This week writer pal and regular Writing Boots reader Jennifer Wah was informed by her client, "Fuck you can write, lady."
She thought that was pretty good. Me too.
I can't think of the best thing I ever heard from an editor or a reader, maybe because I've never heard anything more memorable than the borrowed old line I used to use to promote myself: I'm better than writers who are faster than me and faster than writers who are better than me.
Yes, an early editor once called my writing style "lively," and that sounded both good and true. But the earliest complements always stick the longest, partly because later, all the compliments come in great showers. You get a thousand "proud to know yous" the day an article comes out and they bead on your temporarily inflated ego, and then run off into the next day, when the empty screen is asking you, "Have we met?"
The compliments a writer is more likely to remember are the ones that seem like faint praise. Chicago novelist Nelson Algren called a young Chicago columnist Mike Royko's writing "visceral." And Royko concluded, "That means he thinks I'm dumb."
So writerly happiness, in its rare instances, should be celebrated by all communicators. And shared.
The oral historian Studs Terkel often recounted the moment when a woman he had just interviewed in a South Side housing project heard the playback on his tape recorder and said, "I never knew I felt that way before."
George Plimpton once met a young man who confessed he had read only one book his whole life. To Plimpton's delight, the book happened to be one of his. "Do you ever think you'll read another book?" Plimpton asked the man, who shrugged and replied, "I dunno. You written anything else?"
My writer dad's favorite was a guy who told him, "That's exactly what I'd-a said if I could-a laid tongue to it."
What's the best thing you ever heard in response to your writing?
(Or the worst. You know a copyediting job I did was once described by its victim as "subfecal.")