When I visited my parents last week, they asked me to go through a box of things from my old bedroom (now an office). Mixed in with the high school marching band drill charts and trophies I got for participating in one year of various rec sports throughout elementary school was a folder from my early writing days.

I finished my first novel when I was seventeen. After seeking feedback from some friends who wrote and an extremely kind English teacher, I decided to try to publish it.

At the time, I had only my Writer’s Digest magazines to guide me. This was before the days of query tracker and agent blogs and even email queries. I went out and bought the latest edition of Writer’s Market and poured through the hundreds of fine print listings to find agents who represented YA fantasy writers. I chose five agents, wrote a query letter and synopsis using the samples in Writer’s Market as my guides, and printed all the materials and sample pages each agent requested. I bought full-sized envelopes and went to the post office to have my queries weighed so I could be sure to include enough postage.

Querying was a lot tougher back then.

I waited several weeks. Then, slowly, my SASEs started coming back with form rejections. Though the rejections were disappointing, I didn’t let myself get too upset by them. I’d written a book. I’d taken it seriously, and people who’d been in the business for years were taking me seriously. (Rejecting me, yes, but with the same professional courtesy they used to reject older, more experienced writers.)

But the best response I got came from an agent who included a handwritten note in the margin of her agency’s form rejection:

“I love to encourage young writers. While your work is not really ready for publication, it is a fantastic piece of writing for someone your age. Keep honing your chops and if you want to submit future fantasy novels, I’ll be waiting!”

Handwritten note.

Handwritten note on one of my first rejections.

These three sentences were some of the best encouragement I received as a young writer. I wasn’t devastated that she’d said my book wasn’t ready for publication. I’d read Writer’s Digest; I knew few people published their first novel. To get a personalized not from a literary agent felt huge.

Those first rejections encouraged me to keep writing. Years after I received that handwritten note, I still think of it every time I feel frustrated or stuck. I doubt that agent has any idea how much her words impacted a young writer, but I hope someday to be able to thank her and all the others — agents, writers, teachers, librarians, family, and friends — who have encouraged me to keep writing.

Who or what has encouraged you as a writer? Please share in the comments!


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