Many writers are familiar with legendary sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein’s rules of writing. The first two are:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
Note that Heinlein doesn’t say “write every day.” Only that you must write. I’m not bad with these. My lunch hour Monday through Friday is dedicated to writing – or revising/re-writing/editing, which counts (in my opinion). When I’m lucky, I get some time on the weekends. But even then if I’m not putting fingers to keyboard, I’m thinking about my story.
I don’t have a problem with Rule #2, either. I’ve got seven finished middle-grade books (six published, one waiting). Many novel manuscripts. Various short stories. All in different stages of “completeness.” Some will never see the light of day (because I see the shortcomings, but I’m not passionate enough about the project to fix them), but they are finished. I’ve met a lot of writers over the years who never seem to be able to reach “The End.” That’s not me, although I won’t vouch for the quality of words between page 1 and “The End.”
Recently, I came upon a–let’s call it a corollary–to Heinlein’s rules from comedienne Tina Fey, star of Saturday Night Live and author of Bossypants. Fey says:
You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.
You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. (And I’m from a generation where a lot of people died on waterslides, so this was an important lesson for me to learn.) You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV.
This is where I have, on more than one occasion, fallen down. I fully admit to being semi-petrified to let people see what I wrote. Oh, some people are okay. My critique group, my husband, some fellow Mysteristas. But an agent? A contest judge? Are you kidding?
But Fey is right. If you write and you intend on sharing what you wrote (And don’t we all? I talked about this before.) you have to let go. You have to push Send. In that spirit, I’ve spent a fair amount of time pushing Send.
- Last November, I submitted a novel (not set in my Laurel Highlands universe) to the St. Martins-Minotaur-MWA Best First Crime Novel competition.
- I’ve been querying And Corruption for All for almost nine months. Last November I received my first request for a full and (after hyperventilating for a while), sent that out.
- A couple weeks ago, I pushed Send on a short-story submission for the next anthology from the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime.
- I haven’t pushed Send yet, but I’ll be submitting a short-story for inclusion on the next Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou.
All this sending has me in a state of high anxiety combined with anticipation. It’s frightening. But it’s also exhilarating. Waiting, anticipation, has never been my strong suit. But I’m trying to enjoy the moments instead of fretting about them.
Enjoy? you ask. How could I enjoy something so nerve-wracking? Simple.
Until the answer is “no,” it just might be “yes.”
That period of anticipation is an unknown. And I think, to a certain extent, humans are hardwired to be afraid of the unknown. But fear never helped anyone. You don’t reach your goals through fear. If you looked at every opportunity as a time when you might hear the word “no,” you might not ever do anything.
So instead of dreading the anticipating, letting it wear me down, I’m trying to revel in it. Sure, the answer might eventually be “no.”
But until it is, it might also be “yes.”
Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73