Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling book, has made a big splash in the media, and Cheryl is riding high. But it wasn’t always that way for her. Back when she was a struggling author, she managed to get a story in a magazine. She would have loved to send a copy to her mom, but sadly, she had passed away from cancer. So instead, Cheryl sent it with a note to one of her favorite writers, Alice Munro. She didn’t expect an answer, but she got one. Here’s what Alice wrote: “You must continue writing, but you have lots of time. I wasn’t writing nearly as well at your age.” Alice’s handwritten letter is framed and hangs in Cheryl’s bedroom, where she often writes.
This little story about kind and encouraging words and how much they matter to us, whatever our calling, made me think of some of the people who have helped me along the way with words of praise and support. I remember my teachers in elementary school who encouraged me to write poetry and even bought me books. And one teacher in high school who wrote in my yearbook, “Speak up! You have so much to say and you say it so well!”
Then there’s my writing buddy, Nancy, who consoled me when I was feeling blue because my YA novel was so different from all the stories that seemed to be selling by writing me: “Just remember, after the darkness comes the light.” What a boost her note gave me! And then there was the time my husband David said to me, “Look how amazing it is that you’ve finished your story!”
Think back through your own writing history. Who was it that encouraged you and what did they say? Maybe we can all make up letters for ourselves from a writer we admire — letters that say what we long to hear them say about our writing. Why not create our own “you can do it!” letters from Shakespeare or Hemingway or Cather or Fitzgerald?