had I known decades later I would be writing eBooks I would have tried 100% to get an ‘A’, realizing the importance of spelling and grammar.

      But I didn’t and my 24 eBooks between 2011 and 2016 have suffered greatly because of that shortcoming. But I am getting better.

      A good friend of mine is an avid book reader and she likes western frontier stories.

      She now slowly edits my stories for spelling and grammar and is brutal but in a good way. I’m not hurt by all of her yellow highlighted marks on each and every page. When I’m done re-editing her changes and I get to the end I am smiling ear to ear, believing what I wrote will be enjoyed more by the reader.

      because writing is so personal, critical opinions of what someone has written can be devastating.

      I have learned over the years that a writer must wear a ‘Turtle Shell’ yet also be open to fixing the things that need fixing in what we’ve written.

      Some writers have a thick turtle shell and refuse to set down their pen.

      Other’s give up far too quickly.

      case in point:

      Stephen King’s first novel was rejected 75 times before it became published.

      But there is a difference between Stephen King and myself.

      He “Knew” he was destined for greatness, he could feel it, smell it and taste it from that very first book. he was willing to face the gauntlet of publisher rejection letters, be they 1 page or 4 pages.

      He achieved what he knew was possible and never gave up.

      As for me, I will never walk through the gauntlet. I above all others know an unpublished author is an unknown author to the person walking into a bookstore. They don’t know if the author is a good author or bad, if the book they won’t be able to put down or if they’ll lose interest after the first chapter.

      We all have a path to walk on our writing journey. Some paths come to a dead end, and others are a shortcut to success.

      The best of success to everyone.


  8. Hi Sue,
    I kind of agree with Barry. At conferences (I am in the US) and even locally, many authors I meet are also teachers like myself. I also wrote and self-published my first novel as a result of another teacher doing NaNoWriMo with her students and asking me to join. I published my first book at the age of 29. Hopefully, my experience is a sign of changing times. I have wanted to be a writer my entire life and have 8 self-published books. I do agree it is never too late! If you dream it then it is meant for you to work to achieve it!
    Best of luck!!

    1. Hi Jennifer:

      How true your words are.

      I read maybe a year ago on the web about a man at the age of 90 having written his first book.

      Imagine the memories and moments in time he has experienced from so long ago.

      Of equal value is your accomplishment of writing a book at age 29 when many people don’t feel it is within their ability to write a book period.

      I wrote a eBook of poetry called, “Inspire Me To write Poetry!”

      I share a copy with everyone who asks me for a copy in my town.

      It is never too late to reach out for our dreams. Sometimes we just need someone to nudge us.

      Here is an inspirational poem of mine I hope someone might enjoy:

      What Will I Leave Behind?

      I have written poetry for twenty years and now I have to ask
      What will I leave behind when I one day have passed?

      I’ve shared my deepest thoughts
      and let you peel away my shell
      I’ve allowed you to look into my
      soul, hiding nothing from you

      I’ve painted countless paintings
      with each line that you’ve read
      Do you wonder what I am like?
      Can you shape me in your mind?

      Greatness I am not, for I will not
      follow Poe, Emerson or Dickinson
      No, I have made my own path and
      ask, will you remember me?

      I leave you with few words and fewer
      memories other than to ask
      Will you tuck away a poem or two
      and let my memory linger?

      © 2002 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)

      1. I apologize for the first stanza not coming out right and there was no way to edit,


        I have written poetry for twenty
        years and now I have to ask
        What will I leave behind when I
        one day have passed?

        I hope this works.


  9. Hi Sue.

    My teachers were instrumental in sparking my interest in writing. They guided me to see what made stories and books work, and they nurtured in me an interest in language itself. This interest gave me a way to feel a sense of control and mastery when I was young. As for everything else, I see that as the writer’s responsibility, not the teacher’s. Many reasons explain why some writers don’t “get on with it” until later in life. With you, it seems to have been teachers. What a shame. With me, it was simply a matter of taking quite a while to know enough to write with anything like authority.

    1. Hi Barry:

      The key word is “Nurturing.”

      Without nurturing, ‘encouragement’ how can a baby learn to take those first steps?

      Writing regardless of one’s age is a very personal experience and something not everyone, be it parents, siblings or friends let alone strangers value or appreciates.

      Nurturing (an instructor) to me is all that is required to unlock the door to a room in our soul filled to the brim with poetry, stories and books waiting to be penned.

      I encourage everyone I meet to enroll in a college creative writing class and discover what awaits them.

      While it may be true that we have some control over life, ‘Nurturing’ is needed in almost all of us to enable us to believe the impossible is really ‘Possible.”

      Just food for thought.


