Sometimes Our Writer Friends Know Just What to Say

My writer’s group was discussing Ruta Sepetys’s wonderful book, YOU The Story, A Writer’s Guide to Craft Through Memory. Sepetys advises writers to use our own backgrounds and experiences as grist for our fiction. One of the questions she suggests we pay attention to is: “What elements of your childhood self still exist in your current self?”

JEALOUSY in huge letters flashed across my brain. Take last weekend, for example. I was a participating author at an outdoor arts festival. The craft booth across from my table featured a young woman doing a demonstration. During the morning, she took a large glob of clay, out of which she sculpted the head of an older man. It was brilliant, full of life and energy. I was in awe of her artistry.

That afternoon, she stopped by my table with her parents. I told her how much I admired her work and asked about whether she was a studio art major at the university. “Oh yes,” she said. “I’m in the studio 16 hours a day. I love it!” Her parents stood behind her, beaming with pride.

I was so delighted for her that she had this kind of parental support. But you know what? I was also jealous as hell! Even after all these decades, I still feel sad and angry that I didn’t get to have that support. My father was so concerned that I might go into dance that I wasn’t even allowed to take dance classes my senior year in high school, let alone apply to any colleges with dance majors.

When I admitted to my writer’s group that I still felt really jealous of anyone whose parents supported their interests, one of the authors said, “But Lynn, look at what you were able to do in your work. You took that experience and used it in Leisha’s Song. It’s a beautiful book.”             

I felt better almost immediately! I’d never consciously thought to myself, “And now I’ll use my icky childhood to show how painful it was for Leisha to get zero support from her grandfather for her dream of pursuing classical singing.” But there it was—clear as day. I’d always thought the only positive thing that had come out of my childhood was my determination to be a supportive, listening parent. But my friend helped me see that it had helped me create more authentic and emotionally resonant fiction. And for that, I am so grateful.


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