Warning: This is a no-edit zone…
This morning, I received an email from a friend that included the above graphic. It knocked me back on my heels.
I’m often asked why I try to help other authors with the library, articles, workshops, lectures and other programs I sponsor. I generally answer these questions with a simple, “It’s a privilege and a pleasure.” And that’s true, it is. But the reason goes far deeper. It goes back over two decades, when I first started writing.
I didn’t know another writer then. There was no Internet, no email, and I knew of no writers’ groups. I, like many others, simply decided I wanted to write a book, and so I did. It was not a pleasant experience–which, truth be told, is likely why I wrote another. It was a challenge. A significant, major challenge, and in those days, I loved a challenge. Still do.
Anyway, writing that first book was frustrating. I’d spend days searching for answers to the most simple questions. Questions with answers that today can be found in seconds. Then, it required library trips, reference material purchases, and prayers that I’d interpreted foreign phrases and industry lingo accurately.
I struggled and studied and learned, but I had huge gaps in my education and in my writing. I needed more help. Then an old friend returned to my life–and what a blessing came with her–she wrote! She introduced to me Writer’s Digest.
There I found a lot of information–and courses. And there I struck gold in the form of an instructor named Nina Coombs-Pykarre. She was wonderful, open to my questions–and there were a million of them. I’m sure I drove her insane, but never did she refuse and no matter how awful what I’d written was, she took the time to also point out what I’d done right. Nina was a special blessing. She became a mentor and a beloved friend. She taught and listened and cued me on how much I had to learn, and a way to go about it. She introduced me to RWA and to other writers. She inspired me.
We still keep in touch, and she’s followed my career, celebrating every step of the way with me. And even today, some twenty years after she took me on (which I know was a significant challenge), when writing, I run the “Nina test” for Strunk & White #11, which has always been one of my little quirky writing challenges.
Nina wasn’t easy on me. She used so much red ink on some of my work that I swore it took two pens to hold it all. It wasn’t easy, working so hard, and getting all that ink back. But, I’m a better writer today because of her work. She invested in me. I have no idea why I was so lucky, but I was and I remain grateful for it. I needed a teacher desperately, and she came and taught, selflessly and intensely, giving me her time and effort and the benefit of her significant experience. (She’d written nearly 60 books at that time!)
So Nina got it. The “Aspire to Inspire.” And because she did and she inspired me, I’ve aspired to inspire.
I remember the days spent looking for an answer that someone with experience would know off the top of the head. I remember the months of working to get something just right only to discover the basic premise was wrong and it had to be tossed. I remember the irritation of having no one to talk to about writing, to brainstorm with, to ask those questions that seemed not to be addressed in reference books. Questions on how the real industry works, who does what inside the publishing house, timetables–general questions and specific ones. Questions about how editors and agents work, proper protocol, professionalism. Basic questions specific to this business and about those in it.
I remember promising myself that if I ever learned anything about craft and the business, I’d share so that at least some of those mud puddles I stepped in, others could avoid. I’d do what I could, because I remember, and the idea of someone else suffering those frustrations bothered me greatly.
Aspire to inspire. Nina did that, and along with the knowledge she shared, she also shared that desire to inspire. Not so much with her words, though they were great. But through her actions. She believed in my work. She believed in me. And so even when I was hearing no far more often than yes, I believed, too.
It’s worthy, these gifts she gave to me. Ones I want to, and hope in some small way, I have passed on to others. And that’s what is on my mind this morning. How blessed I’ve been to have had Nina in my life, and that today, through this “aspire to inspire” illustration, an unknown illustrator gave me the opportunity to pause and remember that, and those frustrations and why it’s important for all of us to be encouraging and help one another.
Every day we get to choose. We can encourage or discourage–ourselves and all those with whom we come into contact. We can share our time and energy and experience and knowledge, or not. We can choose to be someone’s Nina. Or to let that opportunity pass by us.
I know my answers to those questions. I have the benefit of the firsthand experience and the wisdom gained under Nina’s mentoring hands. I know the difference one person can make in one person’s life. Not just in their writing, because the principles extend far beyond the work.
And that’s what I wanted to share this morning. It’s not about money or clout or power or standing. It’s all about helping someone find their feet so they can get on them and then reach back and help someone else find theirs.
Today, we hear a lot about making a difference. People yearn to, craving purpose in their work and lives. Well, it isn’t hiding. The way and means is right before you. Extend a hand to another writer. One struggling with some aspect of the work and/or the business. Don’t “fix it” for them. Give an example of how to fix it, but let them fix the challenge themselves. Instead, teach them how to fix the problem. Then you’ve given them the tools.
Then you too will have learned from Nina. And you can pass the torch along. You will truly grasp the value in “aspire to inspire.”
P.S. Thank you, Nina.
P.S.S. Yes, I know you’re still watching over me. Thanks for that, too.