Not long ago, my dear friend Sherry paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. She called me her “Barnabas.” In its Greek origins, the name means “the encourager,” and taken from the Biblical book of Acts (4:36), the word translates as “son of encouragement,” or in a linear translation, it roughly describes “calling people closer together and giving stronger comfort.” The Hebrew word translates to “son of exhortation” or “son of comfort.” I love any of the meanings and am truly humbled that my friend thinks that of me.
I first met Sherry many years ago when she registered for a fiction writing workshop I taught at our local university. She and four other members from that group stood out above all the rest in terms of their writing. I was amazed, ecstatic, awed, and excited for each of them as they fine-tuned and perfected their already incredible stories. It’s not often we come across that many exceptional writers in a random group of workshop participants.
Over the years, Sherry and Peg, another member of that same workshop, became treasured friends and writing pals. We now have a close, supportive critique group that has proven beyond any doubt how valuable it is to have knowledgeable and committed members who care about one another’s goals.
I know, and have heard other writers (even very famous ones) state the same,: that support and caring can be rare in some writing circles. I’ve never understood why that is, but I am certainly not the only writer who has run up against the self-centeredness and competiveness so often at the heart of artists. It’s almost as if some writers fear that if they share information or knowledge or contacts that in some way, their own access to that will be denied them. But if our work as artists is professional, good, and marketable, why and how does helping others damage our own opportunities? I don’t get it.
I have made it a conscious practice to share information on workshops, agents, publishers’ “want lists,” contests, marketing tools, venues for promotion, and any other helpful and encouraging information with any author I’ve made contact with and who might be able to use the information. But so many writers do not reciprocate or pay it forward. As long as their books are selling, as long as they have an agent, a publisher, or know of a contest or marketing venue for their own books, they keep that info tightly held. Again, I don’t get it.
Those kinds of writers are takers. They are not givers, not supporters, not encouragers, not comforters. They are not Barnabasses (not sure that’s a real word, ha!) And they are not the kinds of authors with whom we need to associate.
I urge each of you to search your own vast knowledge of the writing craft and business. Share contacts, contest info, publishing opportunities, agent names, and marketing venues. Write reviews of their books on all available sites. Give books as gifts. Recommend good reads to your friends. Most of all, offer encouragement to new writers. We all have something we can share, something we can pay forward. Share with others who may or may not be able to help you, but who one day may remember the helping hand you offered and offer theirs to another.
Please be a Barnabas.