by Laura McCune-Poplin
Last week, I had the overwhelming yet enjoyable experience of trying to put into words my gratitude for all those who helped shepherd my book towards publication. Some have been with me since the novel’s inception. Some have only recently joined in the last leg of what has become a five-year journey. Perhaps now I’m a little closer to understanding the parable of the workers in the vineyard, my least favorite Sunday school lesson, because I couldn’t stomach the injustice of equal pay for unequal work. But there they are—the names of those who have suffered with me (or perhaps because of me) for over half a decade alongside the names of those who played parts no less crucial for their recency.
If this experience has taught me anything, it’s the enormous debt I owe to more people than I could have imagined. People who were willing to help me for no other reason than their own generosity. Friends who volunteered to read my book, when no agent would. Who assured me of the manuscript’s value despite the growing pile of rejections that threatened to extinguish all hope, and with it the motivation necessary to keep submitting. Writers who helped me work through problems I couldn’t get past on my own. Or even recognize. It took three years of other people’s pestering, of gentle, and then not so gentle criticism, before I realized that my first chapter really was crap. It really did need to go.
Without other people’s help, I would still be mired in a swamp of self-doubt and delusion.
Yet, amidst all the help I received, all the necessary guidance and support and love, there are two moments that stand out. Two moments that I can point to with certainty and say that I was forever changed as a writer. The first was Sara Johnson Allen’s creativity workshop during L’ATELIER Villeferry 2017. The lesson for the day was mind-mapping and I learned how to create visual maps to solve problems and generate content. But it wasn’t until a potential editor asked me to revise my manuscript that I realized just how valuable a gift Sara had given me. Impossible obstacles created by deleting entire chapters and the characters in them became opportunities for increased conflict once I taped fifteen sheets of newsprint to the wall and mapped my way to a new understanding of my main character’s central desire. My book changed for the better, and my understanding of the writing process changed with it.
The second moment that stands out has nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with being a writer. During a publishing workshop given by Michelle Bailat-Jones during the 2018 L’ATELIER Boston Intensive, I learned about the myriad paths to authorship—valid trajectories that move beyond the traditional routes to publication. Two days later, I received an offer from Black Rose Writing for my middle grade novel. I don’t believe in coincidence. Without Michelle’s help, I wouldn’t have recognized this offer for the very real opportunity that it was. I wouldn’t have understood the very real foundation I could build with a small, independent press.
Sometimes the life of a writer feels like a lonely one, especially when the rejections start rolling in, outpaced only by the self-congratulatory tweets of other authors clogging my Twitter feed. But it’s simply not true. A writer needs a village. A village full of generous, brilliant, supportive writers and readers and loved ones and friends. I am forever grateful to have found mine.