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Put Up or Shut Up

Yesterday, I attended a workshop sponsored by West Houston Chapter of Romance Writers of America. In addition to having two terrific author speakers, Sophie Jordan and Dawn Temple, and an announcement of the winners of the chapter's Emily Awards (the chapters annual contest for unpublished manuscripts), a pair of highly-regarded agents (include my brilliant agent, Helen Breitwieser, and the very personable and knowledgeable Paige Wheeler) came and spoke. Afterward, each took appointments in pitch sessions, in which authors had the chance to describe a project and hopefully garner a request.

A number of the group's members were invited to submit anything from sample chapters and a synopsis to a full manuscript. And I'm sincerely hoping that this afternoon, each one of those members is busy giving his/her material a final read and polish or printing it out and packing the material to send out Monday morning.

Yet I know not all of them are. Some will be making up for a day "stolen" from family time by hanging out with the spouse and kiddos or taking care of those pesky chores that are always relegated to the weekends. Others will be resting, exhausted by the anxiety of pitching and the stress of being caught up in yesterday's swirl. Still others will delay by telling themselves the work's not ready. They'll put it off until their critique group finishes going through the whole piece, or until they've gotten back results on a few more contests, or until the summer, when they're not so busy. But once resistance gets a toehold, these same writers will delay week after week until months and maybe even years pass. And I promise you, any editor or agent's going to clap on to the fact that a loooooong delay in submitting requested material foretells a lot of missed deadlines and a very slim chance of a writer's being sufficiently prolific to generate enough product to make a profit.

So here's what it comes down to. Everything worth having costs in terms of time and effort. Are your kids going to go to hell in a handbasket because you spent an afternoon pursuing your dreams instead of putting their needs first? Or will you be teaching them by example that reaching for tough goals is a thing to be respected? Is your house going to collapse into ruin because you didn't get to the vacuuming this week? (Go ahead and risk it; I've already proven, after extensive field testing, that a little messiness won't kill anyone.) Is your significant other going to leave you because you didn't spend the afternoon watching him watch sports? (If he's like a lot of men, he won't even noticed, except to momentarily - during the commercial break - feel incredibly heroic for supporting you.)

Yes, you have to put in the time. Yes, you have to risk rejection. But this is the time to ask yourself, "How much do I really want it?" It's the time to put up or shut up, because I can assure you, a publishing contract will not materialize in your life by accident, or because of some dim wish. If you want it, you'd better be ready to work as hard as you can, to put your ego or the line, and take a chance of making a grand fool of yourself.

As Ann Richards famously said, If you can't run with the big dogs, you ought to stay on the porch. Maybe you've been pushed off your comfortable sunny spot by a request, a revise-and-resubmit letter, or some other opportunity. It's up to you to decide whether you're going jump back up there and watch the other pooches whiz past.


Joni Rodgers said…
Well said.

I think something else that paralyzes many aspiring authors is a fear not of failure, but of success and the questions it raises. What changes and new challenges will I face? How will I live up to those new expectations? Will people hate me? (Sadly, in the writing community, the answer is often "yes!") Will I be able to handle it? Will I even be the same person?

Nelson Mandela quoted author Marianne Williamson in his inauguration speech:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
That's a *fabulous* quote. Thanks for posting it.

I think it's a sin not to share the talents we're given. And I absolutely think it sets a bad example to our children when mothers martyr their own dreams and talents to slavishly serve the needs of others. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but I would become crabby and unlovable in a hurry if I always put my work in last place.

When I do get crabby and unlovable (happens to the best of us), my family gently suggests that I go do a writing fix.
Anonymous said…
Yep, Colleen. You are so right you gotta put yourself out there. That's what I did on Saturday. I wanted my requested material one of the first there on that agent's desk.
There's an African fable I follow:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up too. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or gazelle. When the sun comes up, you had better be running.
Robin Popp shared that with me years ago. I try to follow that advice especially where my journey to publication is run.
Thanx for your encouragement.
That's a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

I always knew Robin Popp was a smart cookie. :)

Congrats on putting in your sweat equity. Hope your work soon finds an appreciative audience!
Colleen, your comment about being a martyr reminded me of a conversation I just had with my students, one of whom wrote about how she feels selfish when she writes because it's the one time she's putting herself first. And my initial response to that was "wow, how sad." But I think for those of us raised in a religious culture, whatever the particular dogma, we do internalize the message that our time is best serving others, and it's hard to get our heads around how beating out words on the keyboards could possibly be of service. And yet, I'm a firm believer in the "bloom where God planted you" way of life. If that's what we know what we should do, deep at the root of our very souls, who are we to say our time would be better spent doing anything else?

(Now if I could just get that through my own head . . .)
Thanks for your post. I'd just like to add that I've been guilty on many occasions of teaching others the lessons I most need to learn.

Sometimes, I'm even a half-decent student, and the reminder sinks in. :)

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