Hello, my friends! It’s been awhile, eh? Apologies for not popping back in sooner, but perhaps this is good timing, as I hear that you’ve been receiving the skinny from Mini on the brutal, humiliating and absurd trade known as publishing.
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time I interviewed authors—famous ones like TC Boyle and emerging ones like Gayle Brandesi—for my literary radio program Word by Word. I hosted this show for three years (a volunteer labor of love that still got us a $10K NEA grant) and I got some of the best (and worst) advice from writers possible. One of my favorite bits came from the contemporary surrealist writer Aimee Bender. We were discussing her story, “Fruit and Words” (which, if you haven’t read it, you must. It can be found in her collection, Willful Creatures). She said (and I am paraphrasing from memory): “Writing is the only art where you must use the medium itself to describe the act of making it. You don’t paint a picture to describe one, or dance a dance,” she said.
I thought a lot about this, how we writers take the tool of everyday communication and mold it for both artistic and practical purposes. We are always using our medium. When you think about that, you who are no strangers to the pen, the muse or even the writing conference, you will realize that you have a powerful tool at your disposal to help focus you on a daily, even hourly, basis.
Focus being the key word here. That’s what all this happy feeling stuff is about—getting you to focus your feelings and thoughts—which are linked, by the way—on positive outcomes and good feelings. Why? So we can sing Kumbaya and bliss out on our own inner beauty? No! (Well, okay, if you must). The reason is that positive thinking attracts more of itself and it has a tendency to lead to hope and motivation—two things you need in spades in this industry.
The problem is, positive thinking doesn’t come terribly naturally to many of us. It’s been beaten, shamed and encouraged out of us. Which is why I’m here to remind you that beneath all the terrible odds and the ridiculous standards, there’s a reason why you write in the first place that probably is closer to making you feel joy than it is to getting rich quick. But it’s easy to get lost in the getting rich and famous end of it.
Yes, you want to make a living at your trade but I doubt you’re in this for the money. You’ve got important ideas and good stories and you must write or die, and you seek a reputable, time-tested platform to put them out there. When you lean toward the positive, have faith and generally believe good things might happen, you are more likely to follow up on leads you’d otherwise be too depressed, ignorant or overwhelmed to pursue. You are more likely to say “yes” to things, to accept tips, to learn, grow, and find your way smack into the center of success.
So here’s a tip: Whatever your writing goal, try to think about it when you’re ALREADY feeling good—don’t send negative thought or feelings to the thing you want most when you’re about ready to throw down the pen forever and apply to Burger King.
Save thinking about Being a Published Novelist for times when you’ve paused from laborious data entry/real estate selling/banal Ad-copywriting and have stepped out onto the corporate patio to soak in some sunshine. Reach for your writing desires as a kind of mood enhancer, so that you come to link positive moments with the acquisition of your Number One Desire. You have to train yourself here as rigorously as Pavlov did his dogs.
Yes, this is kind of like meditation. When the downer thought—remember those “I suck” examples I gave before—comes floating through, chase it off like a nasty, smelly little dog that is trying to soil your yard, and either court or wait for a better moment to think, “But some people make it as writers, and so will I.”
You have the tool—writing—so use it to get what you want. Don’t wait for things to happen to you. Don’t wait for agents and publishers and adoring audiences to validate you. You have to start behaving as if you ALREADY HAVE that which you desire.
I know you just said, “But how can I act as if I have what I don’t have, Jordan? That’s crazy talk!”
Is it? You’re writers. You have a rich fantasy life, I know you do. You’ve spent unreasonable amounts of time dreaming about things and people you wanted. You’ve allowed yourself to wander off into bubbles of fantasy. But someone or something probably made you “snap out of it” and tell yourself, “Stop dreaming, babe. Don’t kid yourself.”
Well I’m instructing you to get back to dreaming. Choose to spend lots of time imagining in full color and detail what it is you want. Because when you do, you activate all kinds of powerful little sensors and feelings inside yourself. They lead to excitement, hope, action, more writing.
Then WRITE DOWN your fantasies for the perfect literary career in precise detail as if it is already happening. Because the more you take your writing career as something that already exists, the more you make room for things to happen instead of languishing in the statistics and deciding it isn’t worth trying.
Here’s an example from my journal from September of last year:
“Today it occurred to me that if I want to be a published novelist, nothing stands in my way. The way will be shown to me. I have finished my novel revision and I’m agent-shopping again, but with such confidence and power that it happens so fast and the agent sells my book fast too. It’s was all just a simple matter of readying myself, shifting my energy.”
Funny thing is, while THAT novel I am describing above did not succeed in getting me an agent, I wrote a whole OTHER novel that in fact garnered me an agent in one week’s time when I sent out queries. I’m not making this up. The novel mentioned above was something I needed to clear out of myself, and it made room for the one I really wanted to write. I was so SURE, so EXCITED, that I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when I got an agent.
And the fact is, I didn’t wait for external validation to believe that. Yes, I have done my homework, but my other novel is perfectly lovely too. Nothing wrong with it. Except that it deals with family issues and I felt very scared that if it were published, my family would hate me. I channeled lots of fear towards it. Et Voilà, it went nowhere.
I hope that for every strike of reality that hits you about why it’s hard to make it as a writer, you’ll remember that so long as you don’t jump on that particular bandwagon, and make room to write what you want and feel good about it ONCE A DAY, you’ll be shocked and amazed at how much opens up for you.
If you’d like to formally get involved in this work, it’s not too late to sign up for the Creating Space online class (link), session one, which begins on September 8th, for 4 weeks.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Thanks, Jordan, for all those words of wisdom! We really appreciate your stopping by.
And everybody, if you’ve been finding Jordan’s advice helpful, please, write in and let us know. Also, if I can blandish Jordan into coming back and visiting us here again (as I hope I shall), are there any points she’s made you’d like her to expand upon?
I also want to toot my horn on her behalf before I sign off. Jordan’s book, “Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time” will be published by Writer’s Digest Books in Fall, 2007 and her book with Rebecca Lawton, “Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers & Other Inspired Souls,” will be published in Summer, 2007 by Wavegirl Ink. She is a book reviewer for NPR affilliate KQED’s news-magazine the California Report and a freelance contributer to Writer’s Digest Magazine, The Writer, The St. Petersburg Times, AlterNet, The Pacific Sun and more. Her novel, THE NIGHT ORACLE, is represented by the Levine-Greenberg literary agency.