Getting to yes and rediscovering joy

(Warning: there IS a positive, upbeat message to this post. Unfortunately it takes a while before I get there. So feel free to skip straight to the positive stuff — just scroll down and look for: NOW HERE COMES THE POSITIVE STUFF!)

When you’ve been writing as long as I have, and struggling to get your books in front of readers as long as I have, and constantly feeling guilty because all you want to do — all you crave to do! — is write, for as long as I have, you tend to get jaded about a number of things. Or perhaps a better phrase would be “over it”.

Here’s some examples.

I’m over people boasting. And by that I don’t mean people sharing genuine joy. For example I LOVE reading about people who’re excited about achieving genuine milestones. I glow with happiness for these people. Their joy in what they’ve achieved plasters a big smile on my face. And when I congratulate them, it’s genuine. They give me hope that one day I might achieve one of my own milestones, too. No, I’m talking about people who talk themselves up All The Time.

I’m over people who only Tweet promo. Constant excerpts from the latest book. Constant posting of the latest review — only the good ones of course. Constant attempts to drive followers to their blog posts. And don’t get me started on the automatic DM with a book’s buy link and a request to like their Facebook page as soon as you follow them. Over that big-time.

I’m over reviews. I don’t like asking for them even though I know they’re a crucial part of getting your book noticed and making sales. I don’t like that these days my first thought when a reader emails me to say how much they loved my book is to beg them to post it somewhere — somehow that taints the joy of receiving that wonderful email. But that’s what authors are supposed to do these days: chase reviews. I don’t like my awesome head-in-the-clouds feeling when I do get a great review being ruined by the nagging feeling that karma is about to smack me upside the head with a not-so-hot review from someone who didn’t like my book for whatever reason. Why can’t I just enjoy the good reviews and quit worrying about the bad — or potentially bad? I don’t know. What I do know is I’m over it.

I’m over being on a conference committee and running myself ragged for months prior to the event… not to mention behind the scenes over the three days of the conference. There’s no joy in paying to attend an event only to have it whiz by in blur because you’re stressed out, hyped up, and watching the clock for the duration. I was a conference coordinator for 3 years running. The first time I went along as an attendee again instead of a committee member I was stunned. I’d forgotten the simple joy of being with a bunch of people who live and breathe books and the craft of writing them. Every year it’s hard to say no. But I’ve done my part. It’s time for others to step up and help out.

I’m over judging writing competitions. They screw me up in knots and wring me dry. Why? Because I angst over the score I’m allocating, and every single word that I write in the comments sections. What do I know about writing? Who am I to judge this writer? Who am I to criticize him or her? What if my carefully crafted comment meant to be positive and encouraging is taken the wrong way? I’ve been on the end of some really nasty comments from judges, so I know what it’s like to feel gutted and like you can’t write for crap and should give up your calling.  Then again, am I being too positive and encouraging, where an entrant would be better served by a dose of honesty? Who knows if I’ve achieved that crucial balance? Not me. But I do know I’ve done my dash judging writing competitions for a while.

I’m over people I’ve never even met begging me to read/ critique/ edit their unpublished manuscripts, co-write a manuscript, write a book using their own idea. I’m over being asked to write blurbs/ synopses/ query letters for people I’ve never met, and basically coach them on every step of the process and how to do everything I’ve ever learned over the past decade or so about the craft of writing. I think I’ve helped a few aspiring authors. I think I’m generous with my advice. But I can’t do it all for them, and nor should I. You know that saying about it taking 10,000 hours to become an expert in something? It’s even more true with writing. If I do it all for you this time, what happens when you sell your book and have to write the next one by yourself? And I’m over people who only want me to divulge the “magic secret to success” without putting in the hard yards.

I’m over people who don’t say thank-you. Especially the people who DM me on a forum or email me privately or go on an email loop asking all sorts of questions. If I take a couple of hours out of my day to type up a long, detailed response and step-by-step instructions and send it off, a thank-you would be nice. But time and time again I hear nothing back. Rude, much? Politeness goes a long way. So next time you ask, I’ll politely say no.

I’m over trying to be upbeat and interesting on social media. Sorry guys, sometimes I’m feeling crap and this kind of post is what you get in shortened form. Feel free to unlike and unfollow and unsubscribe. I won’t hold it against you.

