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Anne
A good critic can encourage the addition of baking soda to a story. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By MELISSA D. SULLIVAN
For Montclair Local

“All Write Now” reflects the writing life. Melissa D. Sullivan is an attorney by day, writer by

MELISSA D. SULLIVAN

night, mother of two and a 2019 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Melissa’s writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Nightingale & Sparrow, Sum Journal and elsewhere. She splits her time between Montclair and Bucks County, PA. You can learn more at melissadsullivan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @MelDSullivan.

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she realizes she will never be Anne Shirley. She will never have braids the color of carrots or the love of a gentle Canadian physician. 

To some of us, like this writer, this realization will come much later in life, maybe not even until college. But even though I gave up my dreams of moving to a farm on Prince Edward Island, to this day I can still recall the pleasure I felt when Anne finally got her beautiful puffed sleeves or the satisfaction when Anne’s slate cracked over Gilbert’s head. I still wonder what raspberry cordial tastes like.  

So that’s why, when my daughter and I took a break from our chores to get some necessary train table time in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of the book. It was a different printing from the grand one I grew up with, small and green, with no illustrations. But just rereading the chapter titles — “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” and “Diana is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results” — brought me right back to my childhood, with me huddled under the covers of my grandmother’s quilt, wishing that I had half as much gumption as Anne.

Then I saw a chapter heading I didn’t remember — “The Story Club is Formed.” I vaguely recalled that Anne wanted to be a writer. She wrote that story that Diana edited and sent to the baking soda company, remember? Anne thought the inclusion of baking soda in her story was a sacrilege, but then ever practical Gilbert reminded her that the $25 prize was nothing to turn up her freckled nose at. “One would rather write masterpieces of literature no doubt,” he tells her sensibly, “but meanwhile board and tuition fees have to be paid.”

Oh, Gilbert. Truly, the perfect man. 

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READ: ALL WRITE NOW; THE ART OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

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In any case, when I couldn’t recall this chapter, I was intrigued and flipped to the page. I found Anne talking about a short story she had written. Ever the precocious student, she had completed a composition for school ahead of the deadline and her dear bosom friend Diana was struggling with her own topic. But not only had Anne written a complete first draft, which I now know as a writer is 90 percent of the battle, she had already gotten feedback from her beta readers: her prickly Aunt Marilla gave her story a bad review, calling it “stuff and nonsense,” but her dear Uncle Matthew told her “it was fine.”

“That is the kind of critic I like,” declared Anne. 

And I thought, Amen, Anne Shirley. Amen.

Because every writer loves an appreciative audience. But what I was really impressed by was her ability to shrug off the bad review and, instead, continue to be certain about what she knew to be true: yes, she has a good imagination; yes, she can create thrilling stories out of her own mind; and yes, while she deeply appreciates Marilla’s input, she is certain that it did not reflect the work she was trying to create. 

She then goes on to form her own writing group, which I totally didn’t remember, where she and her friends write stories and read them aloud. They even publish them in a way, copying them out neatly and sending them to rich Miss Josephine Barry in sophisticated Charlottetown. 

It’s a short section, almost four whole pages, but by the end of the chapter, what I was most struck with is Anne’s certainty. At the ripe age of 13, she already knows what she wants to do and that she is good at it.  

That level of certainty still escapes me. Most days, my internal dialogue is questioning everything I am trying to do. What if that story I just edited for the 10th time isn’t actually any good? What if that novel I am spending years of my life on isn’t worth writing? What if my chosen topic isn’t interesting or timely or appropriate? What if my well-meaning but unsympathetic friend is right? What if I am just wasting my time? 

As I watch my daughter build her railroad empire, a thought strikes me: I should go back to being Anne Shirley, with unshakable confidence in my strange and wondrous imagination and the courage to dismiss the naysayers. Because while there are many reasons to doubt, only we can decide what we will believe. 

And, as Anne would surely tell us, nothing and no one should rob us of our own certainty. 

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