“Life in the Seven Kingdoms is never dull . . .” 

–Jen McConnel, School Library Journal


Writing Gratitude Count-down: (1) The Gift of Attention

Asphalt with a hole in the middle full of pink flower petals
Pothole in the road full of cherry blossom petals. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Maybe it’s the #Pitchwars season, but lately I’ve been realizing how many people have generously encouraged my writing. It’s so easy to send out queries and focus on the–sometimes deafening–silence, but when I look back on my writing journey, I see so many people who have gone out of their way to help.

I’m sure I’m going to miss important people because I’ve been doing this writing thing too long and haven’t been expressing my gratitude enough.

I want to thank you, my generous mentors, and I want to point new writers (and readers!) in their direction. The writing life would be a desert without these generous people. Best wishes as you find your own!

  1. The Gift of Attention: The value of embarrassing yourself in public places

The first gift I’m grateful for is attention from people listening to or reading my work. At the most basic level, this is encouragement to get the words down. Let me encourage you to take a risk and share your work. It can have life-changing results.

a. Writing Retreat or Conference with an Opportunity to Share Your Work. The Church at the Well Artist Retreat gave me a wrap-around porch with outlets and a beautiful setting to work for a weekend. When I was there, artists and writers shared their work around the campfire. It’s intimidating to read your work in front of people you respect. And tremendously validating. Thank you Church at the Well for making this possible!

A spontaneous Coffeehouse and Open Mike for writers, stand-up comedians, and musicians at InterVarsity’s Toah Nipi camp in New Hampshire left me with lasting memories. The participants were all graduate students at various Ivy League schools in the Northeast and the energy level was unbelieveable. Thank you Toah Nipi!

b. A Writing Conference or Workshop with the Opportunity for a Personal Critique. This high-energy experience was so addictive and inspiring that I suggested we host a Coffeehouse and Open Mike at the Ockenga Writer’s Publishing Workshop. It was easy to motivate other writers to participate because I had seen a Coffeehouse in action. Try it, you’ll like it!

I found wonderful critique partners and inspiring mentors at this Workshop including the awe-inspiringly brilliant and gentle editor, Judith Markham, the warm and funny David Manuel, the brilliantly detail-oriented Linda Triemstra, and my friend and first writing mentor, Susan X. Graham. They all paid my work the compliment of attention and encouraged me when I really needed it. Unfortunately, the Workshop no longer exists, but the Ockenga Institute now hosts the New England Christian Writers Retreat.

One of the critique partners I met at the Workshop, the lovely Jeanne Doyon, told me about Toastmasters International. (She tactfully suggested I visit a club after she heard my rambling introduction and I wondered aloud how to improve. *cough* Thanks, Jeanne!)

c. Visit a World-Class Conference in person or online. The Festival of Faith & Writing is a knock-your-socks-off conference for readers and writers. We’re talking world-class, prize-winning writers and speakers of all genres, so the adrenaline level is high. After I heard Joan Bauer and Gary D. Schmidt speak, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a writer of children’s books who can move an audience like they did. (Impossible dreams are good for the soul.)

d. A Writers’ Group that Happens in the Air. I joined Toastmasters of Greater Burlington club in Vermont and gained an amazing group of friends who cheered me on. Thank you, Toastmasters!

The focus is on speaking and evaluation so it’s like a writing group that happens in the air. It’s amazing how much you can learn about your writing when you speak it aloud in a room full of supportive people. You just know.

I was inspired by my club members’ speeches and pumped by all the enthusiasm. If you’re at all interested, visit a Toastmasters club in your area. (I sound like a commercial, but I promise they’re not paying me.)

So that’s my first installment of gratitude for my writing journey. More to come! If you’d like to share about people who gave your work attention, please feel free to share in the comments.


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