Monday, July 26, 2010

Roundtable: Words of Encouragement

Recently, a good friend shared with me that after many years of writing in snatches of time and late night/early mornings and doing battle with discouragement, he finally has the attention of a New York agent. The agent loves his manuscript and is working with him to fine tune and rewrite it. When he finally gets that book contract, I will share his name and book release date. Even though he has not yet signed on the dotted line, he is absolutely elated that a professional in the publishing industry has validated his work. No more wondering whether his manuscript sings or stinks. He's on Cloud 9 right now. He is jazzed about therewriting process and the loss of sleep is no longer a problem, I think.

As writers, we work so long with insecurity and self-flagellation over our writing, wondering if it's really worth the time spent away from family, late nights and bleary-eyed mornings, getting so close to success, only to have it slip away. Of course, we write because we love it or we would come to our senses and get a normal hobby that wasn't such an emotional roller coaster. But at some point, we all need to have some encouragement, some validation to keep going.

My first true encouragement came from a much-published author who I'm sure has absolutely no recollection of me or the impact she made on a newbie writer. Her name is Lauraine Snelling, and I took her fiction track at Mount Hermon the first time I went to the conference many years ago. She gave us the opportunity to turn in our proposals for critique, and I rushed to turn it in and waited on pins and needles for her response which would come through the normal submission channels of the conference. As it turned out, she came over to me during the book signing event and asked me why the manuscript hadn't been published. I said I didn't
know and asked what was wrong with it. Her response was, "Absolutely nothing." That manuscript was never published, but her encouragement, her validation was all I needed to keep going. Thank you, Lauraine!

My first encouragement of the sort Debbie relates came from my favorite professor in college, who called me into his office one day to suggest I try to publish something. A simple enough event, but to me it was like a vision of angels. He was a published author, and therefore a high-ranking emissary from the pantheon - all those unreachable publishers and agents who dwelt like gods and goddesses atop the skyscrapers of New York. (Have I carried this simile* far enough?)

I was in college a long time ago. Decades - whole lifetimes - passed before I sent a manuscript to a publisher.

The Pantheon - or rather my dear loving Father in heaven - gave me a second chance. He sent another author, Gayle Roper, to take a look at a short story of mine that had grown too big for its pages. She told me I was writing a novel and should finish it. She looked at me with shining eyes and said something about "beautiful writing." I'll never forget it.

I should also mention here a certain email I received from an as yet unpublished author who had read part of my manuscript (the same one). She began our friendship with the word, "WOW!!!" and she is still my friend: Sharon K. Souza.

There's a lesson here: writer friends, like Sharon and all of these ladies on Novel Matters can make the difference between getting published and waiting a few lifetimes. Do what you must, dear writers, to get with your own kind.

*Sharon, please note that I called it a simile.

Debbie, w
e must be twins, birthed as we were from the same encouraging "mother." I attended the Colorado Christian Writers Conference ten years ago. I'd quit my job as an elementary school teacher to write. The audacity! It took me a year to write the first chapter, so I sent that little piece of my soul ahead to be critiqued by Lauraine Snelling. We met face to face in the mezzanine. The writer ahead of me walked out from her time with Lauraine with red-rimmed eyes and a fistful of tissues. I almost ran.

But this is what I wanted. I'd made a huge step. Was it a misstep or a first step? I needed Lauraine to tell me. I braced myself for the worst.

I'm sure Lauraine looked across the table and asked herself, "Is this a woman or a post?"

At least five people besides my mother had told me I should be a writer before I met with Lauraine. She wrote "Wow!" across the top of my manuscript-ette and shared her agent's card. I published five years later. (That's two weeks in writer years.) Lauraine truly validated me.

I've tried to emulate Lauraine's generosity with new writers by encouraging the truly gifted to step toward publication and by teaching those who still need to develop their skills. We're all on the journey. Some are closer than others.

hanks, Lauraine!
Though I am a writer I have never been able to describe the bleakness of my teenage years: violence, privation, divorce and mental illness in my home; shame, yearnings. The only way I could stay afloat emotionally was through the Mormon Church activities and doctrines, and through writing poetry.

