A few years ago, I was reading a book written by an author I truly admire. I like his frank writing style. I love his subject matter and the fact that he writes about his own experiences in the world.
When I find authors I can relate to they become friends to me. I feel as though I know them and I develop a relationship with them, albeit a very one-sided one. I think this must be the ultimate compliment to an author…or perhaps it’s something that totally creeps them out. Hard to say, but most never know about me. In fact, all but one don’t even know I exist.
When I reached the end of this particular book, I noticed that the author had included his personal email address in the notes. At the time, I just thought it was a rather brave, personal touch. Here was a man willing to put himself out there, willing to hear direct feedback and, apparently, willing to sort through a lot of junk mail and spam.
I was…and still am (hope that part is obvious) a writer. My professional writing career centered around making other people sound good and around persuading people to do something, support something or buy something. I wrote speeches, letters for executives. I wrote brochures, advertisements, and commercials to convince you to rent a certain car or buy a specific brand of gasoline. I had a good career, but I was not the writer I really dreamed of becoming.
I have always wanted to tell stories. I want to reflect, to share, to laugh, to create laughter, to stir feelings. I have a lot of words and stories bouncing around in my head and it’s a scary thing to put them out there for others to see, but you can’t exactly be a writer if no one else ever reads your work. And there it is…the tricky part. How do you actually put your work out there for others to read?
That author’s email address popped into my mind when I was asking myself that very question. So I sent “my friend” an email. I introduced myself, I told him how much I enjoy his work. I explained my desire to pursue a career in writing. I asked for some advice, some direction. I hit send.
Within days, I found a response in my inbox. How wonderful! This author was officially going to be my friend, perhaps even my mentor! Alas…naivete’…my nemesis once again. The email was short and to the point. Basically the author offered me no advice other than to tell me I should go to school…take some writing classes. That was that. No figurative hand extended in friendship. No taking me under his wing. Just a seemingly grumpy response telling this adult, college graduate to take a class.
Quite honestly, I was a little mad. I thought about responding, but hit delete instead. How dare he treat me like some unrealistic kid looking for a fast track to fame.
Oh. Wait. As far as he knew, I was some unrealistic kid. While I knew a good deal about this man from reading his books, he knew absolutely nothing about me beyond my email address. I didn’t exactly include a resume detailing my previous work, awards won, and list of professional references.
And in reality, what did I expect? That he would have a feeling about this anonymous stranger tossing an email his way and decide to show me the shortcut to certain publication? Actually, I was pretty much looking to him to show me a direction, instead of rolling up my sleeves and figuring it out myself.
The whole situation reminded me of little girl Nancy. I grew up in a great family with my parents and two older sisters. We also had another family that we were very close with. They had four kids, also all older than me. The closest to my age was my sister and she was four years, eight months my senior. I was surrounded by kids, teenagers and adults who basically catered to the baby’s every need.
Shoelace untied? No problem. Someone would tie it for me. Need a snack? Plenty of people around to help me find something to eat. Lost a toy? Someone would find it. Wonder what time it was? There was always someone there to tell me. I didn’t need to know how to tell time on my own.
My dad finally noticed that his youngest daughter couldn’t read a clock. I think it was when I was in second grade, and maybe it came up as a homework assignment. All I vividly remember is my dad sitting me down with a little white wind-up alarm clock. He would move the hands into different positions and ask me to tell him what time it was. Over and over and over. I was not a willing student. I saw no reason to learn this task. But Dad was determined and I am proud to say that I can, to this very day, tell time.
In a way, my author friend (yeah, I still consider him my friend), was doing the same thing. He wasn’t going to tell me what time it was, he wanted me to read the clock for myself. It’s either that, or, thanks to the anonymity of email, he truly thought I was an 18 year old slacker who had once won a poetry contest in the fifth grade. Either way, it worked and I’m paving my own way to the writing career I want. Much the same way I’m sure he did, once upon a time.
I will add that, even well into adulthood, my mother would never buy me a digital clock because she was sure I would backslide, so don’t anyone dare offer me any advice. Now, the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the five. That means it’s five o’clock and time to go feed the dogs. Thanks, Dad. Thanks too…my friend the author.