I’m over people thinking I don’t have a “proper” job. Yes, I read a lot. Yes, I’m often still in my pjs at 3pm. Yes, the money is often crap. But writing IS a proper job that’s worthy of respect. Anyone who’s ever had someone refer to their writing as a “hobby”, or expect them to drop everything because they’re at home and therefore must be available, will know exactly what I’m getting at. ‘Nuff said.

I’m over the guilt I feel whenever I have to say no in order to preserve my writing time. Saying no all the time kind of eats away at my soul piece by piece. But that’s what it takes to find the time I need to write so that’s what I do. Someday I hope to be able to say no without a skerrick of guilt. Someday soon… please?

**NOW COMES THE POSITIVE STUFF!**

So I guess it should have come as no surprise that, against my better judgement, I finally caved and said yes to something… even though I knew I didn’t have the time to spare. I just couldn’t help myself.

That something happened to be reading chapter stories written by a class of fourteen Year 3 to Year 6 primary school students in a small town Australian school.

Of course immediately after I’d hit Send on the email I wanted to recall it. What had I just committed to? I mean, this bunch of kids were all excited because they’d been told a published author was going to read their stories and comment on them, and I’m feeling resentful about the time-suck? I am a horrible, selfish person. And I can’t believe I said yes. *headdesk* What was I thinking???

But you know what? Despite my misgivings and my initial regrets about saying yes, I’m the one who benefited the most from volunteering to do this.

Reading those kids’ stories was a pleasure and a privilege — a true joy.

It took me two full days to read and comment on all the stories and I didn’t regret a minute of that time. I had no trouble finding positive encouraging things to say about these stories because there was SO MUCH to be positive and encouraging about. And I was awed by the raw talent and wonderful imaginations that shone through. In fact, I kept racing into the other room to read snippets to my husband… who was trying to work from home. Sorry, sweetie.

These kids finished their stories and sent them out into the big wide world for someone else to read. Kudos to each and every one of them. They’re more courageous than many adults. I only hope my comments achieved what their teacher wanted from all this: to inspire her students to write.

I hope that my comments showed how much I enjoyed reading each and every story.

I hope my comments highlighted all the great things these kids had done in their stories.

I hope I made them feel good about their writing.

I hope my comments helped them improve their writing.

I hope that what I said to each kid inspires them to continue writing.

I hope they all understand how special this experience was to me.

Huge thanks to each and every one of those kids for reminding me that I’m lucky: every day I get to do something I love — WRITE STORIES! And for showing me that volunteering my time doesn’t always lead to stress and pressure and resentfulness. Sometimes it results in a delight that warms the heart and provokes a smile so wide it makes your face hurt.

M

 

 

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4 Responses to “Getting to yes and rediscovering joy”

  1. How cool re reading the stories and getting joy from that. The other stuff can suck the life right out of you. So good to get a balance. :)

    • So true, Eleni! I think my balance has been out for a while so it was just plain wonderful to have something tip the scale back into joy again. Priceless :)

  2. Kylie Short says:

    Maree,

    It took me a while to track this blog post down – LOL & sorry, I’ve been like a chook with it’s head cut off in the last few weeks with my day job!

    I just wanted you to know that the kids were thrilled and over the moon with your comments. We spent a whole lesson reading and sharing snippets of your feedback to the class.

    Every child wanted to share something you’d said to them about their work, so much so, they couldn’t have cared less that 11am came and went and it was recess. They took their stories outside and shared them again with the other class at recess.

    The weekend after I gave them your feedback, three students began writing new stories – that’s how inspired they were (it brought tears to my eyes to hear the enthusiasm and excitement in their voices as they told me what they’d done over the weekend).

    Your feedback did the trick and allowed them to feel like “a real author” themselves, and you’ve left an impression on them I believe will be in their memories for all time.

    So, yes, you did achieve every single thing you listed – thank you for taking 2 days out of your jam-packed schedule to read and comment on the children’s work – it meant so much to them, and to me.

    THANK YOU! :-)

    • Believe me, Kylie, the pleasure was all mine. You’re an amazing teacher — I know that because your kids wrote amazing, incredible, heartfelt stories! I’m so honored that you thought of me and trusted me with your kids’ stories–and them, too. And I’m thrilled that they were happy with my comments, and felt proud about what they’d achieved. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thanks so much for letting me know!!

      Big hugs to you and all the kids from me.