“You Didn’t Build That”

Four little words taken out of context have caused quite a stir. I’m not about to wade into the current POTUS campaign, but I think it’s sad that the meaning of  the President’s remarks have been twisted into something he never intended. His point is that whatever we achieve individually didn’t happen without some kind of help from others.

Peggy Moss Fielding

I’m working now on what will become my 17th published novel. I’m the one sitting at the computer every day churning out scenes and chapters, but I wasn’t born knowing how to write a novel.  I had help. From Jack Bickham and Dwight Swain in  the  Short Course in Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma.  And from the woman pictured here.

I first met Peggy Moss Fielding in 1992 in a fiction writing class in Dallas. Along with about a dozen other writing hopefuls, I crowded into a friend’s apartment for a five day class with Peg,  unaware that the lessons I’d learn from her would launch my career. And also unaware that the woman seated next to me, Leanna Wilson would become my best friend.

For the entire week, we wrote and read and received on-the-spot feedback from Peggy. Eyes closed, head thrown back, she seemed to be reading our words on the back of her eyelids. When we finished, she would quote back to us at length and verbatim, the parts of the piece she thought were good, and the parts that needed work. She told us the truth, even when it hurt.

Peggy gave us a crash course in the markets, how to write a query, how to interest an agent, all in a way that blended humor with her top-notch writing and editing skills. Leanna and I came away from her class with our heads full of PMF gems that we quoted back to one another for years. One of our favorites was “Just write and don’t worry about an agent. When you need an agent, one will swim by.” Turned out she was right.

One of our fellow classmates, a guy named Ed, worried about what would happen if  two editors wanted his work at the same time. “If that ever happens,” Peggy said, “call me and I’ll treat you to a steak dinner.” It has happened to me a couple of times, but PMF and I were always living too far apart to chow down at Saltgrass Steaks.

A couple of years after that class both  Leanna and I sold our first books. After we called each other with the news, we called Peg. She was as happy for us as we were. Through many years she was a source of information, encouragement, and support. She advised us on markets and recommended us to agents and commiserated with us when projects were rejected, or when the reviews were not as stellar as we hoped.

Writing is not a career for the faint of heart. There are usually more disappointments than triumphs. Many times along the way, even after I was published, I wanted to give up. But Leanna’s encouragement, and Peggy’s, kept me going. Great editors at Random House, Holiday House, Simon and Schuster, and Thomas Nelson offered support and advice. Talented and caring agents guided my choices and went  to bat for me with projects they believed in. Fellow authors helped get the word out about my books, shared signing opportunities, nominated my books for awards. Librarians and booksellers championed my work to their patrons and customers. Readers recommended my books to their families and friends.

So. Did I build a career that has lasted twenty years? Yes. But I didn’t build it alone. Regardless of the field, individuals who have succeeded have had people  like Leanna and PMF in their lives, too. We don’t achieve success all alone. That’s all the President was trying to say.

Who has helped you in reaching for your dreams? Have you acknowledged their contributions to your success?


6 thoughts on ““You Didn’t Build That”

  1. Leanna Ellis

    Hi, Dorothy! I’ll never forget the encouragement you gave me when I sat next to you on that couch as we listened to Peggy…and throughout the years. Love you!

  2. Carla

    Hi Dorothy – I heard my roommate Cathy Richmond, speak so highly of you at ACFW. As I’m wont to do on a rainy Saturday, I’m sorting through loop emails and surfing the web and somehow ended up here. I live in the same city as Peggy and was delighted to read of your experience with her. She is a dear soul, one who has been one of the brushstrokes on the canvas of my writing career. I’ve spent many an evening on the sofa in her little home under her instruction, and when I was president of a local writers’ group, she would often call me to offer encouragement or a morsel of advice. You are right. This is not a path we travel alone. We are sojourners and helpers to one another. I’ll give Peggy an extra hug the next time I see her.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Carla,

      What a blast to find another of Peggy’s students twenty years on. She is a force of nature and I am so delighted to have had her in my life. Do give her a hug for me when you see her. Thanks so much for stopping by A Southern Journal.

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