squaw valley community of writers

Wayétu Moore asks, Who Makes Up Your Village?

by Susan Henderson on September 10, 2018

I am so thrilled to share Wayétu Moore with all of you who don’t know her yet. She is one of my favorite writers with an old soul, an astounding ear for dialogue, and the courage to tackle big issues in her work. She is also one of my favorite humans, from when we first met as roommates at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, to laughing and telling stories back here in New York, to seeing all she has done for others, particularly those who live in Liberia, her first home.

Wayétu is the founder of One More Book; she owns the only bookstore in Monrovia, Liberia; and she’s a Margaret Mead Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College.  Her debut novel, She Would Be King, is out tomorrow, and it is a masterpiece.

This is the blurb I was honored to write for it: “This magical retelling of Liberia’s beginning is so original, so bold and poetic, Wayétu Moore is destined for comparisons to Yann Martel, Markus Zusak, and Paulo Coelho. Her unforgettable heroine, Gbessa, leads those who’ve been stripped of their homes and their language to rise up and defend not only their own futures but the memory of those who would never see freedom.”

And this is is Edwidge Danticat’s blurb that’s on the cover: “Epic, beautiful, and magical, this astonishing first novel boldly announces the arrival of a remarkable novelist and storyteller.”

So here is Wayétu, on the day before her book launch, with a letter for those of you who feel weary and beaten up by the writer’s life. Hang in there!


Dear Writer,

I have to admit it’s odd offering advice on writing because I find myself still negotiating the madness associated with this process every day. I suppose rather than guidance on the many events on your pages and screens, the best words I can offer are those relating to the world off the page, the one you have to navigate and at times even protect yourself from to preserve the part of your spirit most vital to your craft.

You are sensitive and you cannot help it. At times this is what you hate the most about yourself, but this frustration about your soft heart and fragile skin is coupled with the realization that your sensitivity is needed to move about your craft in the way that you do. If you are anything like me, this sensitivity causes a number of functions in your life, and at times is at the root of undesirable interactions. So, my advice speaks to those.

Who Makes Up Your Village?
We all know the saying, “it takes a village.” Growing up, my parents abided by this, and were very strict about who my siblings and I spent our time with. It used to infuriate me, but later I understood their wisdom, and that they were only trying to protect us from the heartaches that stem from bad company and influences. I would honor their methods later in life—the care they took in choosing their friends and those they let into our home, and their circle. This circle, this village, has power. The members of this group give counsel, and bad counsel can sometimes lead to devastating outcomes. You’re pursuing a profession that is competitive, stressful, and to be honest, downright hard. None of us become writers to become rich. This may perplex those closest to you who aren’t writers or artists. Why pursue something with no guarantee of monetization? Those who are around you will either be your greatest encouragers, pushing you toward that extra page or chapter, or be the reason why you abandon (ed) those stories in that unnamed desktop folder. Choose them wisely and choose them well.

Make Friends With No
Rejection is not only a rite of passage in one’s path to seeing the book on the shelf of their favorite bookstore, it’s an active, enthusiastic component of your relationship with writing. It’s the mention of that ex, or the nagging recurring argument, the in- law, or the one stubborn thing your partner won’t let go of. “No” isn’t going anywhere. It comes in different shapes. It may be from an agent, an editor, destroying your “darlings,” a publisher, a magazine, or, even readers. It’s inevitable and it isn’t going anywhere. Making friends with that word will diminish the chances that you eventually become resentful of writing, and of the literary industry in which it exists. When I became okay with rejection, and stopped taking ‘no’ so seriously, my writing suddenly felt like it belonged to me again.


Govern Your Sensitivity
Someone said something to you that felt like a jab. Or they did that passive aggressive thing to get under your skin. Suddenly, you can’t think straight. It’s difficult to concentrate on any task following that encounter, especially your writing. I will tell you something that I have to tell myself: govern your sensitivity. How people treat you exposes more about that person than it does about you. Dissecting and internalizing every conversation or interaction doesn’t only take away from valuable time that can be used toward productive ends, but over time, it can affect your overall health. Govern your sensitivity. It is okay to feel in the way that you do. Empathy is a gift. But, learning to discern which slights were worth my attention and which I should tune out took a long time. The stricter I became with myself about preserving my energy, the more energy I had to produce.

I hope these three things are helpful. Good luck, today. Happy writing.

With love, Wayétu


In 2009, I went the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley to see if I could get unstuck with the novel I was writing. What a gift it was to meet Jennifer Haupt there! She was on her own quest, and we bonded right away over our love of literature, our broken spirits, and our struggle to create a story from traumatic material.

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills , her profoundly moving novel, out this month, takes readers on a journey that spans from the turmoil of Civil Rights Era Atlanta to an orphanage in Rwanda born of unspeakable tragedy. In this hopeful story that transcends race and cultural differences, Jennifer Haupt guides both the survivors and readers toward the courage to believe in love again. An important story reminding us that when a crime is unforgivable, only grace will do.

I asked Jen if she’d write a letter to you because she is full of wisdom and heart. I had no idea she was going to give you something so beautiful as this. Enjoy!

Chair in woods_fun-cropped-v2

Dearest You,

Every author dreads hearing these words from their agent or editor or mean little voice in their head: “Well, that’s the end of the road. Time to put this novel to rest and start writing something new.”

I heard these words from my then-agent, seven years ago after the novel I had been working on for three years was rejected by, as I recall in my memory warped by time, every editor in the universe and their mother. I cried every day for at least a month, my soul ached for much longer. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I was grieving.

