In 2004, I was a big eyed, quiet, never quite fitting in 13 year old. I hid in the library during lunch, wrote stories inspired by whatever book I was reading and had a close friendship with the librarian. Books were an escape from a hectic homelife and Neal Shusterman’s work was my favorite place to run to.
When the school announced they had invited Shusterman for a talk on writing, the librarian knew how much I loved his books, and snuck me in to the advanced class’s private talk with him. Now, I doubt he remembers me. In fact, I’m positive he doesn’t. I was one girl, in one small town Texas middle school, out of hundreds he’s gone to. He met me for maybe five minutes, but those five minutes changed my life more than he’ll ever know.
Sitting in the back of the room, I hung on every word he said. Here was my favorite author, an idol in the eyes a eighth grader, the person who created all the books I loved. A real writer.
When he finished his talk, I lingered behind a long line to get his autograph. Unlike the other kids who rushed to greet him, however, I didn’t have one of his books in hand. I had five pages of a story I wrote.
I didn’t know why I brought those pages then, and still don’t know why it was so important now, but when I walked up to him, I held them out and said. “Full Tilt’s my favorite book. I want to be a writer, but I’m not very good.”
He could’ve just laughed, or told me to head out because I was one of the last kids of the day. Instead, he smiled and said something to me I’ll never forget. “I bet it’s great! Be proud of your work. If you keep it up, you’ll be a writer one day. You just need to practice and never give up.”
I was shocked. He was the first adult to ever tell me that. No one, not my mother or father, not teachers, no one encouraged me to write.
It was just five minutes of his life, and four sentences he probably told a lot of kids, but that was all it took for him to encourage a shy kid who didn’t have faith in her work.
I’m 27 now, and last month I started sending my first novel to agents. I have to say, wherever Neal Shusterman is, I thank him. He said the words I didn’t know I needed, but that I still cherish to this day.
If you’re an artist of any medium, don’t underestimate how your words can help a child. You never know how much they might need that little push of encouragement.
Which author changed your writing life? Who do you have to thank for helping you get where you are today?