Tom Spoke, I Listened
By Nancy Julien Kopp
A new member of my critique group finished reading her short story, and the rest of us discussed it at length. Then, silence reigned, until Tom uttered familiar words in his quiet but firm manner. “Send it in! No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and search for a manuscript stashed in a dresser drawer.” No smile came with the words. He meant every word. He repeated his advice in different ways at nearly every meeting of the small critique group he had founded. “You will never be published if you don’t submit your work.”
He moderated with patience and consideration for the fragile egos of beginning writers. He dished out praise only when earned, and he had no qualms about pointing out the problems in a piece of writing shared with the group.
“Send it in!” became his mantra, and, for me, the encouraging words started to sink in. Common sense told me to follow his advice. After all, he submitted his stories to magazines and websites on a regular basis, and his work appeared in a printed media many times. But common sense often quarrels with a lack of confidence. I questioned Tom’s wisdom as I drove home from the meetings. Just because he can get his work published doesn’t mean I can. Or does it?
I worked up my courage and submitted a nonfiction article for kids to a magazine listed in Writer’s Market. The article detailed a game reserve park we’d visited, a good subject for young and curious minds. The interminable wait began. Several weeks later, the editor returned my story saying that she liked the subject but it needed energy, and she invited me to revise and send it to her again. Part of me thrilled to her invitation to rework the story, and another part slowly deflated like a balloon with a leak.
I pondered that word “energy” for several days. I had no clue what she was looking for, but one day I rewrote the piece featuring two children and their grandparents on a visit to
Park in South Africa. I used a story
approach but managed to get the pertinent info from the original article into it,
as well. I still wasn’t sure what the editor wanted, but I followed Tom’s
advice and sent it back to her. That turned out to be my first sale.
Greatly encouraged, I began to submit more of my work. Some went to nonpaying websites, but they accepted many of my submissions. I gathered several clips and my confidence level moved up the ladder. I also got many rejections, just as all beginning writers do, but somehow those published works soothed the rejection barbs. Success breeds confidence.
After moving to another state, I entered several pieces for the prose section in our state authors contest. I’d also written a poem to fit the Theme Division even though I knew little about poetry. I wanted to send it in, but I hesitated. I had no training nor real knowledge about writing poetry. Any poem I wrote came from the heart and satisfied me if it sounded right. The poem pleased me when I read it, but maybe it would sound like pretty amateur stuff to the judges. I lacked the courage to send it, until one day I heard Tom’s words in my head loud and clear—Send it in! Send it in! Send it in! I listened and mailed the entry that day. I got pretty excited when the first place notice and check arrived in my mailbox.
Time passed, and I wrote memoirs, inspirational articles, children’s stories and articles on the craft of writing. I didn’t let them stack up in my files. I submitted them to many places. My work has appeared in several anthologies, paying websites, magazines and newspapers. I still get rejections, but they don’t bother me as much now. I revise and submit elsewhere. Quite often, as I send a submission via e-mail or stamp a snail mail envelope addressed to an editor, I hear Tom’s voice with a clarity that makes it very real. “Send it in! Send it in! Send it in!”
Not everyone in that first critique group followed Tom’s advice. Some allowed stories and articles to pile up in a file of unpublished work. As for me, I took advantage of the best writing advice I’ve ever had, and I’m still reaping the benefits.