Why I started reading the acknowledgements

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From bottom to top: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman.

I used to ignore the acknowledgements section when I read. It was just a long list of names and organizations, peppered with phrases like “indebted to” and “this book would not have been possible without.” What mattered to me was the story.

But since I’ve started working on more writing projects, inching closer to my goal of writing books and getting published, I’ve been paying attention to these often-skipped sections. As I’ve read them, I’ve learned something.

In their own way, the acknowledgements are part of the story.

Without all the people on that list, the story wouldn’t be what it is. Yes, the book is the writer’s work. But even the most solitary of writers has a network of support. Along the writing journey, from idea to publication and beyond, there are so many other people who help, support, and guide.

One of my favorite lines of acknowledgment is in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah:

“People often say that writing is a lonely profession, and it’s true, but it can also be a brilliant party filled with interesting, amazing guests who speak in a shorthand that only a few understand.”

Ellen Marie Wiseman also writes about a blend of solitude and support in the acknowledgements for The Plum Tree

“One of my fondest fantasies during the endless solitary hours spent writing this novel was the prospect of honoring the people who supported and believed in me along the way.”

Mentors and parents, spouses and children, agents, editors, friends, researchers, experts—to the reader, they are strangers. To the writer, they are the life and love behind the pages.

I love the way Anthony Doerr, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, writes of his sons and wife:

“The largest thanks go to Owen and Henry, who have lived with this book all their lives, and to Shauna, without whom this could not exist, and upon whom all this depends.”

Jenna Blum draws in another layer of community in the acknowledgements for Those Who Save Us

“Any writer of historical fiction owes a great debt to the non-fiction masterworks of others.”

When I taught high school English, we ended the year with To Kill a Mockingbird. We talked about the friendship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote. At first, my students were amazed—two famous writers were friends? But the more we talked about it, the more it made sense to them.

“It’s actually pretty common for writers to be friends with other writers,” I said. “They can encourage each other and help each other get better at what they do.”

Louisa May Alcott looked up to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who shared his library with her and inspired her.

Percy and Mary Shelley were acquainted with Lord Byron; Mary got the idea for Frankenstein during a visit with him one peculiar summer.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien influenced each other and shared a writing mission.

In the writing life, community matters.

I think back to college and the ready-made community in creative writing classes. Every week, we sat in a cluster in the classroom and swapped pages. We commended well-placed words, puzzled over tricky paragraphs, and challenged each other to be better. We grew because we were passionate and because our professors pushed us.

We also grew because we had each other.

That’s why people join writing groups—to have the support (and constructively critical eyes) of others. One of my friends and I get up early each day to write, and the commitment keeps me going. This month, I’m part of Camp NaNoWriMo, a spin-off of National Novel Writing Month. Writers from all over get sorted into virtual “cabins” with other writers. It’s like an online support network. We watch each other’s word counts, exchange messages, and cheer each other on.

Community is also what makes book festivals, like the Unbound Book Festival here in Missouri, so meaningful. Readers and writers, whether published or unpublished, come together to rally around books and the craft of writing.

The acknowledgements section is testament to the  importance of relationships in writing. Each name on the list is part of the story of the book. The writer’s journey is a long and difficult one, but the solitary writer is not alone.




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