  10. Hi Sue, love what you wrote, and I can certainly relate to those childhood dreams about wanting to pursue paths that were never regarded as acceptable or worthwhile.
    I finally published my first novel last year just after I turned 50, and that had been 5 years in the making. The next one is coming along rather more quickly, but I still find it hard to apply myself as much as I should. I think the removal of creative urges from children can have lifelong effects which have to be battled against constantly.
    Thanks again for your words.

    1. Hi Andrew:

      How wonderful.

      My first eBook wasn’t written until I was 58.

      How odd that I had written my first poem in 1983 and for reasons unknown didn’t pen a book until 28 years later.

      The best of success in 2016 to you.


  11. Hi Sue, I was later in life when I started writing. at 29 years of age, I had just been made redundant and was bored with nothing to do and even less money. I bought a second hand typewriter, a Remington 55. bought paper, ink ribbons and correction fluid of which I used copious amounts. no computers then. I had always been interested in Science fiction from an early age. I wrote one and a half novels, then I found another job and also got married. things took a back seat for twenty years until I had my family, owned my own house and was relatively settled then I picked up that first novels that had lain in the bottom, of a cupboard for all that time.
    by now I had a job of responsibility where I could take two hours for lunch if I so deemed. I started to write again and have not stopped since. I have nine novels on amazon, starting with a novelette called Time capsule. all in paperback and as an e’book. I have written 25 novels so fare, all of which I intend to publish on amazon, or the like. I just wish I had started earlier on in my life. still, its never to late.

    1. Hello Peter:

      I wish you the best of success.

      Don’t make the same mistake I have sadly made.

      EDIT, EDIT, EDIT, and then get yourself a ‘Beta-reader’, someone you know who is a grammar fanatic. Let them ‘Polish’ what you feel is already a diamond. I wish I would have done that from my very first eBook, “Was It Fate Or Destiny?”

      But I have a wonderful beta-reader now. She catches 95% of what I miss and I am grateful to her to help make my stories as well written as possible.

      Never stop writing or believing in what you are doing.

      Here is my favorite inspirational poem about writing:

      I Fly On The Wings Of Words

      I am a leaf floating on high
      your best heard joke
      I’m last night’s moonlit tear
      my softest words spoke

      I am the warmest caress felt
      from your imaginary lover
      I’m your voice speaking loudly
      you will love no other

      I’m all the books I’ve written
      and all those yet penned
      I fly on the wings of words
      As I write time and again

      I’m the sensual scent you release
      after making love tonight
      I’m the breath I take away from
      you as I hear your sigh

      I’m everything you’ve discovered
      held quietly in my mind
      I’m what you read this moment
      captured in this poem’s rhyme

      © 2002 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)

    2. Thank you Sure for sharing. In my twenties I attended a work shop for creative writing and stood in front of a group to read an excerpt from my new novel. It wasn’t a religious book, however, I mentioned God and the course instructor chewed me out and shouted for me to sit down. She in turn told the group, “you’d better know who you’re audience is… Nobody is interested in religious books.”
      I was distraught. First of all, I had hand written the damn thing so I was already excited that I had put in so much work. Half in ink the other in pencil.
      Now, at the age of 40 I’ve felt compelled to continue and avoid the extra added stress of other people’s opinions. I’ve self published a children’s book in poetry firm and received a five star rating from Readers Favorite. It is titled Pierre Hideaway Pinkett on amazon. I’ve written two stage plays, three novels as well as a poetry book this year alone.
      Moreover, I’ve become like my grandmother who says, “Never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”
      It’s never too late to be an author. Nowadays, I get more pleasure in getting at least three thousand words a day in than I am in sharing a rough draft… But I’m still writing

      1. Hi Lisa:

        Oh, how your comment made me smile to return to my creative writing college class in 1983.

        The class was filled with men and women of all ages and at different stages of their writing journey.

        Some were there but hadn’t written even a poem, like I was.

        Others were in the beginning of writing a book.

        One in particular thought she was a new York Times editor and she was brutal on all of us other students.

        So harsh that a gal about 17 had written her very first poem and the other gal tore her to shreds.

        She stood up in tears and never returned. It hurt us all.

        Our instructor chastised that gal.

        My instructor passed away I learned in 2013.

        I know he touched the lives of every student each quarter, and he left his impression on me all these years.

        I still remember his question to me one day, “Raymond, why don’t you write a poem?”

        the class was merely an elective, a 5 credit course to fill my class load.

        When I asked him why I should write a poem, he smiled and said, “Because you might like it!”

        From the moment I wrote my first poem, it was like I had been blind all my life and suddenly could see.

        My first eBook was written in 2011 at the age of at 58 years old. It is NEVER too late to write.

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