Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Encourage Promising Writing

The incident stands out to me like it was yesterday when it was many years ago. At the end of a high school English class, Mr. David Smith pulled a sophomore aside for a brief conversation.

“Have you ever thought of writing for the high school newspaper? Your writing shows some promise, Terry, and you might really enjoy it. I’m the advisor for the newspaper and we’re having our next meeting tomorrow afternoon? Think about coming.”

I came to the session and with one of my classmates began writing sports stories—about the only need the paper had at that point in time. Throughout that school year, I learned how to cover different sporting events at the school and wrote sports stories. Eventually I took a part-time job on the local newspaper working after school a few hours a week then I went to Indiana and majored in journalism.  The brief encouragement from a high school English teacher set my life on a path into the publishing world.

Each of us can encourage promising writing when we see it. Maybe you participate in an on-line forum and you see someone has a gift for crafting an appropriate response.  You can reach out and give encouragement. Possibly you see some excellence in your child’s writing or the friend of one of your children. Then you can give a few encouraging words. Or maybe you belong to a critique group where you look over each others writing. Always begin with some words of praise before you work on improvement. Those first few kind words will go a long ways.

My greatest opportunity these days comes through email or face-to-face with an individual at a writer’s conference. At times it’s a challenge to say something positive. It’s impossible for me to know how an individual will develop over the days and years in the future. I want to be one of those people who encourage along the journey—as I’ve been encouraged.

As writers, we have to create our own writing space. Maybe you write on a kitchen table (as I did for many years) or in a spare bedroom. In the current issue of The New Yorker, an artists’ collective called Flux Factory commissioned architects to design three writers’ “habitats.” I found the reading experience of this article called Writers At Work a fun and interesting—and maybe you will as well.

Also as writers, from time to time, the media interviews us—for a new book or some area of expertise that you’ve developed. It’s always a bit awkward for me when the interview tables are reversed. I’m much more comfortable interviewing someone rather than being interviewed.  Seasoned author Robin Lee Hatcher has some great advise when you face such a situation in her article, “What Did You Say?”

After that brief aside, I want to return to my theme for this particular entry.  Each of us need to be on the look out for a way to spread encouragement to others about their writing. Maybe you drop a handwritten note to a writer friend. In a business where we hear “no, thank you” a great deal, it’s important to encourage.

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