Guest post from FaithWords author Billy Coffey, whose debut novel Snow Day was published on October 11, 2010.
I found the gift when I walked upstairs over the weekend to begin this piece. Sitting here on my desk waiting for me, propped up against my notebook and held in place by my pen.
I flipped on the desk lamp and settled into my chair, then unfolded the piece of paper. The neat, balloon-like words of half script and half cursive seemed to reach out and peck me on the cheek:
Don’t work yourself too hard tonight! I found this book in the attic. I wondered if you ever saw it or read it. I’m pretty sure you need it since you are almost officially an author now. Just as a heads up it looks like a really old book. Some of the pages fell out. I stuffed them back in there. It’s the Second Edition. I wonder if you have the First Edition. Anyway you might need it sometime. Remember don’t stay up too late and again don’t work yourself too hard. I Love You!!!
The word “love” had been written again at the bottom of the page in an eight-year-old’s attempt at Elizabethan flourish. My daughter had signed her name below that and added a pencil-drawn heart beside it.
Beneath the letter was the treasure she had rooted out from the attic—an ancient grammar book, the origins of which escaped me. I noticed the font of the cover mimicked the “love” she used for her complimentary close. I ran a finger over the title—The Confident Writer.
That my daughter managed not only to find the book but write this letter, place it here for me to find, and then sneak back downstairs without spoiling the surprise is a testament to her resourcefulness. Also to her understanding of her father. I sat the paper aside and turned my attention to the book. After all, she was right. I may indeed need it.
It was all there in those 525 pages—nouns and verbs and sentence structure. Punctuation and prepositions. Referential words and phrases. Everything anyone would ever need in order to become an “official author.”
Most everything, anyway. Because while all the nuts and bolts of proper writing were there in abundance, the most important things were not.
It’s said that writers are a notoriously fragile lot, given to fits of everything from low self-esteem to a worry that borders on paranoia. I won’t say that’s all completely true, but it’s not completely false. There are a great many rewards that can come by living your life from the inside out and scribbling down what you find along the way. But there are drawbacks, too. Every profession has its hazards, myriad ways to be banged up and injured and sickened. The only difference between writers and most everyone else is that our welts and abrasions lie hidden beneath the skin. They’re visible, but only to us and only when viewed through the nearest mirror.
That is why we look for comfort wherever we can and lean upon our loved ones and those who work for our success. Small acts such as my daughter’s note beside me become life preservers of sorts, something to tether us to a safe harbor and keep us from drifting into murky waters. To accept them and then offer your own small acts in return is all the proof you need that putting pen to paper may at times be an exercise in isolation, but never in loneliness. That, I think, is how a confident writer is made.
And that is why I’m setting the book in front of me aside. It won’t go back into the attic, but neither will it stay on my desk. It will instead remain close at hand, ready to offer another nut or bolt to whatever story I build.
This letter, though.
That stays here. Right here next to me, where my eyes can wander to it. Where my lamp can cast its glow upon these balloon-like words and I can trace this pencil-drawn heart with a finger.
Billy Coffey was raised on stories. The first ones came on the front porches of relatives, tales laced with local charm and deep meaning. Then came the stories from people like Max Lucado and Robert Fulghum, who write with a charm and deep meaning of their own. He lives with his wife and two children in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. If you drive by his house, you’ll probably spot him on the front porch. If you do, give him a wave. He’ll wave back. You can find him online at BillyCoffey.com