Yesterday as I diligently worked to finish my novel at my writing partner’s house, her frozen pipes let loose. Water gushed from three broken pipes, and I was immediately thrust from novel writing into crisis management. The plumber wouldn’t come. The water shut-off valve for the 140-year-old church-turned-home-and-art-gallery was under a crawl space no one could reach, and water from the upstairs art gallery dripped into the downstairs kitchen while another hole in the crawl space below spewed water upwards flooding the kitchen floor. Finally, after 45 minutes and a whole lot of begging, the fire chief and several volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene to stop the influx of water.
Then the sopping and mopping began.
And poof. There went my novel, floating out the door.
As I drove back to my friend’s house last night to sort through soaked paperwork and help her regain some semblance of order, I was reminded of how friends stepped in to help my mom when my dad had a stroke a few years ago. I was only able to leave my life and children in New England for a couple of days to assist my parents; the remainder of the help (managing the daily functioning of their farmhouse, feeding and watering the draught horses my father owned at the time, and prioritizing the influx of medical paperwork) came from neighbors and friends. I was so very grateful for their presence.
And while at the moment I’m desperate to finish my novel, there was never a question of what I would and will do for my writing partner. She has been a rock, supporting my writing endeavors for the past several years. While I’m not paying her back for the writing support she has provided me, I feel I am paying it forward from the crisis management my own family dealt with a few years ago.
I’m struck by how we pay things forward in our everyday lives, but I also believe it is an essential part of being writers and illustrators. A few years ago I had the opportunity to chat with Tomie dePaolo and thank him for attending a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. When I commented how much his words of encouragement meant to our membership, he said that when he was beginning his career, this type of support organization didn’t exist. Artists and writers were on their own.
True, we are privileged to have a plethora of opportunities to network with other writers and illustrators. Although Tomie and I didn’t have a chance to discuss this further, I’m quite certain he had his own network of close friends and colleagues who encouraged him and bolstered his career. And he has offered that same gift to other writers and illustrators throughout his long, successful career. And those he’s encouraged? Well, I’m quite certain they are helping the next generation of newbies get started.
So as we journey forward in our careers, let us continue to be open to those who encourage us—but also be aware of the small moments when we might be able to buoy someone who needs a special word of encouragement (or a few extra towels to soak up water in a flooded kitchen!). Those individuals might be on the verge of giving up—as many of us have felt from time to time. The whole concept of paying it forward means that we won’t necessarily help those who supported us or help them in the same exact way, but we can bolster those who come behind us and who need our encouragement. We will all achieve our career aspirations—and the journey will be much more enjoyable if we make it together.
Happy New Year!