As part of the great purge of paperwork, I’ve found things I didn’t know I had but am so glad I kept. This photo shows two letters from friends. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I took on the task of writing epic, glitzy novels–I’m sure there were two, I think I finished the third one–that followed a group of people through a few decades. It doesn’t matter to me that those novels will never be published because 1. I was writing way outside my knowledge base, as I knew then and know now, and 2. They were insanely long and therefore unpublishable. (In fact, I tried to split the first one into two novels, and they were still unpublishable and also I didn’t like them so much anymore.)
What does matter is that writing them helped me learn to pace, plot, develop characters, and possibly how NOT to write dialogue. =) And more importantly, they weren’t just beginnings. They were finished, and proofed, and revised and rewritten. If you think it’s near-impossible to start writing something, clearly you’ve never tried to finish writing something.
What also matters is that I conquered years of self-doubt and negative voices (my own as well as those belonging to others) and found the courage to let someone who wasn’t Tom or Lynne read them. Lynne had been instrumental in helping me develop those characters and storylines, and Tom was someone who didn’t read anything like these books but was willing to read mine. To step outside the safety of these two readers was terrifying–and that isn’t an exaggeration. The day I gave the first manuscript to Amy to read, she wasn’t even home yet before I left a message on her machine (remember answering machines?): “I changed my mind. PLEASE don’t read it!” Only she didn’t go home, she went to her boyfriend’s house, I think, and had already begun reading it before she had a chance to hear the message.
Another friend, someone I met through Lynne, also named Lynn, loved to read and wanted to read my manuscripts. Since I’d already taken the plunge with Amy, I gave Lynn a copy, too.
In the end, they both enjoyed that first novel. I’d remembered that their comments were kind and encouraging, and as I was going through old papers and found these letters they wrote, I was grateful once more for their time and thoughtfulness.
I tell writers all the time that it’s vital to develop a thick hide. If you let every criticism, naysayer, and negative review get to you, you’ll poison your will to write. Likewise, if you share your writing with only your friends or people who won’t challenge you, you’re denying yourself a chance to grow as a writer.
But it’s likely you’ll never share anything you’ve created if someone along the way doesn’t tell you to go for it. Doesn’t say, “I like this!” Doesn’t fan that little flicker into a flame of passionate commitment to create. I still love for a reader to say, “I like this!”–and I remember each person who was willing to say it and who told me I was a writer long before I felt I had the right to call myself one.