Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
O, marvelous error-
That there was a beehive here inside my heart
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from all my failures
Machado de Assis
This past weekend I was at a writers conference. During the question and answer period after my presentation, I was asked what advice would I offer my younger self knowing what I know now?”
It’s a good question since 2011 marks my twentieth year writing. Would I have done things differently? Made other choices when more than one opportunity presented itself? Or gone a different road altogether?
Absolutely not. I learned more from my failures, from the things that didn’t work out than I did from my successes. I’m where I am today because I wasn’t afraid to take a risk, ask a question, or make a choice. Not everything rolled along in my favor and too often I’ve worked out of fear . . . but most times, things turned out better than I could have expected.
So here are five things Today Me would have said to myself:
- Don’t be so anxious. Have fun with this. Enjoy the journey. Easier said than done but so important. Whenever I was uptight, I wasn’t at my best. Laughter draws people to us. It nurtures creativity as well.
- The work is what is important. It’s all you can control. The politics of publishing, of markets, of writing groups can make a person crazy. Firestorms often blow over and you don’t have to share your opinion on every topic. Give yourself room to pivot to meet the demands of the marketplace and keep writing.
- Celebrate every success along the way no matter how large or small. I’m not advocating blowing horns and throwing confetti for all to see–but realize when you’ve done something right. Good things happen all the time and a pro recognizes them.
- A career is built one reader at a time. List placement and contest wins are gratifying, critical reviews a gift . . . but your career foundation is readers. Don’t let your ego or laziness disappoint them.
- And finally, enjoy the people you work with. Pick the best publisher, the best editor, the best agent you can and form a team. Good teamwork involves mutual respect. Recognize they want to sell books as much as you want to write them. Sometimes, yes, their decisions will be at odds with yours. Sometimes, you will part ways. But remember that publishing is a small community. Always keep doors open. If you’ve chosen the right people to work with from the beginning, that will not be difficult.