Reposted from 2014... As you write this month, keep in mind the people who cheer you on. They are a tremendous blessing that will help you get through the hard writing times.
Once upon a time, we renovated a Victorian era home in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. It was not easy, and as an aside, I will never--never--again strip old varnish and refinish woodwork. Yes, it looks fabulous, but it is not worth it. When we finished the kitchen, at no small expense and untold amounts of sweat and tears, my mother asked if the cabinet installers were coming back to fix the errors she saw (one of the doors wasn't centered and needed a minor adjustment).
$17,000 + labor + pain = really, that's all you noticed?
My mother was not a cruel person, and I know she was trying to be helpful, like maybe we needed a fresh set of eyes, but I didn't want her to notice every uneven widget. I wanted to hear:
"You did a good job, kid."
So many people over the years we lived there commented on what a great job we did on the kitchen, but my mother was still finding the mistakes. In fact, when I showed her my creative writing work when I still lived at home, the results were comments to a middle school student that went something like, "you need to learn how to use commas," but never a "good job" or "that stinks." Her own phrase for these type of comments was "damned by faint praise." And in fact, although I loved her and made peace with her in so many areas of life, and did hear the "you did good, kid" in other things, she was still an editor up to the end.
We need editors in our lives, those people who see the fine details, but we also need the big picture people, the celebratory few who find joy in our work in whatever state that work exists. I like to think of them as visionaries. They can see where I am going and want to help me get there.
Recently, much to my joy, I had an editor request revisions on one of my novels. And in reading her revision requests, I found a nice balance between editor and big picture person.
"This manuscript is well written with three dimensional characters and a great suspense puzzle."
Of course the requested revisions weren't all warm fuzzies--that's why they're called revisions--but I didn't mind, because I could see the big picture results: a better book, one that she or someone like her will eventually buy.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call letting me know that one of my nonfiction pieces won 1st place in a writing contest. I won cash (always nice), got to read my work at a conference, got to attend the conference for free, and it will be published in a literary magazine and receive nomination for a Pushcart Prize. THIS IS THE BEST NEWS!
The judge's comments on my piece were artistic in the way she synopsized my essay, turning a short description into art, and making me feel more grand by intention than I am. It's a long paragraph, but the first line sums it up.
"The winning essay begins in the pure, blue-flame heat of the narrator's memory."
I was in a bit of a happy place for the rest of that month, but I don't think the judges comments could eclipse the one I got from my professor. You see, when I wrote this piece, it was in his class. When we workshop in creative writing classes, we notice the minutea. We get bogged down in the editing and details, but what makes him a teacher I respect and want to give my best work to is the fact that he isn't just an editor (and that's an important job), but he is also a visionary (so say I). He can celebrate the right phrase, the perfect word, the overall piece outside of the edits that may still need fixing. And because I respect him, his one line that he posted was visionary praise indeed.
Celebrate the visionaries in your world, those who see the forest and the trees. They are instrumental to your success.
Sorry for the grammar faux pas, but I'm taking a moment to celebrate our writing friends and acknowledge the sadness at their departure. Last month, our writing friend J moved. This month, Beth Rhodes, who taught our dialogue workshop and has participated in our critiques, is moving away. Read her going away blog post here.
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.