Until the answer is no…

Many writers are familiar with legendary sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein’s rules of writing. The first two are:

  1. You must write.
  2. 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.

  1. Last November, I submitted a novel (not set in my Laurel Highlands universe) to the St. Martins-Minotaur-MWA Best First Crime Novel competition.
  2. 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.
  3. A couple weeks ago, I pushed Send on a short-story submission for the next anthology from the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime.
  4. 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


Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, but finds creating fiction is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, she is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series. The first book, Root of All Evil, will be released by Level Best Books in August 2018. Her short fiction has been published in several anthologies, including the Anthony-award-winning Blood on the Bayou, Mystery Most Historical and The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos. Visit her at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

16 thoughts on “Until the answer is no…”

  1. This is a perfect way of looking at it! It’s fun to imagine that ‘yes’. =) And if it turns out to be no, well, then I’ll look forward to the next possible ‘yes’. (I’m waiting to hear back on a short story sub!)


  2. I love that idea, Mary! Until you hear ‘no’ the answer could always be ‘yes’. And what a great way to help with the waiting, arguably tougher than the writing itself!

    I didn’t know there was going to be another Bouchercon anthology this year! I may consider submitting a short story too, especially with that fantastic theme. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you hear a ‘yes’ soon! 🙂


  3. I just dealt with this yesterday, assuming I had been rejected from Kindle Scout, only to find out my book was accepted. Perfect example of “until the answer is no…” Good lesson.


  4. I love your attitude! Heinlein’s rules look simple, but in fact they’re really, really hard. If the answer at first is no, then find someone else who will say yes.

    And yay, Kimberly!


  5. Good advise. After I hit send, I work very hard in forgetting about it. That’s easier to do when I’m working on the next project. I’ve short-listed on an a couple of unpublished literary contests with Pacific Northwest Writers Assn and won the Malice Domestic. None of these things would have happened if I was waiting for perfection.


  6. Kate, yes they made the announcement yesterday on the, Bouchercon FaceBook page. I believe the deadline is March 15. Go for it!

    Kimberly – congrats! I just saw that this morning. How exciting!

    Kait, fingers to the keyboard!

    Lisa, thanks. I think another way to look at it is what my husband tells my kids. “You might as well ask. If you don’t, you’re already at “no” so why not try?”

    Becky, thanks!

    Sue, the key is to keep asking so you find that “yes” out there.

    Keenan, isn’t it the truth? Having something to move on to is really important to avoid obsessing about the thing you just sent out into the wild. Daydreaming is all well and good, but we writers are already neurotic. Why add something else to the list, right?


  7. The road to YES has cobblestones of NO that one must step on and over to reach the final yes. If the journey were easy, it would be so crowded that there would not be room. Happy writing to y’all and happy reading to me.


  8. Did anyone buy a Powerball ticket a couple of weeks ago? The anticipation, the dream of “what if” lasted until the numbers were chosen.

    With your dedication to craft and willingness to be vulnerable, you are vastly more likely to get yes’s than win the lottery.

    Way to go!


  9. Peg, I did not. But you’re right. The chances of hearing “yes” are so much higher than hitting a winning set of numbers.

    Cynthia, aww. You are too kind. 🙂

    Sam, yes! There’s a park near me that has a waterslide that is ridiculously high – higher than any I’ve ever seen. I’m not a ‘fraidy-cat when it comes to such things, but even I stood at the top and gulped before taking the plunge. And thank you for the congrats!


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