16: Stretching Forward, Reaching Back

16: Stretching Forward, Reaching Back

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers

Stretching Forward, Reaching Back

There is magic in long-distance friendships. They let you relate to other human beings in a way that goes beyond being physically together and is often more profound.

~Diana Cortes

“I’d love to look at your story,” my friend Peggy said. I could tell from her voice that she meant it. And I was blessed. By her time. By her heart. By her willingness to read my words and help me grow.

Peggy was a wonderful friend, and she was a gifted and successful writer, too. I’d followed her stories well before we’d met at a writers’ workshop and became soul sisters. Now we wrote for some of the same publications, and she was always willing to peek at my pre-submission drafts.

“Are you sure you have time?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I love to help and encourage you. It’s a pleasure.”

For the millionth time, I wished I could give her a hug. But she lived in New York, and I lived in Illinois. Our conversations were on the phone, but it felt like she was next door.

“Thanks, friend,” I said. “I’ll e-mail it in the morning.”

Peggy and I talked about a hundred other things, and then said goodbye. I set the phone back on the charger and thought about my friend. I knew that she was over-the-top busy with her own writing endeavors, yet she always took time for me. And she never, ever made me feel inadequate.

What made her want to give? It was a sacrifice of time, for sure. But Peggy always was thorough, taking time to read the manuscript to the end. She’d remind me of structure; she’d show me where I wandered off track; she’d bring my attention to things like red herrings and bunny trails and holes in my plots. She saw things I just couldn’t see. And she was honest. The first thing a writer needs to grow is thick skin, and Peggy always spoke the truth. But she did it in such a kind, encouraging way, though we lived thousands of miles apart, I could imagine the care and concern in her green eyes.

One day, she asked me to read through one of her drafts.

“I’d love to,” I said. But inside I was trembling. Who was I to critique someone more advanced and accomplished than me? But I read through the manuscript anyway, held my breath, and offered up just a few thoughts.

“I agree completely with your comments” came the e-mail later in the afternoon. “You have an instinct for this, and you helped me. Thank you.” While I was shaking in my writing boots, trying to help her, she encouraged me.

Peggy and I grew in friendship while I grew in the craft. If I e-mailed her and told her I was stuck or needed some fresh thoughts, she’d write back: “Give me a call. Let’s brainstorm.” If I didn’t know how to handle a professional situation, she’d offer sweet advice from her experience. If I felt discouraged and wanted to slip my laptop under my four-poster bed forever, she’d pull me back to my passion. “You have a gift,” she’d say. “You’re going to be fine.” And when a rejection from an editor came, she’d be fast to remind me, “It’s part of the business. The sooner you understand that, the better off you’ll be.”

That was Peggy. And with Peggy’s gentle, kind encouragement, I became more experienced, too. My manuscripts were selling regularly, and though I couldn’t see it, I believed that my writing must have been getting stronger. My confidence grew a smidgen, too. So when another gal, my local friend Sarah, expressed a hidden desire to write and quietly delivered her first manuscript to my inbox, my heart filled with joy. “Why don’t you come on over?” I said when I called her up. “We’ll look at your story together.”

That was the bud of a new aspect of writing, too. Helping someone who’s just getting started. Sarah and I sat at my dining-room table, her printed sheets fanned out on the old, worn oak. More than a half-dozen kids, hers and mine, swarmed around us, but we took care of words while we took care of them. And at the end of the afternoon, Sarah hugged me, firm and warm. “Thank you,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”

And I understood that gratitude.

Sarah continued to write, to learn, to create and carve and shape written words. And it’s been my blessing to help, to see her grow. I loved seeing a spark in her warm brown eyes. It brought me pleasure. The investment gave me joy.

It would seem that writing is a solitary thing. One beating heart, full of words, full of passion, hunkered over a keyboard alone. But I’ve found that it’s not really a solitary thing at all. Writers need one another. For encouragement. For sharpening. For help and hope. Peggy reaches her hand back to help me, and I stretch up to her. I reach back my other hand to help Sarah, and she stretches up to me.

After all, we’re on the same sweet ladder.

And I’d be missing a crazy amount of blessing if I were climbing all alone.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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