Tricia Sutton’s blog got me thinking about the Must Dos, you know, the things that everyone must do in order to achieve whatever goal they dare to chase. How real are the Must Dos? That’s what I’m wondering. I remember being told as a child that I was too short to be a prima ballerina. Height is a sensitive topic since we really have no control over it, which is why I remember the comment. Truthfully, height had little to do with why my (short-lived) prima ballerina dreams were crushed (lack of coordination and an unwillingness to practice might have had something to do with it though). But there are short prima ballerinas, just as there are exceptions to the Must Do rules in every field. I’m not saying that I could go join the WNBA at 5’2”, but other factors would rule me out even if height weren’t a factor (lack of coordination again and the fact that squeaky shoes on gym floors make me cringe).
Within the writing world, sources of wisdom share their versions of the Must Dos, but how real are they? Do you have to go to writers’ conferences, publish short works of fiction to gain your street cred, have a blog, network with other writers, schmooze with the fancy published authors, write every day, query widely, personalize your queries, not personalize your queries, or stand on your head and meditate while simultaneously writing and querying (maybe with a little yodeling for good measure)?
I’m sure for every one of these actions, there is a successful author who did them and others who didn’t. And this is where my philosophy comes in: we need to do what is authentic to ourselves, listen to our own voice, while being open to evolving.
When I first began to truly focus on my writing, I didn’t have a blog and hadn’t researched agents or the marketing process. At that time, it was crucial to quiet the publishing demons and write my book. And I did. That book was read by one of my best friends, the one who helped to inspire the dedication I’ve found, who gave me her honest feedback. Through that discussion, I realized that I had to start over again. That act, the process of starting over on page one after finally accomplishing this momentous goal, I recognized as the moment I became a writer. Other friends asked how I could do something like that. The answer: writers write. If we quibble about a hundred thousand words or so, that’d be crazy. That’s like a basketball player refusing to dribble the ball anymore. Or a tennis pro whining about having to serve. Of course, we have to keep writing, keep starting over, keep recognizing the ways to bring our stories to life in the most appropriate ways. It’s hard, but what worth having isn’t.
I finished that re-write, edited/hacked like it had done something wrong, and began marketing. At that point, I started the process of learning about the business and found that my book was too long. So, I chopped it in half, let the story guide me to a new ending point, and off it went again. And I kept on writing. Now, I’m marketing another book and writing others. I’ve been open to change and pushing my own parameters by attending a writers’ conference, starting a blog, and networking with other writers. But none of this was because of a Must Do, but rather because I wanted to.
I believe Must Dos are the equivalent of calorie counters, designed to rob us of the joys in our lives. Must Dos sap the fun and make everything seem like an assignment. Happiness along the path is the goal, not in the destination. Because, as Kiersten White's very courageous blog shows us, even after you achieve one tremendous goal, there are still challenges that hit all the way to the core. Events tragic enough to unsettle our beliefs and yet send us back to where we are blessed to find understanding: through words and the connections they give us to others.
I’m sending out some powerful support mojo to Kiersten today and to all the writers who share their lives, energy, and talents through writing. Ignore the Must Dos and have some fun with your gifts today.
Quote for the Day from Katherine Hepburn
"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."