Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Little Bit of Encouragement

After receiving the fifth rejection from an agent (still waiting to hear from my favorite), I was a little . . . well, I wouldn't say discouraged. Maybe a little like this --

And then. And THEN

I got this great email from an old previous creative writing professor of mine. I asked her if I could share it on my blog, so that you could all feel the warm fuzzies that I did.


One of the odd legacies of teaching writing, of course, is that some people really do show up in my classes because they intend to write. I know this sounds obvious, but it's actually a remarkable truth, because writing is hard and painful and takes far more out of us than the average college junior or senior can begin to comprehend. I have always admired my students and their efforts, and over the many years of my career I have been privileged to see one or two a year go on to the real commitment, and the real power of their own gifts. 

But the hours it takes to complete a book-length narrative has, for better or worse, spared me from becoming overwhelmed with sheer quantity of post-student writing until recently. This past year, however, I have been asked by nine different people--mostly former students, but also other people I know from other avenues--to read their book-length manuscripts. I'm flattered and I'm generally happy to read (and stay with me here), but it's been overwhelming, on top of a heavy teaching load, my wish to attend closely to my current students, my own family life, and my own increasingly dogged determination to produce pages myself. 

All of this is set up for what I want to say to you. I can't read fast, and I take reading seriously enough to do it right once I'm in, so I'm only about halfway through your manuscript. And it's breathtaking. Once in awhile I come across a phrase or a word I want to highlight and ask you to tweak just a bit more, but, my gosh. It's human, it's disciplined, it's compassionate, and it's just plain beautiful. Your passage that opens Chapter 9, for example, is gorgeous, shimmering poetry. I keep going back to it, just for the sheer joy of reading it. Terrible and heartbreaking and beautiful. 

I know you'll fuss and tweak and answer to editors and agents and publishers with this piece, and that's all fine, and really good, but don't let anyone make you compromise what you know has to be there. Too many children--and grown-ups who were once children--need your narrative to speak to them. 

I'll keep reading; seems right now that the ride home on the train after classes is a good time to pull it up on my screen--but I wanted to let you know how much I admire it. I'm grateful you sent it and I intend to savor every word of it. And I'll give you my best, most articulate responses as I progress, but the piece has a life of its own. Doesn't need me. Trust it, trust yourself, trust the right publisher."

And then I was like this:

Thank you thank you thank you

Just what I needed at that moment.



  1. What a lovely comment! Frame it and hang it over your desk. :) Hang in there!


What do you think?