Ever had a well-known, published teacher hand you the story you’d submitted for comment and tell you to forget about writing seriously? Not just to forget about that particular story. No, it was obvious what that writer/teacher meant (and here I’m paraphrasing, more or less): “Go home and vacuum your house, clean your closets, raise your children and knit afghans for old folks’ homes. Just don’t write. You’re wasting your time. You’ll never make it as a writer.”
That actually happened to me on a brilliant fall day many years ago and I can still remember exa23ctly where I stood facing the teacher’s insensitive condescension at the front of a classroom. I remember the smell of the chalk on the blackboard behind him, where he’d scrawled his name boldly across two sections, as though nothing else in the room could be as important. I remember hardly being able to swallow and the sinking feeling in my stomach as I turned away, hoping none of the other students had heard his remark, and scurried out of the room before I could burst into tears.
I was thirty years old and living my dream: to go to a writer’s conference! I’d been writing for years, but only for myself. I hoped one day to have a children’s book published, but raising seven children under ten didn’t give me much time to work on that idea. The story I’d submitted to the arrogant, oh-so-important teacher/writer was a humorous novella involving a small Pennsylvania town where a visiting French artist who’d always hoped to paint a renaissance nude met a plump housewife who yearned to have some money of her own. Result: subterfuge and, of course, misunderstandings. (I’d had fun writing it. Today—after much rework—which it needed—“Girard’s Nude” is available as an e-book on Amazon.com.)
It was a good premise, and not a bad story, even then. I’d read enough to know it needed more—revision, polishing. That’s what I’d come for. To learn how to go about that necessary next step. That’s what I’d clipped coupons and saved grocery money for: this chance to learn how from an expert.
Instead, I was a failure. I was desolated.
Now, after fifty years and over a hundred published short stories, poems and essays later, along with seven picture books, three print novels and a number of shorter e-books available, I’m still here. Still writing. But not because of that teacher; in spite of him.
I’ve often wondered what he would say about my work today, were he still alive. (That is, if he would condescend to read any of it.) He was actually a pretty big name in our state, with many publications to his credit. But what wasn’t to his credit was what he’d done, not only to me, I discovered later, but to other aspiring writers whose ambitions were dismissed summarily, as though not worthy.
‘Pay it forward’ wasn’t a phrase used back in those days, but he obviously didn’t subscribe to the concept. Whatever his reason for accepting the offer to “teach” at that conference—money? Self-satisfaction?—he had an responsibility to offer his experience to us lesser mortals who yearned for his knowledge. It was his duty to hold out his hand and welcome us into the intriguing, astounding, exciting world of writing.
He could have. He was in the position to do just that. But he chose, instead, to discourage and belittle. I’ll never know why. I only know that, after drying my tears and rereading my story, I gritted my teeth and vowed, “I’ll show him.”
And I have, Mr. Hotshot. I’ve worked hard and had some success, and yes, I’ve paid it forward; I’ve taught whenever I’ve had the opportunity, privately and in groups. There’s a whole lot I still don’t know about writing, especially not now with all the changes in today’s publishing world; nobody knows it all or how different it will be tomorrow. But I do know some things that just might pull a newer, not-so-confident writer a step closer to their dream of publication. You probably do, too. Pay it forward.
I got my first rejection when I was thirteen and I’ve been writing ever since. I’ve sold over 350 feature articles, 100+ adult short stories; poems to both adult and juvenile magazines, 50+ children’s magazine stories and seven picture books. I’ve earned 70 regional and national awards in adult and juvenile fiction, poetry, and essays. My romances have been published by Wild Rose Press: THE DOOR TO LOVE (2009), WANNABE (2011). THE HOUSE ON THE DUNES (Divine Garden Press, 2014) is a stand-alone women’s fiction/romance.
That first rejection was an essay about why not to be a nature lover. I’m sure that the publication realized that what they’d received was from a kid, but they were kind and wished me luck in my future endeavors. That probably wouldn’t happen today, but it was encouraging – imagine! Me, a high-school kid, getting a letter from the editors at Woman’s Day. I was hooked.”
I still am.