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One Thing I Would Tell Writers
by Jodi Thomas
This spring will mark my 27th book. Twenty-two of them have been national best sellers and six have hit the NY Times list. In interviews I’m often asked what one thing would I tell writers. Of course: Study your markets? Read everything? Learn your craft? Write every day? All came up as possibilities but one secret I’ve learned kept whispering in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s not the most important tool a writer needs but it can be vital to your success.
Learn to Fall.
There will be times, thousands of them if you stay in the game as I have for 20 years, when this business doesn’t go your way. You have to learn to stop holding on to the safety strap and jump out into the unknown.
The first time I remember taking a tumble was before I sold. I was frantically writing, sending off to every contest, agent, or editor I could find. One day I opened the mailbox to discover three rejections. I felt like I’d faced a firing squad and all twelve bullets hit at heart level. I walked back to the house, sat down and started crying. My four-year-old son, Matt, came up to me, leaned on the arm of the chair and asked what was wrong. Through tears I told him about my total failure. He smiled and said simply, “Mom, like you say when I play t-ball, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained-out.”
I stopped crying and realized it wasn’t me. I was a good writer doing the best I could. I just kept getting rained-out by editors who didn’t read the slush pile and agents who already had full client lists.
From that day on I developed a plan for falling. Whenever I stumbled and fell flat on my face, I let go of the corpse I was trying to drag, celebrated and moved on with my career. There for a while quite a few bodies of old manuscripts lay around the house.
The plan for falling:
- Burying the corpse. I know writers who wrote a book back in the 90’s and are determined not to go on to another until they sell their first one. They keep painting a new face on the body and shoving it into a new casket. Beginning writers probably don’t want to hear that you may write your first book, or even your second or third, for practice. We need to believe that first book will make millions or we’d never go through the work of learning to write. But sometimes you have to kiss the well-traveled manuscript good-bye and bury it under the bed.
- Celebrating. I hope all beginning writers party at each success: a contest win or even an honorable mention. A letter asking for more or a book deal. All are worth a party. But, maybe more important is the party you have when you let go of one dream and open up to another. Celebrate when you send something off or when you enter a contest. That’s when you’re being brave. Find a writing friend or a group and push one another to try.
- Moving on. If what you’re doing in this game isn’t getting you where you want to go, maybe you are on the wrong road. Take the tools and knowledge you have learned and start carving out a different work of art. You might surprise yourself, you might just find a place where you and your work belong. I knew a writer who tried to write romance for five years, turned to children's writing on a bet and sold in five months and is still selling.
When I turned loose and thought of myself sky diving and not falling, my world began to change. Phil Price, an accomplished playwright, once said, “I’ve often wonder why sky divers yell for joy and people who fall off cliffs scream. After all, they’re both seeing the same view. It’s only the last foot that changes.” So, I decided, whether I’m falling or sky diving through life, I might as well decide to enjoy the view.
Mark Twain said once that compared to writing, horse racing is a stable occupation. Maybe he was right, but the gamble is worth the try. When we’re all done and setting around the home which would you rather say, ‘I played as hard and fast as I could,’ or ‘I never ran into the game because I was afraid of falling.’
The winners are not the ones who grab the prize. The winners are the ones who play the game, rainy days and all.
© Copyright 2008, Jodi Thomas
Jodi Thomas is the New York Times and US Today bestselling author of over 25 novels, including her latest, Tall, Dark, and Texan (Jove, 2008). Visit her website at: www.jodithomas.com
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