I turned in poetry for assignments in an English class and without telling me the teacher entered them in to local and state high school poetry classes. When I won in those, it gave me the courage to enter a writing contest that led to a college scholarship.
Ruth Roberts, you have been dead these many years, but across the mists of eternity, I bless you and thank you for believing in me.

Can you believe it? We have two sets of twins! Because, like Katy, Gayle Roper is the one who encouraged me. I went to Mount Hermon for the first time in 2004, and was blessed to be in Gayle's fiction critique group, which was the first year they'd done that as a major morning track. I couldn't believe that I was one of twelve to make the group. I was so afraid my writing wouldn't measure up, and was a nervous wreck waiting for my turn to be in the hot seat.
Our group was sharing a breakfast the Sunday morning of the conference, and Gayle, sitting next to me, said, "Do you have another copy of your chapter (that we were evaluating in our critique group)?" I did and gave it to her at her request. She got up from the table, took it to an editor sitting at another table, and suggested the editor read it. Well, believe me, I was blown away. And excited. And hopeful. And ... And ...
I expected that the editor would take it home with her and read it IF she got around to it after reading all the other manuscripts she had actually REQUESTED at the conference. Imagine my surprise when at lunch that very day, Dave spoke my name into the microphone and said that very same editor wanted to meet me outside. "Now." It was like living someone else's experience because those kinds of things didn't happen to me. Ever.
But that editor not only requested the manuscript, she took it to committee. I didn't receive a contract for two more years -- Patti, you are so funny (and so right on): "Five years. That's two weeks in writer years." -- and the contract wasn't even from that publishing house. But two women whom I highly respected believed in my writing enough to do something about it. I still get the most incredible feeling when I think about that experience. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Gayle!
That conference was also a tremendous blessing because it's when and how I met Katy, as we were in that critique group together, and we've critiqued each other's work ever since. Those of you who have read To Dance in the Desert, is it any wonder that "WOW!!!" was the first thing I said to her?

These are great stories! How cool that we have "twins." I suppose, if we are going to have twins, it only stands to reason that we also have an odd man out. That would be me. I did everything backwards. I wrote a novel, submitted it for publication, and then once I had already secured contracts for three books, did I attend a writer's conference. Yep, backwards.
How did I sustain faith in my writing? I'd have to chalk it up to two things: A firm belief that I heard God right when He said, "Write books." And my natural tendancy toward cock-eyed optimism. For as long as I can remember, I've been one of those head down, plow ahead and everything will work out sort of people. So, when it came to writing, I simply wrote. My husband was supportive and that was enough for me. Did I believe I was talented? Truthfully, I didn't think about it. I had a story and I focused on getting it down in the most tellable way possible. It's still how I write.
How about you? Is there someone you want to thank for giving you that needed shot in the arm? Are you head down, going it alone? Floating on the words of a college professor? We'd love to hear your encouraging story.


Nicole said...

(Sharon, Katy deserves at least 5, count them, 5, gold stars for her honesty and astute identification. So there, Metaphor Maven!) ;)

Of all writers, the amazing thriller writer Robert Liparulo read my second novel and eventually even endorsed it on the back cover of a self-published novel, if you can believe that. He still believes in my writing even though it couldn't be more opposite of what he writes. We're friends now, and I'm deeply thankful for his words of encouragement and his endorsement/belief in my work. Thanks, Bob. And thank you, Jesus.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Ah, shucks ladies. I feel the encouragement here. I missed this blog while on vacation--the interaction. I loved your stories, people who have reached out to you along the way. Just reading them uplifted me. I can remember snippets of comments made along the way that inspired me to be where I am today...Mrs. Wells in 7th grade. Jane Johnson Struck who read my first novel and thoroughly enjoyed the characters. Blogging friends who "get me."

