Sharing an Encouraging Word

Author: Nola Published: about 3 years ago.
Tags: encouragement, gratitude, writing Category: Magazine article

'Bootscooting Zombies on Rollerblades' seemed like a good idea for a novel. Now with the rejection letter in your hand, you wonder if it was worth seven years of your life. Add to that the magazine reader who didn’t like your exposé on mud wrestling and the weekly blog that only attracts comments from your Mum, and you can feel like the wind’s been taken out of your creative sails. Best-selling author Joel Osteen notes, ‘if we’re going to bring out the best in people, we need to sow seeds of encouragement’, so how can we do that in the writing community?

I took up the challenge by embarking on an encouragement project in which I sent notes to 100 authors whose work had touched me in some way. I especially wanted to encourage authors who were not well known, such as those who write articles, true stories and inspirational pieces. I also made it easier for myself by keeping the messages short and choosing authors whose email addresses were readily available.

I’d like to say that my motives were purely altruistic in wanting to lift up others. However, I’d also been going through a difficult patch and knew that I had to do something to get my mind off my own problems and onto something more constructive. I’d read John Kralik’s book 365 Thank Yous which detailed his quest to write a thankyou note to someone each day for a year. Not only did this act of gratitude bless the recipients, but it also brought about positive changes in Kralik’s own life. If it could work for him, it could work for me. Just over two years later, I penned my 100th note.

It was no surprise that people appreciated a positive word. Seventy-five authors wrote to thank me and I was buoyed by their words in return. Typical comments included ‘you just made my day’, ‘what a nice surprise’ and ‘I feel blessed by your kind words’. Others mentioned that my email had validated their writing or that it had prompted them to go back and re-read their own words. The timing of my note was also special for some, with one woman receiving it on her birthday and another at a time when she was struggling. Encouragement was especially appreciated by those who didn’t get much feedback. As one woman said, ‘I think this is the first note I have received from someone I didn’t even know who said my writing inspired them in some way’. Comments like that were humbling for me and made me wonder why I didn’t express gratitude more often.

Many people went further than simply thanking me. Some looked up samples of my writing and gave me positive feedback. Others told me about the highs and lows of their own lives, asked me about myself or told me that they would pray for me. An elderly gentleman sent me copies of a children’s book and two poetry chapbooks he’d written, a university professor sent me some free articles of helpful writing tips, one writer asked me to be a guest blogger on her web site, and a lovely American lady has become a Facebook friend. All of this was unsolicited. I simply wrote an encouraging note, but I certainly found the old proverb to be true: ‘Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.’

I also learned a few lessons about how to encourage other writers.

  1. Comment on a specific aspect of the writing that has impacted you (e.g. something you’ve been able to apply or that has challenged your thinking in a good way). That always means more than a generic ‘I really liked your article’.
  2. Be genuine. People can smell brown-nosing a mile away. The purpose should be to encourage the other person, not to advance your own cause.
  3. Don’t assume they’ll necessarily want to hear all about you and your projects. Unless it’s pertinent to the point you’re making about their writing, keep yourself in the background.
  4. Be prepared that people may want to engage further (e.g. by asking questions or inviting you to send some of your work). You don’t have to befriend everyone, but complete silence could undo the encouragement you’d offered previously.

Harper Lee never expected much success with her novel To Kill a Mockingbird, but ‘hoped someone would like it enough to give [her] encouragement’. Winning a Pulitzer Prize and selling millions of copies would have allayed her fears, but there are many writers who plug away faithfully without receiving such accolades. Giving encouragement to others only takes a little effort, but it can have positive repercussions for you and mean so much to them. You might just encourage the next Harper Lee.

© Nola Passmore; Published in WQ Magazine, Issue 239, April 2014, p. 12.