Friday, June 17, 2011

Who would you thank?

I know you’ve done it: watched the Oscars, then fantasized that you were being honored in a similar fashion for your writing. Your sequined gown (or cummerbund) glistens in the spotlight as climb to the lectern and unfold your acceptance speech, written in 20-pt type so you can see it without your glasses.

Who will you thank?

We’re talking about teamwork at the BRP this month, and I’m sure a few obvious team members come to mind: your agent, your publisher, the husband who put up with you, the best friend who always believed in you, the English teacher who opened your eyes to literature, the group editing blog where all your questions were answered (woot!—thanks back at ya).

That should cover it, right? Because writing is for introverts. We mostly work alone.

I’d like to dispel that myth. Yes, we writers must tolerate stretches of time spent by ourselves—that's what it takes to apply our craft. But whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we pull our material from dramas played out on life's stage. Everyone we’ve ever met is material.

Thank that bully that knocked you down during your first school recess, and stole your lunch money while pretending to help you up. So cliché, you thought, as you dabbed at your knee with a tissue. But you learned to carry what little money you had in an inside pocket (useful tip for the working writer) and learned about subterfuge as a plot twist. And conflict! What a story you told when you got home.

Thank your sister for telling that boy you liked in junior high that you had bought a dress just in case he asked you to go to the dance with him. You learned the heart-breaking consequences of betrayal.

Thank your uncle for keeping his novel writing habit a secret. Now that you’ve discovered he hung up his ambitions after only a dozen rejections, you feel less alone (and much more successful).

Thank your aunt for letting you keep a seashell collection at her beach house. She didn’t have room for it any more than your mother did, but she understood the importance of encouraging your passions.

Thank the city planners for their faulty lighting schemes and the people who rummage around in the shadows for teaching you twenty different ways of saying “the hair on the back of her neck prickled.”

Thank the perpetrator for the one time the previous situation didn’t end well, for you have learned what it is like to face your demons and fight your way back in a character arc that will never lose its tension.

Thank all the people to whom you are so obliged that you can only find forty minutes per day to write. It’s better than having no people, endless time, and nothing to write about.

Thank your mother or your first husband—whoever it was—for laughing at you when you said you wanted to become a writer. You’ve forged in your own bones the kind of steely resolve that motivates both characters and entire writing careers.

You get the picture: because we write about life, our writing team is as big as the world of people we’ve ever met and those we can ever imagine.

Today I ask you to think outside the box. As you unfold your acceptance speech, what oddball source of inspiration would you like to thank here today?


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, has been published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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  1. I won first place in an essay contest for the seventh grade. They sent a really elegant certificate through the mail - the kind of certificate that people frame and save. My parents were very pleased, especially my mother, who suddenly began calling me The Big Writer. My three brothers countered her beaming face with, "Yeah, right," and other expressions of revulsion and disgust at their “little twerp” brother who was attracting all that attention. Imagine, if you will, the heady experience of a thirteen year old kid suddenly weighted with the lofty title of The Essayist and lumped in with Thomas Carlisle, Matthew Arnold and other high worthies of English Literature. It's not good, friends. You see, my mom and others were encouragers. And encouragers can be bad. Very bad.

    It all starts out so innocently. A kind person here or there offers you some encouragement about your writing. At first you show a modest bit of denial. "Naw, not me." But then later you begin to believe them. "Hey, what if it's actually true? Me: The Essayist!" Yes, it's so easy to forget the disguised sarcasm that got you there in the first place. And when you forget the underlying dishonesty that propelled you to the heights, then you begin to believe almost anything the encourager says. What they say isn't true, but you believe it. And because of that you end up out there on the front porch on those lazy summer afternoons staring at a blank piece of paper in the typewriter because you are, essentially, a fraud with a swelled head. Believe me, encouragers are bad.

    And there's another problem with them. They won't go away. They keep bobbing back up. Just when you have finally figured out that you are not the person they think you are, they shovel another batch of encouragement into your boiler. And, "like the dog that returns to its vomit," you head back out to the porch to give it another try. It's maddening!

    Sometimes I wish that they hadn’t sent that certificate.

