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The Impact of a Teacher’s Praise

by Sarah J. Maas
February 13, 2014

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. MaasAt every author event I do—whether it’s a signing or a school visit or a panel—there’s always one story that I make a point to tell regarding my path to publication. I began writing THRONE OF GLASS at age sixteen, but my journey began years before that. In fact, I never would have had the courage or confidence to attempt writing a novel if it wasn’t for my 7th grade teacher.

Growing up, I loved Disney Princesses and cute boys and nail polish—I loved clothes and parties and just being a girl. I also played sports, loved “boy”/“nerdy” things like Star Wars and video games, read endlessly, and was far more interested in being the one kicking butt than the damsel in distress. But as I got older, I felt more and more pressured by the world around me to choose between the “girly” side of me and the “tomboy” side. By the time I got to 7th grade, I made a conscious effort to drop the nerdy/boy stuff.

Worse, I stopped reading.

Honestly, I hated most of what I read in school—so the majority of my reading was done outside of it, always for fun and as often as I could. But I stopped reading all together, and (this is so horrifying to admit) decided to focus more on those cute boys and nail polish (the mixed signals I received regarding femininity and strength is a story for another day).

But I had this amazing teacher in 7th grade: Stan (I went to one of those schools where you call your teachers by their first names). And Stan noticed that I’d stopped reading. Granted, I wasn’t the best student in my class by any means—I didn’t stand out much in any subject, actually. Yet he somehow noticed this shift in my behavior.

p: rogintakesphotos via photopin

Upon meeting with my parents for a parent-teacher conference, he mentioned my sudden lack of reading to them. He told them that it was okay if I wasn’t enjoying what we read in class, but I needed to be reading something. Stan asked them to take me to the bookstore to pick out some books that I wanted to read—to let me select a few titles for myself. Immediately following that conference, my parents did just that.

I walked out of the store that day with Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN and Garth Nix’s SABRIEL, two novels that were seemingly sprung straight from my daydreams: fierce heroines in compelling fantasy worlds who get to save the day and kick butt. Those books were all I’d ever wanted, a combination of those two parts of me, and reading them changed my life—in so many ways.

They rekindled my love of reading—and introduced me to the fantasy genre; they made me slowly begin to realize I didn’t have to choose between the girly-girl and tomboy sides of me at all (a realization later solidified by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer). And more than that, reading those two novels made me want to write.

I’d never written anything before—at least, not outside of class. But I began writing after that. Complete and total rip-offs of those novels, but they sparked a desire to keep writing.

I didn’t share a word of my writing with anyone until we had a creative writing unit in school, and I submitted one of my SABRIEL rip-off stories for an assignment. I had no idea if it was good, no idea if I could write—no idea if writing was even worth my time.

And then Stan read my assignment and told me my writing was good—that I was a good writer, and should keep at it.

Again, I’d never been that great at anything before—at least anything that had sparked my interest in such a big, big way, so hearing from a teacher I respected and adored that my writing was good…well, that changed my life. I stopped thinking of myself as someone who wrote for fun, and instead thought of myself as a writer.

I kept writing for several years after that—mostly fantasy rip-offs and embarrassingly awful fan-fiction. I wrote whenever I could. I kept reading, too—any and all fantasy novels I could get my hands on. Yet by the time I was sixteen, when that first spark of inspiration hit for the Throne of Glass series, I still credited Stan with giving me the encouragement and motivation to start writing. And when THRONE OF GLASS was published in 2012 (ten years after I began writing it; fourteen years after being in Stan’s 7th grade glass), Stan was right there in the acknowledgements, for all that he’d done for me.

There were other teachers over the years—some encouraging, some quite the opposite—but I will be forever grateful for Stan taking the time to notice that I had stopped reading, and to give me that initial bit of praise about my writing. I usually tell the story of Stan at my various events, but I always make a point to share it at my school visits. Not just for the students, but also for the teachers watching, too—so they know just how far a bit of praise and a nudge can go, and how much of a positive impact they leave on their students’ lives. I wouldn’t be here today without it.

Sarah Maas on Reading Today OnlineSarah J. Maas is the New York Times bestselling author of Throne of Glass and its sequel Crown of Midnight, published with Bloomsbury. She was born and raised in New York City, but after graduating from Hamilton College in 2008, she moved to Southern California. She's always been just a tad obsessed with fairy-tales and folklore, though she'd MUCH rather be the one slaying the dragon (instead of the damsel in distress). When she's not busy writing, she can be found geeking out over things like Han Solo, gaudy nail polish, and ballet.

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