Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is enjoying their leftovers!
I wanted to take a moment today to write about the stories we tell ourselves, the common narrative about being a writer.
I have a client whom I shall call Georgia. She is a gifted writer who has written a truly magnificent book, and has also done the hard work of preparing a book proposal and writing a synopsis and making a list of agents and getting her queries in shape to send out. A few weeks ago, she began to send out queries – pleas into the cold dark night for someone to love her book, for someone to allow her to take the next step towards being a writer.
The first handful of queries came back as NOs, or as nothing. No response. Silence.
It devastated Georgia. She wept actual tears of pain – I know because I was on the phone when she cried them and it was horrible. She thought she couldn’t go on and send out any more queries. She thought she couldn’t stand the pain of rejection.
“I had no idea how hard it would hit me,” she said. “I felt like the wallflower at the dance who wasn’t picked.”
My mind flashed back to my days in dance class and in the high school gym when I was often that girl. My mind flashed to the beloved tale of Cinderella, which is all about a girl getting picked – plucked from the pain of her life and brought into the light.
It occurred to me that this narrative – of being chosen—is so deeply ingrained in so many of our psyches that we can’t even see that there is another story.
But there absolutely is.
The other story is a tale about giving yourself permission to be the writer you want to be.
Yes, of course you want an agent to pick you and you want a juicy book deal and you want a movie offer with a glittering red carpet opening. But if you step back from that fantasy, what you really want is to connect with readers. And if you look hard at that reality, you will see that the only want that ever happens is one reader at a time.
You have to be open to connecting with one reader at a time. While you wait for the agent – and send out 100 queries and suffer the nos and the silences – you look for ways to be the writer you want to be. You look for ways to connect, to be part of the conversation, to be open to the possibilities the world may be presenting to you.
I heard a story years ago in an interview with Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker. I know – hardly a literary source, but it’s the truth. I was driving somewhere and heard her on the radio. She was talking about dating, and how people shut out the possibility of love. She was explaining how so much of what she does is to coach them on their mindset. She said, “It’s like they're a taxicab driving around with the light off. No one is going to look twice at them.” The trick, she suggested, is to turn the light on. To be available. To let the world know you are someone who is open to connecting.
That imagine stuck with me – and reminded me exactly of the way writers need to be in the world. So many of us are approaching the world with our taxi light off and still expecting someone to flag us down and offer us a fare.
Turn the taxi light on. Be open to one reader at a time. Build your audience one person at a time.
The big deals may come – or they may not. We can’t control that. But if we are committed to connecting with readers, it won’t matter, in the end. We’ll find another way to get our book into readers’ hands.
We live in excellent times for writers. There are so many ways forward. But they all begin with ditching the idea that you have to wait to be picked.
Stop waiting. Turn the light on. And go connect with some reader.