Earlier this year, I wrote a short story for a joy-themed anthology, and I thought it was pretty good. Quite good, in fact. I even had a gorgeous title: Dancing in the Rain.
Then I sent it to my conference mom for critique.
My happy little bubble popped with a resounding bang and lay in goopy puddles at my feet.
To paraphrase Sarah-Mom: “I was confused. Is there a theme? You have too many characters and not enough focus. You should scrap this and write a totally new story.”
Me while pressing my hands to my temples and really hating her for about three seconds: “But … but …”
We both got on Pinterest and typed “joy” in the search bar. She messaged me pictures until I found one that niggled at my brain:
Then, like I wasn’t stressed enough, she told me to go completely out of my normal writing style (epic fantasy in third person, past tense) and write from the front lady on the right’s point of view. In first person, present tense.
She was right, though, (she usually is) about needing to write a different story, so I said I’d give it a go. I was sitting there arguing with myself that I wasn’t good enough and I shouldn’t be a writer anyway, and I told her that, too.
Maybe she’s a blunt, sarcastic jerk face, but she cares. She told me I WAS good enough. She wouldn’t have challenged me otherwise. Now I needed to go write that story, and she’d check back in an hour.
Head spinning, I plunked my hands on my keyboard and typed. The story was awkward at first and I only had a vague idea of where I wanted it to go, but the more I wrote, the more fun it became. I was grinning by the end. I just had time to make some quick edits before my hour was up.
Sarah-Mom liked it. I edited it, sent it to her again, and edited it some more. I had to kill a few darlings, but it got better and better. Then it was done, and I’d written a decent story in one night. If we didn’t live two and a half hours from each other, we would’ve high-fived. Actually, I probably would’ve hugged her, and she would’ve smiled and hugged back really hard.
I wanted to called it “Keep Your Skirts Down”, and she loved that title, but we both thought it wasn’t the best bet for this anthology. It became “Riding in the Front Seat”, and it’s going to be published in the anthology, which is coming out this winter.
When I told Sarah-Mom it got accepted, my phone screen was flooded with grinning emojis, like twelve exclamation points after “I’m so proud of you, kid”, and a random sticker of a cow dancing with fireworks. We were giddy for the rest of the day.
That’s not the end. One of my friends from church read it and basically commanded me to enter it in the fair. After checking to make sure I could (this was after it got accepted), I printed it out and turned it in.
Today my biological mom and I went to the fair. We walked into the blessedly air-conditioned exhibit building, veering toward the writing entries.
And my little story won Best of Division.
As Sarah-Mom said after I messaged the picture to her, “Once upon a time, a very evil (and mean) Sarah-Mom told her not-child she could do better. And guess what? She DID!!!!!”
Yup, I did, thanks to my mean, evil non-mom body shoving me off the cliff so I could spread my wings.
Now I’m gonna go write. Yeah, I’ll make mistakes and get rejected and write some awful stories. But I’ll learn from those mistakes and move forward. Between rejection letters, I’ll get acceptance letters. I’ll edit and hone my craft and edit and write lots of words and edit and make good stories. Maybe even brilliant ones.
And Sarah-Mom? The best part was seeing your joy in my success. I hope I bless you as much as you do me.