Billy Coffey
Billy Coffey

Waiting for applause

April 30, 2012  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

The other day my wife found a notebook tucked beneath a pile of kindergarten papers and rainy day projects. It was my daughter’s. Her first notebook, as a matter of fact. With chewed corners and squiggly lines instead of sentences.

She’s a chip off the old block, my little girl—equal parts bookworm, nerd, dreamer, and writer. That last bit has taken hold over the last few years. She wants to be a writer, just like her daddy. I’m good with this.

This past week, she had the honor of attending a gathering of county elementary school students known as Young Authors, which included a genuine flesh-and-blood children’s writer. Maybe even cooler than that, each student had to write his or her own story that would be read during the event.

This was big stuff. Important stuff.

My daughter worked for three weeks on her story. She wrote and rewrote, edited and cut, pasted and revised. And fretted. There was a lot of fretting. That’s when I figured she was closer to becoming a real writer than I’d thought. The result was nearly seven hundred words concerning a Middle Ages princess who found herself in very deep trouble.

I wasn’t there when she read it, but I received the blow-by-blow later that evening between sniffles and those wet, whispery hiccups young girls tend to develop in the midst of an emotional breakdown.

It wasn’t because she faltered while reciting her story, nor was the story itself horrible (on the contrary, I was quite smitten with it). No, it was something else. Something much, much worse.

No one applauded at the end.

That no one applauded for any of the other stories offered seemed to me an extremely relevant fact. Not so to her. To her, it didn’t matter at all that none of the other children’s stories was met with adulation. All that mattered was that HERS didn’t.

She was crushed, wholly and completely. Ruined to the point where she vowed to never write a single word again. The simple act of writing hurt itself, she said. But writing without applause at the end? That was a pain beyond description, one that could only be expressed by sniffles and wet, whispery hiccups.

That’s when I knew my daughter wasn’t just close to becoming a writer, she was actually on the precipice. She was there, mere steps away.

There are things writers are supposed to say when asked why they do what they do. They say it’s because they want to define the world, and once that’s done, change it. They say its because there is a story in them that begs telling. They say it’s because writing is their ministry or their passion or their calling.

And yet while those things may be true in some respect, the plain fact is that all of it is mostly bull. Because deep down in places we’d rather keep shadowed, we’re really doing it for the applause at the end.

Despite whatever sin we think this involves, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Writing is work. Hard, sweaty, painful work. It is what Hemmingway called “hard and clear about what hurts.” It is the tilling of the packed soil within us, the dredging up of our angers and fears not so we may hide them further, but so we may show them to the world.

The applause we seek isn’t for that; we do not want to be congratulated for our valor. No, it’s for something more fundamental. We want claps so that we may know we’ve been heard, that by exposing our pain we have built a bridge that spans Me and You and creates an Us.

To a writer, the only thing that is worse than derision is silence.

I write this post with my daughter on the other side of the couch. She just asked me for a synonym for the word “courageous”. I stopped pecking at this keyboard long enough to glance over and see another notebook on her lap. She’s begun another story.

I tell her to use “intrepid,” but inside I’m thinking a better word would be her.

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23 Responses to “Waiting for applause”

  1. Brenda says:

    ((clap)), ((clap)), ((clap))! Beautiful. True. 

  2. Tess says:

    I have to, hesitantly and a little begrudgingly, agree. I don’t want to think that I write for the applause. But, yes, I want to know I’ve connected with others. That something I wrote made a difference that mattered. Applause expresses that. Having been touched by your daughter’s story and your insights–how could I leave the page in silence?

  3. Daphne makes an excellent point about applause in this post:


  4. You know how much I can relate to this one, Billy!

  5. To know we have been heard, that’s it. 

    My 8-year-old son started writing a story the other night, by flashlight and under the bed covers. He’s telling it from the point of a buck. I’m not correcting his lack of capitalization or misplaced apostrophes because I don’t want to stifle his creativity. I reckon I know what it’s like to be criticized rather than simply heard — and I want him to fly where I floundered.And your daughter has begun another story. Tell her I’m clapping just for that.  ;-)Blessings.

