Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lisa: On Encouragement

Four or five years ago, I went to a conference, with a special invitation-only retreat happening the day before the conference. People who wanted to attend the retreat submitted pages of a manuscript, and attendees were selected based on those pages. I submitted pages from the first novel I had ever written, a mid-grade. And I was thrilled when I found out I had been selected. At the retreat, we sat around a big table, with two editors at the front, and the twenty-five of us gathered around. One by one, our four-five pages were read by one of the conference organizers, and people around the table wrote down comments.

One of the editors had been mailed the pages and had typed up a critique in advance. When I got the critique for my pages, it wasn’t very positive. Of course going into it, I had told myself to be prepared for that. After all, this was my first attempt at a novel. I knew I had a lot to learn. And yet, her words stung.The other editor, though, who we’ll call Angel for this story, had nice things to say after my pages were read out loud. She liked the voice, she liked the concept, she liked where the story started, etc. And yet, I couldn’t help but focus on the other critique.

That night, in my hotel room, I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought, what am I doing here? I almost got up and drove home at three in the morning! Fortunately, I didn’t act on that impulse.

The next day, I arrived to the conference early enough to browse the books table, get a muffin, etc. Time got away from me, and suddenly I looked around and realized the conference had started. I hurried to the room, opened the door quietly and took a seat at the nearest table, which had a few people sitting at it, a couple of chairs with bags on them, and a couple of empty seats. The room was huge. There were probably 300 people there. Imagine my surprise when Angel the editor came and sat down at my table, where she had set a bag on the chair to save her place. What are the chances???

When we had a break, she reached into her bag, pulled out her business card, and as she handed it to me, she said, “I’m so glad I ran into you again. I want you to know I really enjoyed what I heard yesterday. If it's finished, I’d love for you to send it to me.”

While she ultimately rejected that manuscript, with one of the kindest, most indepth rejection letters I’ve ever received, her encouragement at that time in my writing career made all the difference. I didn’t give up on novel writing. I wrote another one. And another one after that. And now, years later, I have one book on the shelves and another coming out in a little more than a month. I still have her card, and it always gives me a good feeling when I pull it out and look at it. Over the years, I’ve saved e-mails from crit buddies, nice rejection letters, business cards – anything that might help when I’m having one of those “What am I doing here?” kind of days. It’s so easy to focus on the negative when it comes to our writing.

Thanks to those of you in the industry who provide encouragement when you see something promising in a person's writing. It really can make a difference in a writer's life. Believe me, I know!


  1. Kudos on your success. When I'm asked to critique manuscripts at writers' workshops or other venues, I accentuate the positive but sometimes worry I'm giving false hope to people I suspect won't succeed. Makes you feel for editors and agents, no?

  2. And she knows how to pay it forward too!

  3. LOve this! So true - those positive words get you through the bad times. Thanks for sharing

  4. Great story, Lisa - and boy, we've all been there, too. ;-D

  5. Great story, Lisa. I'm glad you didn't drive home! 46 more days until FAR FROM YOU!

  6. That's me above. :-)

    Lisa Albert

  7. Helllllooooooooooooo

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