The Audacity to Try

Last week when I wrote about The Good Wife, I forgot to mention how the sheer audacity of the writers takes the show from good wholesome legal drama and transforms it into a daring, even shocking show that keeps viewers too enthralled to think about what they’re seeing.

At one point in the show, Eli Gold discovers that his client’s competition in an election had a boob job. They leak it to the press, write a goofy song about how she got bigger boobs… and then discover that she had a breast reconstruction after recovering from breast cancer.


But the sheer audacity of that moment makes it great. It’s not maudlin: there’s no awkward acceptance and apology. There’s just, “Oh sh*t!” and the recovery from a real, incredible mistake.

If only we real people had the audacity to dive into our actions and then accept our mistakes with such gusto.

We writers can’t say we aren’t brave. It takes courage and audacity to try a nontraditional career, to say, “This is what I want to do,” and pursue it without regard to its practicality.

But how many writers will give up because it’s hard, because they think they don’t have time, because they got a rejection notice? It would be easy, even smarter to give up, but think of all the wonderful stories that would have gone unpublished if their writers hadn’t had the balls to keep going.

Most people—certainly most women—know the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Did you know that Ulrich is a feminist and a Mormon, and was once denied the opportunity to speak at Brigham Young University women’s conference? Although the board of trustees did allow her to  speak more than a decade leader, she was once thought too outrageous to speak to young women of her own tradition.

It takes audacity to say you want to be a writer, but it takes courage to keep saying it when other people tell you can’t. Pat yourself on the back today, writer. Remind yourself just how wild, crazy, hopelessly hopeful, and damned courageous you are.

The Best Laid Plans

I got so much work done yesterday revising and replotting that I decided to run my errands last night so I would have an entire day free to work again today. I also had planned a very exciting blog post, some research for a project I have to present this weekend, and who knows what other productive tasks I could accomplish.

Then my boss called at about 10:45.

“Uh, yeah,” she said. “You were supposed to open the store today.”

Picture me like this:

*headdesk* (Though I am happy I got to share that video with you.)

This was extra-double-bad because my fiance and I share a car, and about ten minutes earlier, he had taken it to work. I was stranded, the bus only runs about once an hour, and the store—right on the town square—was standing dark and empty. Lucky for me, my fiance is a nice guy, so he turned around to come back and pick me up. He sat on the couch and watched me scamper around, putting my gungy hair in a ponytail, packing some bread and butter to eat for a “nutritious” combination breakfast and lunch, and generally acting like a complete idiot.

Five hours later, I shuffled up the steps to our apartment, ponytail sagging and tote bag overflowing with my laptop power cord and the empty bags from my “lunch.” My feet hurt because I chose to wear ridiculous knee-high boots with my gypsy skirt (fondly known by my fiance as the “crazy bag lady skirt”), my nose is running like a faucet because I’m still not over the bronchitis of doom, and the only thing I’ve eaten all day is said bread and butter and a handful of honey-roasted peanuts.

As I carried those idiot boots over one arm, tote bag slung over the other arm, my fiance said, “Now you really look like a crazy bag lady.”

It’s just been one of those days, readers. You know the ones. Somehow everything you planned goes up in smoke, your hair resists every effort to look nice, you realize you’ve been wearing your shirt inside out all day, the car won’t start when you’re already running late, the cat throws up on the carpet right where you first step out of bed, the toast burns, and you really wish you’d just shut your cellphone off and stayed in bed.

Lucky me, though, I have a job I love and awesome readers like you. And as Kristen Lamb said yesterday, a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to work on a lot more than character arcs and subplots. Today was just a long-run day, and I’ll be the stronger tomorrow for it.

But if you’ll excuse me for now, I’m going to watch that chipmunk video about a dozen more times and help myself to a beer. And then this evening I’ll get some of the work I had planned done, because writing is totally worth looking like a crazy bag lady.

Nothing to Wear to the Grammys

I had lunch with a friend today and we got to talking about how creative types (and probably other types as well) tend to overthink things.

I told her about a personal project I’m working on that took me a year to get started on because I wanted it to be perfect. Eventually I realized that you have to start somewhere—perfection doesn’t just manifest fully formed. If you never start, you’ll never even come close to perfection.

She told me a story her mentor, a songwriter, once told her. This woman sat down one day to write a song.

But before she even played a chord, she started to think, “Wow, this a great start. These lyrics could be really good. What if it turns out to be a great song? And what if it becomes hugely successful? What happens when my album becomes a bestseller? And I get tons of money? And when I get nominated for an award? I don’t even have anything to wear to the Grammys!”

And she got so intimidated by her own thoughts, she couldn’t even start writing the song.

It’s fun to imagine future success, and perhaps terrifying to imagine the responsibilities that come with the success, but most of us probably shoot the opposite direction with our flights of fancy. We think, “Wow, this sentence is bad. What if the whole chapter is bad? And then what if I finish the book, and none of my beta readers like it? What if I send it to agents and they send me back letters that just say, ‘HAHAHA NO.’? And what if I send it to editors and they tell me I suck? What if I actually can’t write and I have to get a job at WalMart because I have no marketable skills? And what if I’m so pathetic that I’m going to die alone after one of my midnight shifts at Walmart and no one notices until I never show up for my next shift?!”

You get the idea.

Trouble is, it doesn’t matter if you have nothing to wear to the Grammys if you never even write a song.

We need to stop getting in our own way. Every great book, every great song, every great work has to start somewhere. So put the pen to the paper and quit worrying about what you’ll wear.