  6. Deborah says:

    You are heard little one.

  7. Applauding from here, way across cyberspace. I spent most of my morning fretting. Thanks for this.

  8. Chris Peek says:

    Excellent post. Whenever I publish a blog that I’ve poured my soul into, my biggest concern is that I will hear nothing. I hope that my thoughts and experiences resonate with the audience. You nailed it – we all desire to know that we’ve connected with another human being on some deeper level.

  9. Jenn says:

    We want to be heard. Yes, though I so often try to deny it.

    Thank you for this post.

  10. Missy says:

     “We want claps so that we may know we’ve been heard…”Well said! I have struggled myself with being proud of my writing and fumbling with the idea whether or not it is a sin to be proud for my writing and to seek acknowledgment. But it’s not about the pride. It is about know that I have been heard; that my message has been read by others. 
    Without the comments and the claps, how are we to know if anyone has read our message and received it? 

  11. pastordt says:

    This is so gorgeous I can hardly breathe. HEAR ME – I am APPLAUDING. And half of that applause is for that girl of yours. Thank you for speaking the truth so very poignantly. And you’re right – it’s not all bad to desire that others would like what we do. I actually think it’s true for every true profession – if we love what we do, we want others to love it, too. Thanks for this.

  12. Hazel Moon says:

    Yes, that is why we appreciate comments after we write a post – – “Is anyone out there listending?”  we wonder.  Your girl deserves some applause and I hope you gave it to her yourself after she told you her story.

  13. Sheryl Tuttle says:

    Such truth and honesty. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about giving up on my blog because of the deafening silence. I’m sure your daughter’s story was good, and the other childrens’ stories too. As listeners and readers, why don’t we respond more with our applause? And as writers, how do we elicit that response we desire?

  14. Joanne says:

    Beautiful post, with a wonderful lesson. Looking forward to reading her first published novel :)

  15. Joanne Norton says:

    So very true!!  The opposite for me, in fact.  When writing in grade school and jr hi and hi school, and even in churches until I was in my early 40s, I had “applause” of one type or another.  Felt that I was in my forever-walk area.  However, in the past 20-ish years, it has rarely gone that direction, partly because of different life situations, serving the Lord in Uganda and taking care of people, and not time to write or spread it around.  Trying now, trying again.  We’ll see how it falls into place.  How neat to have your daughter ask your help… and you to give it.  That’s more important than the writing; it shows caring.

  16. Oh my! To be heard–that by exposing our pain we have built a bridge…

    No clapping her right now. I’m in awe–like after the choir sings something so stunning I’m breathless. And to applaud would spoil everything. 

  17. Debbie G. says:

    So true! That’s why I started my blog.I’m not a writer. But, I do love to chat, gab,  etc. I just wanted to share and connect with others.  Hopefully, encourage some along the way. And when someone leaves a comment? Well, my little heart sings. Yay! We’ve connected.  Thanks for letting me see that wanting the applause isn’t a bad thing. So I am {{clapping}} for you today.

  18. Cindee Snider Re says:

    To be heard and know we are not alone in this world, to create a bridge between you and me, so there’s an us…oh…perfectly, fundamentally said! Applauding from here too.

  19. You have a fierce young girl there. Applaud her on my behalf. I feel sure I’ll be reading her stuff when I’m old and grey.

  20. […] Waiting for applause – Billy Coffey […]

  21. Tanya Marlow - Thorns and Gold says:

    I just wanted to say that I loved this, and I love the way you write about writing. It makes me think, ‘see, there are PROPER WRITERS telling me to carry on doing what it is I’m trying to do’ – showing people the raw and the flawed and the real, even though it’s scary. Thanks for being a cheerleader in my writing life – you spur me on to continue.

  22. Marilyn says:

    I’m late in coming to this post, but you are so right. That silence… the worst thing. It’s not so much applause we want, but the connection. We want to know someone out there heard.

    I love that she was starting another story. A lesson to me. Thanks for this post, Billy.

  23. AliceShevitz says:

    I heard you, Billy.

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