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A Friendly Hand on the Shoulder

The other day, I ran across a post written by Alycia W. Morales for the Write Conversation blog. Titled "50 Best Tips for Writers," it featured quotations from some great, well-known authors and several lesser- (or little-) known ones.



One of the quotations was, "The best authors are those who cheer on those behind them and put their hands on the backs of those in front of them" (Blythe Daniel).


The other quotation: "Have a servant's heart. It's not all about you. Have a generous spirit that helps other writers along their writing journey, too. Writing is a collaborative partnership--you, God and others" (Lisa Carter).


Those two quotations made me think immediately of several people who exemplify those very traits, people who have helped and encouraged me on my writing journey.


The first article I ever had published was the result of some blunt words from my wife. After an especially frustrating day in the classroom, I wrote down my feelings, and then I read them to my wife. She commiserated with me but left it there. I set the notebook aside, but every few days thereafter, I would add to that initial draft, unburdening other expressions of frustration. It became a sort of therapeutic form of release for me. After each writing session, I would read the whole thing aloud to my wife.


One day, after she had experienced her own classroom frustrations, she had heard enough.


"I don't want to hear any more of that!" she exclaimed emphatically. "Either send it off to someone or keep it to yourself, but I don't want to hear anymore!"


That hurt. My ego was badly bruised. But sometimes solutions to problems are painful even if effective. Diseases sometimes require bitter medicine or difficult surgeries to be cured. And sometimes writers need a not-so-gentle nudge.


Not to be totally shut down, I submitted the article, which I titled "Help Wanted: Laborers," to The Freeman, an economics journal to which I subscribed. In hindsight, it wasn't the best possible market (I knew nothing about market research at the time), but it was the right topic at the right time for the right person. It struck editor Paul Poirot as "an inspiring message," and he published it. That was the first of 10 or so articles I subsequently wrote for that journal.


Next, Dr. Charles Walker of the American and Tennessee associations of Christian schools (AACS and TACS) published the first article I ever submitted to the Journal for Christian Educators, of which he was the editor. He encouraged me to continue submitting articles to him, which I did. He published at least 40 of them and hired me for several editing projects on which he was working.


Dr. Walker's son, Dr. Brian Walker, continued to employ my writing services after his father retired. I had edited an academic paper or two for him when he was working on his doctorate, and I had contributed sporadically to the quarterly Parent Update, another publication edited by the senior Dr. Walker. The younger Walker increased my involvement with Parent Update by asking me to write two articles a year for it. To date, I have written at least 14 such articles and have two more in the research stage for the 2024-25 school year.


The late Dr. Gerald Carlson provided encouragement by hiring me to provide writing and editorial support on several curriculum-revision projects for Positive Action for Christ (aka ProTeens). Even after he retired and right up until a few weeks before he passed, he continued to encourage my writing.





Dr. Carl Abrams was instrumental in prompting me to research and write what would become my first book, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries (McFarland, 2016). The success of that book led to my next two books, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies and Evangelism and Expulsion: Missionary Work among the Cherokees until Removal (TouchPoint, 2021 and 2022, respectively). All of these books, by the way, are available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats.


Perhaps the most encouraging encouragement most recently has come from a fellow blogger and family historian in Iowa, Joy Neal Kidney. We met online as a result of our books and blogs, and she has since offered invaluable support by offering words of encouragement, making guest "appearances" on my blog, beta reading pre-publication manuscripts, sharing information about my books on her blog, nudging me to contribute to the national Our American Stories radio broadcast with host Lee Habib, and gaining me an invitation to be interviewed by Mark Prasek on PJNet.tv. And I'm by no means the only writer she encourages; there are many other beneficiaries of her counsel, advice, and words of cheer. All that in addition to her own writing efforts amid the problems incident to the fibromyalgia with which she suffers.


From caustic criticisms to gentle nudges to bold invitations, all of these people have been partially responsible for whatever success I've gained as a writer. And such it is, I believe, for all writers if they're honest. We all stand on the shoulders of encouragement provided by others.


Although I'm grateful for such encouragers, the quotations with which I began this post make me wonder if I've done the same for anyone else. Have you?


It reminds me of the following poem by James Whitcomb Riley:


When a man ain't got a cent, and he's feeling kind o' blue,

An' the clouds hang dark an' heavy, an' won't let the sunshine through,

It's a great thing, O, my brethren, for a feller just to lay

His hand upon your shoulder in a friendly sort o' way.


It makes a man feel curious, it makes the teardrops start,

An' you sort o' feel a flutter in the region of the heart;

You can look up and meet his eyes; you don't know what to say

When his hand is on your shoulder in a friendly sort o' way.


Oh, the world's a curious compound, with its honey and its gall,

With its cares and bitter crosses, but a good world, after all.

An' a good God must have made it--leastways, that is what I say,

When a hand is on my shoulder in a friendly sort o' way.

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