Seems to me this week’s topic is really about gratitude, don’t you think? I’m grateful to be here, I’m grateful for my tribe … I’m also grateful that I somehow stuck it out. Maybe I wasn’t as robust and secure in my craft as other aspiring novelists, I don’t know. Point of fact, I can get really down. I’m prone to it, and I can’t tell you how many times I almost set fiction aside in the last decade. In thinking about this week’s topic, I kept remembering the tokens of support and advice that I kept close to my heart during the down times. In chronological order:
- Anne Lamott. I don’t know her, but I love her. In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she introduced me to the notion of the shitty first draft, which liberated me over and over again. After all, you can’t perfect your story if you don’t have a story to perfect. (And even then, perfectionism is a trap anyhow – but that’s another topic.)
- Anonymous. Many moons ago I attended my first writer’s workshop, which was taught by a guru-like writing teacher, T. Innocent me entered T’s workshop and instead of offering constructive criticism, he shot me down so badly that I cried. Apparently, my writing was no better than the hacks who sell their paperbacks in airports. Why did he say this? Because I’d dared to write in third person rather than first. I kid you not. Sitting next to me, dear Anonymous slid me a note: “I think this is great.” I still have that slip of paper.
- Elizabeth Udall, patron of the arts, founder of the Walden Fellowship. I spent six weeks living in a cabin on her ex-cattle farm in southern Oregon after winning the Walden Fellowship. During those six weeks I wrote 300 pages of the pre-first draft for KILMOON. Talk about a confidence booster. Maybe I did have some writing skills despite what horrible T had said. Elizabeth used to say, “Get up early.” I don’t do early well, but I always remembered that. It was her way of saying, Seize the day.
- Elizabeth George. Later I registered for a full-on writer’s retreat. This was through the Maui Writers Conference (MWC). Elizabeth George! A New York Times bestseller, and one of my literary heroes! Ack! Nerves! Her teachings had a profound impact on me, and my pre-first draft idea for KILMOON changed dramatically. At the end of the retreat, she wrote me a note: “You’ve got the story and the talent. Put them together now and run with them.” This note still hangs on my bulletin board as a ready reminder.
- Elizabeth Engstrom, plus Gail Tsukiyama. I’d met Liz and Gail at MWC. I remember how special I felt when they invited me to hang out with them in the hotel while they were in town for a writer’s conference. And I remember what they said. They said that they’d only met a few aspiring writers of all the 1000s they’d taught who were the real deal. I was one of them. Can you imagine hearing that? Can you imagine returning to that memory when you think your writing is the suckiest of the suck?
I like to think I’d have powered through to this point without these tokens of good advice and support, but who knows? In the end, I’m grateful is all. And, there’s a lesson here: None of us knows what impact we might have on those we acknowledge (or diss).
What tokens of support and positivism do you return to when self-doubt hits? Ever had a teacher that you now wish you’d socked in the mouth?
P.S. About having our books sold in airports … Hello? Who wouldn’t love that?