First First Reader

Writers are all different. Some are extremely needy, some move so eagerly and completely into their next project they seem to barely care about their old work being read. Mark me down for a big fat the former. For a while, friends would visit and I would hand them something of mine to read and all but perch on their shoulders waiting to hear what they thought. Back in the day, if you were someone kind enough to ask about my writing, you probably got a story shoved into your hands the next time you saw me. At least ten people at my old restaurant job read a Simpsons episode I wrote (as practice) because I was so relentlessly excited about it they couldn’t escape. I’ve gotten much better. Although, in my opinion, expecting a writer to exist without being read is like expecting an infant to grow up healthy without any love.

Probably every writer and really anyone who pursues creating art has a handful of stories of how they almost quit and why they didn’t. I’m not sure they have merit, most of them. If you didn’t quit because some event or person stopped you from quitting, who is to say another event or person wouldn’t have come along to keep you from quitting, later on? Who is to say you didn’t seek out something that would be the encouragement you needed? At what point, do you give yourself the credit for pushing through disappointment and keeping at it?

I can make that argument for all of my “near quits” except for one. I don’t think I would have survived my first year as a writer without Allisyn as my first first reader, which is why she is the first person I thank in the acknowledgements section of my book. Allisyn read the opening chapters of Flowers on Concrete, page by page–paragraph by paragraph in some cases–as my neediness left me more anxious to be read than to keep writing. She instinctively managed to give the exact feedback my writing needed at that stage, she showed excitement in the story, in where it might be going. When I was desperate for someone to care, she did.

Many people in my life, sometimes from the most unexpected sources, encouraged my writing, and I am planning future acknowledgement posts to those people, but no one did more at a time when it must have been a terrible strain to read through that early writing and find a story of value. These were what Anne LaMott would call “shitty first drafts” and they were “shitty first drafts” from a beginning writer, but Allisyn always found things to like. I never felt like I was being deceived because I don’t think she was deceiving me. I think she looked hard for what was good in those early drafts. She said she wanted to wait and read chapter by chapter, at one point, and I’ll never forget we were down at Pioneer Square in Seattle, drinking and playing pool, and I spilled the surprise I had planned for then chapter five, now chapter four. I hadn’t even started it, yet. I was only outlining in my head and I needed to share my idea. Her excitement and mine reverberated off each other, and in that way, she helped me write it.

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