Megan is a high school freshman who loves to write, and she’s good at it! We sat down together, yesterday, to discuss revisions to a YA novel that she’s working on. She’s written a good story, one worthy of publication someday, but her book still needs work, and Meg knows it. She’s learning that revising is hard and not nearly as much fun as writing.
Yesterday was as much about encouragement as it was constructive criticism. Just that this fourteen-year-old stuck to it and finished a full-length manuscript is worthy of cheers. Now, with a little encouragement, Meg has jumped into the revising process with as much passion as any writer. She wants her writing to get better, and she’s willing to work hard and learn. I want her passion to burn throughout the writing process. I want her to be encouraged.
Think about that word “encouragement.” It means “to support.” Encouragement is the foundation that keeps us writing. Without it we’re like bodies with no bones.
I had a writing teacher in college who graded subjectively on content. If she didn’t like your topic, then your writing was garbage. She literally would write the word “GARBAGE” all in caps on the top of your first page. I remember that I wrote a short piece based on a true story, a mob-style murder that happened at a landfill in my hometown. Yes, it was a bit graphic and parts of it were dark, but I still think it made a good story. My teacher disagreed. She decided that it was even worse than garbage. It made her want to throw up. She didn’t read it all the way to the end, and halfway through she scrawled in the margin: “I can’t read this anymore. I’m getting physically sick!” Good. The paragraph she had just read was supposed to make her feel sick, and if she had read to the end she might have discovered a message in my story that would make her feel a whole lot better. I didn’t have the maturity then to understand that she was wrong. I came away from her class believing that my writing was garbage, and it took a long time for me to rebuild my confidence.
Encouragement is asking, listening, and empathizing. It is like a mother gently leading her child to her first day of school, a mother cheering every small accomplishment. Encouragement is a teacher making a hard lesson fun. It is a smile, a kind word, and a hug. Everyone needs encouragement—especially we writers.
Mark Twain said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your dreams. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you too, can become great.” How true!
What will you do today to encourage another writer?
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