Small Compliments

Writing is a quiet hobby. You spend hours lost in your own mind, spinning scenes together strand by strand. Novels take shape slowly, over weeks or months or even years. The only immediate feedback are the emotional echoes in your head as you write, which for me alternatively love and despise each word with little rhyme or reason. Often after a writing session I’m left vaguely frustrated, uncertain if what I’ve done had value.

One cure to such solitary angst is to find like-minded souls to talk with. I’ve found that my favorite moments as a writer come in those conversations, often in the form of unexpected compliments.

The first few years I wrote, every week or two I’d call up my best friend Sean, and talk through what I’d been working on. Sean isn’t a writer, or even much of a reader, but he’s a great listener and would sit in rapt attention as I rambled on about my worlds, my characters, my plot. He’d ask questions, make comments. Those conversations were vital to my writing sanity. They gave me perspective and made it seem like I was doing something real and worthwhile.

Then there’d be moments where I’d say something and Sean would  say, “Oh, that’s really cool.”

I’d paused. “It….is?”

“Yeah. I’d love to read about that.”

A year or so after that, I signed up for David Farland’s Novel Revision workshop. As part of the workshop each student supplied the others with the first twenty pages of a novel. Every day we’d go through the selection as a group, making comments.  I remember the first sample I read. It was an urban fantasy piece and it was phenomenal. The writing was crisp with a strong voice and a great hook. It could have come straight from a bookstore’s shelf. Shoot, I thought, thinking about my own pages and how awkward they were. What was I getting myself into?

I went through the workshop, getting great feedback on my own piece, but still feeling a bit out of place. It turned out the writer of the urban fantasy and I really clicked, and at the end of the workshop agreed to stay in touch. We were chatting after, and I mentioned to her how good I thought her stuff was and how I figured she had to have been already published.

“It’s funny,” she said. “I thought the same thing about yours.”

I laughed, suggesting that was very nice of her to say that. But she shook her head. “No, I’m serious. It’s really, really good. You should absolutely publish it.”

It’s funny how big an impact small compliments can have. I can say with the utmost sincerity that conversations like that have kept me going. Even this year, with the day job taking up most of my energy and my projects not progressing the way I want, I’m reminded, every once in a while, that those whom have read my work sincerely enjoyed it, and look forward to what I produce next. A small audience of readers, but proof that perhaps I can one day have a large one. But even if I don’t, I’ll at least know I did something worthwhile.



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