Negative Supporters

Jeannie, what a lovely tribute. You’ve written the Acknowledgements for your debut book! Well, your editor might want you to delete 825 words or so. But, you’re right: once you start thinking about all the people who have helped us get from not-yet- to almost-published, where do you stop?

And, what a good idea to remind other newbies that it’s not only acceptable, it’s downright necessary to depend on other people for guidance.

I certainly wish I’d read your post a dozen years ago when a friend from college mentioned that she had gone to high school with a woman who was a children’s book editor. Would I like to talk with her about my MG WIP? Sure! Flashing my friend’s name like either a shield or a weapon, I brazenly called “this woman.” I won’t name her because, although I didn’t know it then, I now know that she’s a Very Famous Editor at a Very Prestigious Publishing House. She and my friend must have been very close; following my call, she probably never trusted my friend again. (Sorry, Sarah.)

“Do you belong to SCBWI?” VFE asked.
“No,” I said, thinking I don’t need help from some organization I’d barely heard of.“

Are you in a critique group?”

“No.” Why would I need that?

“Well, you should.” Slam.

However long it took me to follow her advice was too long. Thank you, D.  And, thank you, SCBWI and thank you, critique group, both of which I eventually joined and can’t imagine doing without.

There’s another category of helpers I’ve come to rely on—conferences and workshops, especially those that focus on craft. I’ve attended several and grown with each.

At one, I worked with an editor who helped me understand character—not well enough, as you’ll see, but that wasn’t her fault. At another, I met an editor who encouraged me to write nonfiction. That turned out to be fortuitous when, at a third workshop, I worked with a writer who truly inspired me to turn to nonfiction—not because he had any idea if I’d be good at it but because, after reading the same MG novel that VFE rebuffed, he told me, in effect, that I certainly shouldn’t write fiction. So, I also have people whose names start with J, L, and T to thank.

I feel as blessed as Jeannie to have the kinds of positive supporters that she does. In terms of having time and luxury to write, my husband is truly my sine qua non.

But, I’ve discovered, painfully and too slowly, that negative supporters can boost my writing life, also, if pay attention.



Filed under rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

7 responses to “Negative Supporters

  1. One of my critique partners often says that we all have to start out by learning to submit to the process. That our first inclination is to think we don’t have to do all the things or go through all the things that others do, because “I’m not like everyone else.” So the first lesson about writing is that we aren’t special (at least not in that way) and that we all do need those helpers. I think a lot of us had to learn that in a less-than-pleasant way. For me, I rocketed forward on lots of small successes and then stalled and had a long, long time where I felt like I was against a glass ceiling. Finally, I broke down and went to a bunch of workshops, conferences, read books that I didn’t think I needed before, and I broke through that ceiling. Like you, I could have done it sooner if I had taken the advice that I had received but didn’t want to hear.


  2. J. Anderson Coats

    I was also one of those writers who once thought she didn’t need any outside advice. I’m more than a little chagrined to admit that during my misspent teen years I actually avoided outside writing advice, fearing it would corrupt my vision.

    Secretly I was afraid that getting help made my work somehow not mine anymore.

    Since then, I’ve learned that you don’t lose anything by asking for help, guidance and advice – but you gain a whole lot. The biggest thing you gain is inclusion in a community that values writing and the creative life, and that is no small thing.


  3. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Isn’t it funny the way people end up helping you–when, sometimes, they don’t mean to? I did have an established author say something that wasn’t the most encouraging thing I’ve ever heard. (As a very new writer, I told her who my dream publisher was and she responded, “You’ll never be published by them.” Ouch!) It didn’t thrawt me, though. It was a bit of a Carley (my MC) moment, I think. I got annoyed. I got stubborn. I decided that I’d really like to send her a signed book someday–which I would never bother to do. But, it was a good reminder that the only voice in your head that really counts, is your own.


  4. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I’ve heard of several people who start out writing with gusto and then never recover from that first negative critique or comment. I read on Verla’s that one author lined up printouts of all of her rejections, laminated them, and then rolls them out at school author visits. I love this, because kids have no idea how much rejection authors go through. And I think most new writers don’t know, either.

    Kudos to you, Cynthia, for persisting!


    • Cynthia Levinson

      Your message reminds me, Natalie, that there are many kinds of persistence. Has anyone else on the blog wondered whether or not she/he could actually finish writing an entire book?

      Even though I had invested time and money in six or more months of reading background material, two three-day trips to Birmingham, multiple telephone and personal interviews; even though I had written three complete chapters, an eight-page chapter-by-chapter narrative outline of the whole book, and a list of ancillary material, including the costs of photos; even though by then I had an agent who was submitting all of this stuff–when I wrote the remaining dozen chapters and typed the last line, I was stunned that I had actually finished a book.

      True, it was a first draft. True, I’m on my third round of revisions. True, my editor has deleted some of my most essential prose!

      But, it’s also true that I can hold an entire ms in my hands. I can point to the folder amidst the litter currently strewn across the dining room table and say, “There’s my book.” And, whereas I was once dealing with “how do I find the right people to be part of this book and encourage them to participate?”, now I deal with “should their arrests be separated by bullets or semi-colons.

      Persistence against negative criticism takes a combination of fortitude and knuckle-headedness, both of which can be both functional and dysfunctional. Persistence to get to “~” is the little engine that (or with) will.


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