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Giving Thanks: Novel Writing Prep Series Part 2

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.

Have you ever done that?  Thankfully, I’ve never done it with a present, but I’ve purchased plenty of cards that have gone unsent because they get lost in the jumble of mail and bills and life.  The cards pile up in a stack and months later, I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember the intended recipient. 

In life we rely on people every day.  Some give us simple things like delivering our mail to driving our children to school on buses. Others give us so much more by offering a late night phone call or a shoulder to lean on.  For all of these things, little and big, I try my best to offer up thanks. 

As writers we rely on hundreds of people to get us from “Once upon a time” to “The End.”  Most of the time we don’t even realize the breadth of people who have helped until we start ticking them off on our mental thank you list.  We work for months on a manuscript and finally crack open the champagne after typing “The End.”  It’s only then that we begin to reminisce about all of the people who helped along the way.  Or do we?  Can you even remember the list of people who buoyed your spirits or gave you that little-known fact that changed the entire course of Chapter 12?

This summer I finished the final edits on a non-fiction book.  After finishing the text, I sat down to compile my bibliography and a list of acknowledgements.  It was a disaster.  I was completely fried after months of writing, and the last thing I wanted to do was reach into the far crevices of my brain to remember every source and then make sure I spelled all of their names correctly. 

Today’s tip sounds self-explanatory – and perhaps like putting the cart before the horse – but there is nothing more important in the life of a writer than giving thanks to those who have carried us along.  It’s not that I didn’t want to thank all of those people who spent countless hours allowing me into their homes to interview them.  I wanted to thank them more than anything, but it took a while as I pieced together the last 18 months of my writing life.

So, before you even type “Once upon a time,” before you even hit Save As on the first paragraph of your new work, start a list.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  I use an Excel spreadsheet (because I love nerdy things like spreadsheets).  The list consists of first and last name (spelled correctly because I asked while I had the source on the phone), way in which that person helped me (provided a fact about mental health records for adolescents), phone number and email address (in case my notes don’t make any sense when I get around to using them) and date of contact.  I know this sounds incredibly Type-A (especially for a work of fiction), but trust me when I say you’ll thank me later.

When you finish the manuscript and set out to write the Author’s Note, you’ll be glad that you have this simple document at your fingertips.  “But what if my book doesn’t have an author’s note or what if it never gets published?” you ask. It doesn’t matter.  Unless you live the life of a hermit in the middle of the Serengeti, at least one other person is bound to know that you’ve spent the last year of your  life on a book.  Maybe that person is your nosy neighbor who flags you down every day to ask, “Have you sold your book yet?”  And why would you want to thank that person who reminds you every day that your list of rejection letters is growing? You have to admit, that even though your neighbor’s questions drove you crazy, they made you feel the tiniest bit more accountable about getting that manuscript finished and continuing your quest to sell your book.

Maybe you’ll never get to write that page that thanks your undyingly dedicated editor and your ridiculously handsome husband.  Maybe you’ll never send a bottle of Dom Perignon to your agent celebrating the closing of your four-book deal. But you can send a quick thank you note to that nosy neighbor and all those others who helped along the way.  Writing is a lonely enough vocation/avocation.  Why not take the time to express some gratitude to the community who supported your efforts.  And who knows, that nosy neighbor might make the perfect victim in your next thriller.

How do you thank the people who help you complete your writing?  Homemade cookies?  Hand drawn thank you notes? Characters named after them?

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice read and good advice, especially about the nosy neighbor! 😉

    November 1, 2011
  2. Sara, first…thank you for telling me and the rest of the world about NaNoWriMo. It’s almost 6 am and I got up at four and popped out my first chapter…over 2,000 words. I am just getting into your blog a little bit, but what I’ve read so far, I love! I wish I had a little more time to spend in it, but I will definitely be reading as much of yours as I can. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful links to tips, etc. What a gal!

    November 1, 2011
    • Elizabeth, that’s a huge accomplisment. Congratuations on a great start to NaNoWriMo. I wish I could be that productive from 4-6 a.m. You’re an inspiration.

      November 1, 2011
  3. This is good, thank you. I often think of people who have helped me along the way, people who have fed my spirit or my mind, given me important information, pointed me in the right direction, expressed curiosity that fired my own imagination. I’ve never thought of listing them out on a spread sheet though, that is fascinating to me. I love it, I really do.

    And guess what, I do have a gorgeous gift wrapped and yet undelivered sitting on the coffee table in my living room. I kid you not. It’s for my newest baby niece. Inside the package is the softest bunny rabbit I’ve ever felt, and a copy of one of my favorite children’s books, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Crazy, huh?

    November 1, 2011
  4. Terrific post! I like to send unexpected thank you’s to all sorts of people, like the school bus driver who helped out my son at the beginning of the year, the tech from the vet who called just to check on our dog, etc. As far as my writing goes, a few good friends that are my first readers have been surprised with gifts of candles, wonderfully scented soap, paperweights, and other small tokens. I bet I’ll be picking up quite a few for friends (including my husband and kids), if we all survive NaNoWriMo!

    November 1, 2011
    • You’re right about that. I try to remember how much my husband and kids sacrifice when I’m in the thick of writing. When I was finishing final edits on a non-fiction book this summer, anytime the words, “Mommy needs to work on her book,” came up my kids would cringe. It was a tough lesson to teach. I want them to respect me for my own work, but I also understand how important my time with them is. I gave them lots of hugs and thanks for being such good “writing partners” to me. Thanks for stopping by.

      November 1, 2011
  5. hndbff1999 #

    Thats a good idea. Ive never really thought of stuff like that. huh…

    November 1, 2011
  6. Thanks for the advice lovely!

    November 1, 2011
  7. Good article Sara. A few years ago I tool stock of all the people who are there for me in all aspects of life and how grateful I am for them and to them. I too realized that without expressing it, that gratitude was the unopened gift. I now regularly tell or correspond to people how grateful of them I am.

    BTW: I’m grateful that I somehow found your informative and entertaining blog.

    November 2, 2011
    • That’s so nice, Werner. I accept your virtual gift of thanks. Consider it opened! 🙂

      November 2, 2011

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  1. Planner or Pantser? A novel writing prep series that might help… | Sara Toole Miller – Fiction & Non-Fiction Writer

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