You probably don’t remember me, but I attended your session at the Young Author’s Conference at Bethel about fifteen years ago when I was in fifth grade. I was just going through some old photos and letters and I came across several e-mails you wrote to me following that conference—it appears that my overly-persistent fifth-grade self asked you to read and comment on one of my stories, and, despite your own projects/busy schedule, you did!! I remember being so over the moon that a real author took me seriously and thought my writing had potential.
I thought it’d be fun to let you know that I’m about to be a published author—my first novel, a middle grade called Sticks and Stones, will be out from FSG/Macmillan this July! A second book will follow next summer, and hopefully many more after that. And I’m going to teach a session at the Young Author’s Conference this spring!! Hopefully I can be as inspiring to some young writers as you were to me.
Thanks so much for your support all those years ago—it made a huge difference!
I laughed out loud when I read Abby’s “you-probably-don’t-remember-me” line followed by the context in which we had met, that she was one of the thousands of students attending one of the dozens of young author conferences where I’ve spoken over the years. And, of course, she was right. I don’t remember her . . . or even our exchange of e-mails after the conference.
But I do remember the light in her eyes. I do remember her thoughtful questions. I do remember her enthusiastic writing, no-doubt fifth-grade clumsy, but alive with ideas and hope. And I do remember how grateful I was that she was in the crowd that day . . . or another student like her.
Because when I was at that conference I had only so many things to say about my own books, about the writing process itself, and I had said all of them many times . . . so many times that I had grown rather tired of hearing my own voice. But then there was Abby—or another young writer like her, a pair of dancing eyes, an asker of penetrating questions, a young writer eager to share a work in progress, and she filled me with energy and made me glad to be there.
Yes, my life would have been busy when Abby sent me her manuscript. Aren’t grown-up lives always busy? Too busy for any good use much of the time. But it wasn’t difficult for me to imagine what it would have meant for me to share some piece of my long-ago self with someone the world had dubbed a real writer. (I never actually met a writer when I was a child. I think I assumed they were all dead.) And the truth is that it didn’t take much of my time to read her manuscript and to say something encouraging. She had earned the encouraging words by her enthusiasm and her tenacity and by the strength of the creative fire that had brought her to me. And because enthusiasm and tenacity and creative fire are always gifts, our e-mail exchange blessed me.
Teachers ask me sometimes how they can best teach young writers, and I say they can help mostly by getting out of the way, by making space for all that enthusiasm, by fanning the flame. Yes, of course, there are rules that must be learned, grammar and punctuation and spelling and plotting and characterization and on and on. And by the time a writer is ready to submit a manuscript to be considered for award or publication, those rules must be firmly in hand. But first comes the joy of creation, the abundant joy, and the best any of us can do for a young writer is to nurture the joy.
Congratulations, Abby Cooper! Now it’s your turn to pass it on. I know you will.