This week, I was featured on WriterCEO.com, a website which offers inspirational interviews from professional writers who share their secrets to success. Why me?
Because I actually make money as a writer.
I know, right?
If you’re curious about how this miracle came to be and exactly what I do when I’m not blogging about the nutty stuff that drives me nutty, or if you’d like a bit of sage writing advice from a hack like me, then I urge you, nay, implore you, to visit the site and read my interview by clicking here. And please leave a comment!
WriterCEO.com is the brainchild of the wonderful Colleen M Story. In addition to the weekly interviews featured on her site, Colleen also writes about writing and wellness, which you’ll find a link to here. And she wrote two terrific books: Writer Get Noticed!, and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, the latter of which was probably written for me. Because, you know, I’m famous.
So, what are you waiting for? Skedaddle on over, peel back the writer’s curtain and unlock the mystery behind my disguise. And if you know a budding author eager to make a career with words, direct them to the site so they can poke around and learn from some of the pros.
McNair Wilson, Disney Imagineer and creative consultant to notables such as Apple, Universal Studios and Sony Entertainment, says: “Let’s guess that you are not a cupboard for the storage of God’s ideas. If that’s true, let’s open that cupboard, get that stuff out and start using it. Life is going to be scary and hard and challenging no matter what we do. Why not do you. If you don’t do you, you doesn’t get done, and the world is incomplete. So start chipping in and completing the world.”
As a writer, I churn out material on the page, and that’s my baby. My creation. If I send a short story off to a publisher and it gets rejected, that hurts. But guess what. Whoever rejected it is only one person. One guy. It might be someone who ate pizza for lunch and had heartburn when reading my piece. It might be someone who read 50 manuscripts before mine, and felt burned out. It might be someone…we just don’t know. So it comes back. Sorry, not a good fit for us. Good luck!
It might be just that: not a good fit.
I send it off to someone else. It’s rejected again. That’s just another guy. Or gal. It’s not the whole publishing house of 100 or however many people work there, it’s not the 5 who work at the literary magazine. It’s one person.
Maybe one of those someones gives feedback. Suggestions on how to revise the story to make it stronger. That’s good! Embrace the feedback. It’s how we become better writers.
Rejection is part of the game. You’ve heard it before: the more “no’s” you get, the closer you are to “yes.” It’s the law of averages. It’s gravity. Whatever. The point is, I can’t let rejection doubt my voice as a writer. I can’t make it extinguish me.
It’s tempting to want to write like the authors I admire. I’d love to be as literary as Louise Erdrich, as uplifting and breezy as Alexandra Franzen, as homey and wise as Robert Fulghum, as funny as David Sedaris, as concise as Raymond Carver (and Chandler), as free-flowing as Jack Kerouac, as imaginative as Ray Bradbury, as poetic as…well, you get the picture.
As babies, we learn to talk by modeling the movement of our mother’s lips and tongue, or the lips and tongue of whatever face is bending over our cribs. We see how Mom presses her lips together to say the letter “m,” how Dad touches the tip of his tongue to the back of his upper teeth to say “No.” We model the dialect, rhythms, and word choices that surround us.
I learned to write by modeling great writers. I learned how to play with language, set up story, pare down dialogue, master point of view. I copied lines word for word to get the feel of words in my body. I took it all in like a sponge.
But there came a point when I needed to wring out that sponge so I was left with what makes me, me. Like the DNA from my parents that formed the blue-green of my eyes and the curve of my arms, like the genes that scrambled together to make the unique stride, temperament and laughter that makes up me, my writer’s voice is a DNA-pool of all the writers I’ve studied, all the books I’ve read, all the teachers I’ve followed. Nobody else can do me.
Novelist and teacher James N. Frey, who wrote How to Write a Damn Good Novel, says: “The number of books that became hits after being rejected is enormous. The reason is, really good work is different, and different means risk to an editor. Having an attitude as a writer means you have to take risks, which means you’ll scare the hell out of some editors and you’ll have to suffer rejection as a result.”
Attitude means we don’t quit. Attitude means we don’t make excuses for not doing our art. Attitude means when we get hit, we hit back. We send that story out again. And again. And again.
When rejection comes, I need to remind myself: there are billions of people in this world. My writing will touch more than that one guy judging that one contest. My stories will resonate with more than that one gal at that one journal. When anxiety or depression set in because I’m discouraged and avoiding my art, I need to get back in the writing saddle and let my voice run free. I need to be persistent, continue to develop my craft, keep my head down and write, write, write with attitude.
I need to open that cupboard, chip in, and complete the world.
I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR, and the guest was Laird Hamilton, a champion surfer who never entered a competition except as a teen when the prize was a T-shirt. But when money became involved, he lost all interest in competing.
Laird, who spends his life doing what he loves doing, made the cover of National Geographic, became the subject of an indie film, and just released a book, LifeRider, about navigating the turbulence of life.
When asked how he makes money as a surfer, he said he has sponsors. Paula Poundstone, one of the comedians on the panel, tried to reason that out. “You’re a guy with a surf board, and you go to the beach and there’s a wave and you surf it, and then somebody runs over and gives you a check?”
And Laird said, “No, you ride a giant wave, somebody takes a picture, they put it on the cover of National Geographic, and then a company says they’d love to give you money, and try to get on National Geographic again.”
The point is, the dude was just living his joy. No goal, no quest for fame or money or followers. Just doing what he was born to do.
What were you born to do? Are you doing it?
I love writing fiction. When I write for the joy of it, an amazing thing happens. No writer’s block. I’m learning my craft, exploring my writer’s voice, letting my subconscious loose on the playground. No expectations, no goals, just doing the thing I love.
Enter a goal, and I freeze. My subconscious takes a nap. My writer’s voice is strained. Craft becomes something I wrestle with, rather than a game to master.
Why not take a lesson from Laird, I tell myself. Ride the wave for the joy of it. Compete with yourself, expand your own boundaries. As the Nike ad says: Just do it.
Here’s the thing…if we’re doing what we love, someone will notice. Unless we live in a cave without human contact, or hoard what we do so it never comes to light, someone will notice. Our joy will touch another’s soul, and that person will share it with another and so on.
We never know what ripple may be caused by what we do. But one thing’s for certain: if we don’t do it, that ripple will never be felt. If we don’t do it, we’re cheating ourselves, our fellow humans, and our maker.
Join me this week in doing what makes your heart sing. Then share it. Don’t check any stats, don’t see if it attracts any followers. Just do your thing and release it to the world, then do your next thing. And tell me what you’ll do, in the comments.