My husband and I went with friends to see the new “Little Women” movie, last night. It was wonderful, but, oh, the memories and emotions it stirred up for me! I could so relate to Jo’s longing as a young writer to create stories and to be published.
I cried with her when her sister burned her manuscript in the fire. I once lost several chapters after a power outage in the days before computers had automatic back-ups. I stormed down the street to where a team from the power company was working and screamed at them in outrage. “Ma’am . . . ma’am . . . we didn’t cause it,” they pleaded. I still wonder if they lied, fearing for their lives.
I felt Jo’s pain and humiliation as she listened to a blunt critique of her work, remembering the first time I sat down with a professional editor at a writers’ conference and heard him critique the first chapter of my novel. I felt as though he’d run my manuscript through a paper shredder! Both of those editors were probably right in what they said, but their words had the power to pierce a writer’s fragile heart. I confess that even after twenty-some books, I’ve never gotten used to critiques, and still have to steel myself to hear them, even though I know they may improve my work.
I watched the magazine editor in the film draw slash marks through Jo’s short story, saying he would publish it if she made extensive cuts, and I knew how she felt as she struggled to decide. The first article of mine that a publisher ever took an interest in was about 1400 words long. This editor (of a very well-known magazine) said he would publish it if I cut it down to 250 words and turned it into mere bullet points. It was a difficult decision, but I finally agreed. Painful, but I was a published author at last!
I understood Jo’s broken heart when she burned her own work and decided to give up writing. I gave up, too, after waiting nearly a year to learn whether or not a publishing company would print my manuscript, only to have it rejected and returned to me in a garbage bag. The garbage bag wasn’t the publisher’s idea—the mailing box had disintegrated on the return trip and the post office had dumped the pages into a trash bag for the remainder of the journey. Even so, I tossed out the bag and all 400 typewritten pages and gave up writing.
Tears ran down my face when Jo clasped her newly-published book to her chest as if it was her beloved child. I did the same when holding my first book in my hands for the first time. In fact, I carried that book with me everywhere, barely able to take my eyes off of it. I put it on my nightstand before I went to bed so I would see it first thing in the morning and know that it hadn’t been a dream.
Yes, I could relate to Jo’s roller-coaster ride as she wrestled with her calling as a writer and pursued her dream of being published. Her sisters, who had different dreams, also struggled to pursue them in a culture that diminished and marginalized women. Nourishing our dreams and becoming the person God created us to be is a favorite theme in my novels and inspirational speeches because I know the joy of discovering and living into God’s calling, even when the journey is long and painful and offers many opportunities to give up. But whether you’re a writer or not, I urge everyone to see the movie and to think about your own dreams. The start of a new year is the perfect time to partner with God and renew your resolve to pursue them.