  2. William: What a story! So in answer to the question "Who would you thank," you'd say, "I'd thank you not to say anything?" ;)

  3. What a wonderful post. Thank you so much, Kathryn.

    I would have to thank my mother for teaching me how to stick by - people and things. It was not easy for her to raise my sister and I alone with little money, but somehow she did it. I think that taught me about perseverance and tenacity, which we need as much as talent in this writing game.

  4. I don't have a speech planned, but I figured out the dedication for my first book (to my mom and dad) years ago.

  5. Interesting. I've just signed a contract for a third ebook and was actually wondering, who should I thank this time.

  6. Thanks to Airman Suk at the Air Force Personnel office in Colorado Springs for cutting orders for me to serve a tour in Alaska instead of Vietnam in 1968.

    Thanks to the real estate agent whose offhand comment annoyed my father and kept us from moving to a certain town. If we'd gone there, I never would have met my wife.

    Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, whose creation helped me reunite with an old friend.

    Thanks to my dad, who could be a terror at times. But he read to me, and that made up for a lot.

    Thanks to my wife's high school friend Doris, who introduced us to New Mexico.

  7. Maryann: Perseverance and tenacity, you bet!

    Jennifer: I keep waffling on the dedication to mine. As you can see from this post, my definition of whom to thank is pretty inclusive!

    Sheila: Any ideas?

  8. Bob: Now that's the spirit! Thanks so much for playing. My husband served in Korea--also during the Vietnam War, and for that he too is thankful!

  9. Kathryn Craft: ‘So in answer to the question "Who would you thank," you'd say, "I'd thank you not to say anything?"’

    No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m grateful for every kind person who encouraged me in my writing and made me a better writer because of that encouragement. Still, I’m haunted by the thought that I could be out in the garage right now, rebuilding a car engine, and drinking beer instead of sitting in this stuffy little office, pounding on a laptop computer keyboard, and trying to make sense of the world with words.

  10. You know really, thanking the creeps in our lives is important because they make the best models for fiction perps. Like the sociopathic town manager who does just what he wants no matter who he offends. Perp in some novel of the future, right? Or victim. Even better. :)

  11. William: I'd like to thank the people who try to make sense of the world with words!

  12. Dani: So right, we need these details. Perp-turned-victim--love it!

  13. I already thanked the ladies who motivated me to stay in school rather than drop out already. Too bad it wasn't a novel from a major publisher.

  14. Very entertaining food for thought!

  15. Good for you, Kay. How many of us go to our graves with those thanks still on our tongues? Maybe we don't need to wait for an acceptance speech after all.

    And thanks for reading, Heidi!

  16. Who would I thank? YOU, for starters! :) I know I know it's boring to listen to those lists with the Oscar winners, but I have a gratitude list miles long. It includes the encouragers, the discouragers, and all those in between. Mostly, though, I am humbled every time I see God use all those people just for me to move forward, one more step, towards my life's dreams.

  17. Lisa, what a wonderful gift to find this comment. (I feel I want to thank you for thanking me, but this has to come to rest somewhere.) You bring warmth to my heart, a smile to my lips, and a tear to my eye. It is not hard to encourage someone with your strength of spirit—it's more like watching you fly past, leaving the fading echo of my voice in your wake: "You go, girl..."

  18. I'd like to thank the State of Indiana for their decision to downsize me from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and pay my unemployment for the past year and few months that allowed me to complete my first manuscript, write on several others and beguin to "build my brand" on Facebook and by blogging. While my husband suffers the bitterness, as he did 20+ years ago when I was let go from B. Dalton/Barnes & Noble, I think it's one of the best things that happened to me. I logged 3500 miles on travel vouchers in one quarter, so my car thanks the state too, especially with gas prices so high.
    And thanks to you for your interesting articles.

  19. Great article.

    I'd thank my lover for, first of all, being interested in my work and for offering me a different perspectives that always help me out--no matter how much I resist them at first.

  20. Lauren: Love the line "no matter how much I resist them at first." Sometimes the depth of that resistance can indicate advice that is hitting our own slightly bruised "flinch" button.


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