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Intrepid scribes: many of you are participating in #NanoWriMo right now–which means you only skimmed this, but that’s okay. This month, when holidays and obligations begin their python-squeeze around our necks, you may find yourself saying no to things that matter to you. So let me be your cheerleader, the voice that has your writerly back. I want you to SAY YES to yourself this month. To your writing, to your creativity, to your dreams. Anytime someone achieves fame in the arts, people want to know: How, Why, and When can it happen to me? And I’m always gratified to run across interviews and quotes that back up my own faintly stumbling approach to success in your writing practice, which can be summed up in two words: Say Yes.
What does this mean, exactly?
Saying yes means living outside the confines of fear. The more time you spend in fear and doubt, the less time you spend writing, polishing and submitting your work. And not to freak you out, but time’s a wastin’! One of my writing teachers years ago told of a chance to hand-deliver a story to an editor of a well-known literary journal who admired her work. Fear of failure overcame her and she didn’t take it, and she kicked herself ever after. Though she taught me a lot about the craft, the biggest lesson I took from our study was not to let fear keep me from opportunities. In the case of saying yes to an opportunity–whether that’s just an open submission period, or going to a conference with a friend, or publishing your own book, or doing NanoWriMo, if you brew in uncertainty, you’ll never know the alternative. There are worse things than rejection, such as regret. Take action, be brave, get out there, because baby, there ‘aint a lot of time.
When I sold my first book, Make a Scene, in the days before Facebook and Twitter, I did not have a platform (unless you count my shoes). I was only “known” for writing local articles and hosting literary readings. Still, I thought I had a good idea that didn’t appear to be done yet. So I asked my editor at Writer’s Digest magazine for the publisher’s contact. And then I asked the publisher if I could cold- submit a proposal without an agent. The result was my first published book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same advice from unlikely success stories: take chances, ask, ask again, go in through the back door, sleuth. Or to paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert in her recent Oprah talk, Don’t worry so much about passion; “Be curious.” Better yet: The answers are out there. The opportunities are waiting. But they rarely show up in gold jazz shorts on your doorstep.
Be a Seeker
I know that the wilds of publishing are often overwhelming, and that many of us respond to overwhelm like cats invited into bodies of water. It’s easy to let that pressure keep you from doing anything on your own behalf; it’s easy to align with all those nasty, conspiratorial voices that live in the mud-pits of the ego and suggest you should stay there. But regrets don’t come cheap, and success is not a formula you can buy the paint-by-numbers kit for at your drugstore. You have to go after it. Seek answers. Troll the Internet. Ask authors how they got where they are. Treat your writing path as your own personal journey, entrusted to you and only you. There are clues if you choose to trust and follow them. Happy Writing!