Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Equal Opportunity Preparation

(First of all: if you haven't entered my crazy-ridiculous contest in which you can win a gun that fires large marshmallows over 30 feet, please do so. It ends on Thursday.)

Here's one thing we're good at in the writing world: preparing you for the worst. Every writing book, blog, magazine, website, and message board tells you what to do in the worst case scenario. If you get rejected. If you get revision notes you don't agree with. If your dream agent packs up and moves to Mars on your favorite donkey (laugh all you want, but that would put you in quite a pickle.) How to wait. How to cut. How to handle disappointment with grace.

That is all awesome. Don't get me wrong-- that advice prepared me for some tough times. It helped me to ward off bitterness when I got rejected, to pick myself up and try again. I'm not knocking it.

Here is my question, though: what if everything goes well?

This is, of course, something I've been thinking about for the past two weeks. I think the assumption is that when things go well, you don't need to be prepared, you'll just "go with it." But I don't think that's necessarily true.

The other day I sat down with my notebook and wrote out my goals. But I didn't think about how many books I want to sell (because the answer to that is: as many as possible) or who I want to star in my autobiographical Lifetime movie or what I want my hair to look like when I'm on Oprah or whatever. No, no. My goals are an answer to the following question:

Who do you want to be, if everything goes well? What kind of person? What kind of author, writer, client, friend, wife?

I'll admit that some of this has nothing to do with the book. Forgive me if I sound all serious and intense for a little while. I'll try to lighten the mood with this picture:

(picture removed)

I guess you can answer these questions no matter how things go. But I can see that it would be tempting to take what you have for granted, when you're used to it, or to let the allure of new, cool things carry you far away from who you were before. I think one way to prevent all of that from happening is to decide, right now, what you want success to look like on you. If success doesn't come, then it doesn't matter, you've still isolated what's important to you. And if it does, you already know exactly how you're going to handle it. There's no uncertainty.

There are a few things I value. I'm not saying I've got them all down already and I'm just trying not to lose them. Heck no. I'm saying there are qualities I'd like to have, that I might already have and I'm working to strengthen, that I don't have the opportunity to develop but may someday.

I don't want to get all "inspirational post-y" and write my list here. But I will tell you that most of my goals boil down to being kind, humble, and honest. I have more specific examples of when and where. As in: I'm not going to talk around or deny my beliefs. And: I'm going to accept criticism with grace. And: I'm going to approach revisions with enthusiasm.

I think it's time.

(picture removed)

Anyway. You get the idea. I'm deciding, right now, what my author/writer/client trajectory is going to look like. There are some things I can't control, like whether my book is successful or not. But I can control how I carry myself, no matter what happens.

This is me encouraging you to consider the brighter side of the future. I mean: it could happen. And: it could happen so fast you don't know what hit you.

*cough*

Basically, here's what I think: you can never sell enough books to compensate for being an unkind, pompous jackass. What you can do is figure out how to love people deeply, widely, and authentically. And to me, that's light years more important.

So: are you going to be the kind of author who engages with the writing community? The kind who answers questions, beta reads, responds to twitter @s when possible? Or the kind who shuts herself/himself in a cabin in the woods and refuses to talk to anyone? Are you going to broadcast the dollar amount of your advance on the internet? Or are you going to keep learning, even if you establish yourself, even if you top the bestseller list, even if you achieve formerly unheard of levels of fame and wealth?

What kind of author are you going to be?

Ponder it. I'm going to.

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