(Spoiler alert!) Thankfully, there’s a happy ending to this story: That novel became In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, which was finally — finally!! — published this week after 11 years of work.

Elliott Bay

No wait, I just lied. Yes, it’s been 11 years since I first started writing this book but I did put it aside several times. That first time was not my choice, and it was extremely painful. The second time, the time I really want to tell you about, was my choice. I want to spare you some of the pain, self-doubt and humiliation I heaped on myself that first time, before I found my footing on a new path (and a new agent!) because these are the tools that resistance uses to keep us all from writing.

I want you to write and be happy. That’s why I’m sharing some strategies I gleaned over the past 11 years for how to stop writing — at least for a little while. Here are six tips for putting your WIP aside, without declaring it RIP:

Tip #1: Buy yellow tissue paper and gold stars.

This is a variation of advice I received from our very own Susan Henderson when we met at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, a month after my agent told me to bury my novel. I shared my secret shame with this lovely woman, and she told me her debut novel recently sold after years of turmoil. She told me she had to fight for her novel, including sending it to editors wrapped in colored tissue paper, scattered with gold stars. (This may not be exactly correct but it’s how I remember it.) Susan, along with other writers I met that week who had their own stories of perseverance, inspired me not to give up.

I went home with a renewed commitment to deepening my characters and their plot lines. Long-story-short: After another three years, I sent my novel to three agents. One took me on as a client and sent my novel to a handful of editors.  All of them had nice things to say, but none offered a publishing contract.

This time, it was my choice to put aside my novel, and I did it with love. I printed out my manuscript, wrapped it in yellow tissue paper (because sunflowers were my spirit flower for this novel), and lovingly placed it in a drawer of my desk. (Not the bottom drawer, that seemed a little cliché.) I didn’t know exactly when I’d unwrap those pages again, but I knew I would not forget it was there. You may actually buy whatever color tissue paper speaks to you and your WIP!

Tip #2: Don’t forget about your WIP — even while it’s in the drawer.

You’re probably wondering about those gold stars from tip one. Here’s what I did with mine: I put them in a sea-green glass jar, along with a note that said, simply: Don’t Give Up. I kept that jar on my fiction alter, a small table next to the chair I like to sit in (and nap in) while working on a novel.

I didn’t want to give up, to lose the characters and world I had spent six years lovingly creating even though my novel was still flawed and I had no idea how to fix it. This helped ward off the grief I had experienced when I hit the end of the road three years earlier; I knew my WIP was still alive and well. We just needed some time apart.

Tip #3: Start a new, totally unrelated, creative project.

Remember this: it’s not cheating on your WIP to write that essay you’ve been mulling over, taking painting lessons, weed the front garden and plant spring flowers… all of the things you haven’t had time for because, let’s face it, WIPs can be high-maintenance and jealous of the time you spend away from them.

The thing I learned, while my WIP was slumbering in yellow tissue paper and stars is that waking up other passions, broadening my creativity, was actually good for my WIP! I spent a few months cooking, gardening, taking longer walks in the woods, reading — lots of reading! — and when I re-entered novel-land I had more to bring to the pages.

Tip #4: Practice self-compassion.

This tip is closely related to the last one. Do what you love, and the story will follow. (I give no guarantees about the money!)

In retrospect, I was so very mean to myself the first time I put aside my WIP. It’s impossible to be compassionate with your characters, or real folks for that matter, when you aren’t practicing self-compassion. So, don’t beat yourself up for taking a break from your WIP — sometimes, that’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your book.

Tip #5: Don’t stop working on craft.

Sorry, but I’m afraid you aren’t going to become a better writer without, well, actually writing. The good news is that putting aside your WIP leaves more time for studying the work of authors you admire. I’ve taken a lot of workshops over the past  11 years, and I truly believe the most effective way I’ve upped my skills is studying the books I love reading. I underline passages I wish I had written, and then I copy them into a notebook and rewrite them using my own words. Most of these passages make it into whatever WIP I’m working on.

I actually kept my first novel wrapped in yellow tissue paper for two years and wrote a completely new novel, instead of carving up my poor first novel yet another time. I set 50 pages at a time to a consulting editor who worked part-time at a major publishing house, had launched a successful literary magazine, and was the author of a bestselling novel. I also took workshops at Hugo House in Seattle, I read a lot (again)… I invested in what I wanted to be my career.

Tip #6: Set a begin-again date.

One thing that keeps writers from putting aside their beloved WIP is the fear that it will, in fact, wind up being the end of the road — and with good reason! Setting a begin-again date, even if it seems arbitrary, helps to soothe that worry. Although, the truth is, your gut will tell you when you’re ready to re-enter novel-land.

My gut told me, after I spent two years writing my second novel, that the book I really wanted to be my debut was wrapped in yellow tissue paper. I felt absolutely no sense of failure wrapping novel #2 in lavender tissue paper. My begin-again date was one year. I knew it would take me that long to not just revise, but restructure my first novel. (Restructuring… that’s another story for another time!)

So there you have it, permission to set aside your WIP. I’m quite certain that’s a huge relief for some of you! For others, I hope it’s a safety net. When you begin to feel your book is a burden instead of a joy, give yourself permission to set it aside — without burying it for good.




Jennifer Haupt went to Rwanda as a journalist in 2006, twelve years after the genocide that wiped out over one million people, to explore the connections between forgiveness and grief. She spent a month interviewing survivors and humanitarian aid workers, and returned to Seattle with something unexpected: the bones of a novel. Haupt’s essays and articles have been published in O, The Oprah MagazineThe RumpusSpirituality & HealthPsychology TodayTravel & LeisureThe Sun and many other publications. In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills is her first novel.