And...I feel deep gratitude for each of you. I come here each morning and get empowered as I go forward on the writing path. You have rich wisdom to give. And I feel grateful to receive. (Also, thank you for selecting my novel as a finalist in the AWAA contest. It felt good.)

~ Wendy

BK said...

Mrs. Seese & Mr. Shaffer, my grade & high school teachers respectively, started me out (God bless you guys!). In my adult life, I am super-blessed to be encouraged by so many people. I thank God for each and every one of them. Two who have been encouraging me from the beginning of my novel writing journey back in 2004 are Rita Betti and Ann Miller.

People like to say writing is an isolated job and in some ways it may be, but it is also filled with literally TONS of people who build you up brick by brick. Couldn't live without them.

Latayne C Scott said...

Someone emailed me privately wondering about what I said about the satisfactions of being a Mormon. In particular, I believed that I was training to be a goddess and this thought made me seek for a kind of nobility and peace that was not available in my home. Most of you know that I left that religion that I dearly loved at considerable emotional cost.

Here's what I learned: a system of thought can be edifying and deeply satisfying -- and not be based on truth. So while I praise God for bringing me through Mormonism into truth, I caution anyone who clings to faith just because of how it makes him or her feel, and not on the basis of eternal truth -- with which we will all be confronted one day, regardless of how we felt about it.

Nicole said...

Latayne: profound.

Lauraine Snelling said...

thanks for your posts. I am grateful to have been able to encourage you. In my mind, that is one major aspect not only of writing but of life. Someone encourged me and I encourage someone else and they do the same and the next and so on. today you have encouraged me to keep on teaching and reviewing and rejoicing in the new friends God brings my way. This is a tough business and we all need all the encouragement we can get. hugs and blessings Lauraine

Gayle Roper said...

Katy and Sharon, to find you guys and encourage you was my joy! One of the things I like most about teaching is finding new writers whose work clamors for publication. And watching it actually come to fruition is your encouragement to me.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I've been encouraged today by reading all the comments by the lovely ladies here. I'm grateful for feedback from judges of writing contests. Their input has helped to strengthen my story. I'm thankful to the agent who requested the full ms and although she declined representation gave me much encouragement when she said I was on the way there. But no one has supported me more than my wonderful hubby. Thanks, ladies, for sharing your experiences and your own reasons for being thankful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Gayle. You and your family are in my prayers these days.

Stephanie Reed said...

I'd been told since junior high school that I was a good writer, by teachers like Mr. Wilkey and Mr. Erbaugh. I always knew I was supposed to write books, and I told everyone. My husband believed me--for my first married birthday, he gave me a typewriter--"Now, write!" But I didn't write. Didn't know any writers, had no clue about writer's conferences or agents, yada yada.

When I finally knew what I wanted to write, I was 40. I heard Dr. Charles Stanley's sermon on fasting and praying, so I did it, very privately. Then I prayed, "Am I supposed to write this, God? Is this my book?" I opened my Bible (randomly?) to Mark 9:23-- Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." So I wrote it. Was published. For my second book, I had input from my friend Susan Marlow (and others, like Donna E, listed in my acknowledgments), also published by Kregel, who has helped me tremendously. We've never met face to face, but she makes my writing better, and I try to do the same for her.

Latayne C. Scott said...

Nicole, thank you for your encouragement.

I've been out of Internet reach for a while now and am back. I appreciate your validation.

Megan Sayer said...

This post was so long ago, way before I discovered I could comment on the emails I was reading, so I never said anything at the time, but Latayne your words impacted me profoundly.

They still float back into my mind from time to time, and they did so this morning while I was in church, and I prayed for you again.

So, what would I have said, back then? I would have thrown my metaphorical arms around you and given you a big hug and said "you are one amazing woman Latayne and I feel so privileged to be able to know you just a little bit".

There. I've said it finally.