Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Person Who Risks Nothing, Does Nothing

This is a reprint of an essay which features the wisdom of the fabulous Kate Duffy. Kate was an incredible editor and an inspiring woman who encouraged writers and provided hope along with clear direction. I was one of the many writers lucky enough to be rewarded with her optimism and constant support. The writing world lost a great soul. She will be missed. For information about her passing, here is a recent NY Times article.

"Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together."-- Anais Nin

Being a writer means taking risks. With perhaps our greatest leap being between the initial Idea and the impetus for Action. It really does feel like jumping off a cliff, or skiing down a mountain. You push off and go. Exhilarating it may be, but also just a wee bit scary.

"The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live." Leo F. Buscaglia

Now, I’m not just talking about the obvious risk. It’s a given that submitting your work, seeking publication, sending out queries, facing book reviews, promoting sales and everything in between, makes your heart palpitate and leads to an excessive need for chocolate and hugs. Yet only a writer truly understands the gut-wrenching trepidation that can occur every time we sit down to scratch out a few more words.

Yikes! I’ve said it before and yet I’m still in awe of the process…

Creating Something out of Nothing.

Where do these ideas come from? From what magical resource does the 'Perfect Word' or 'Dastardly Plot Twist' spring? Believe me, learning to play guitar (which was no picnic, let me tell you) was a breeze compared to this.

“Oh, an A chord to F sharp minor to B minor to E. That’s easy. I Already Know Those Chords.”

Hah! Yet every new story must be original. We may learn how to phrase a thought or craft a pleasing sentence. We may develop an *ear* for timing and rhythm. Eventually, the clich├ęs wind down and the adverbs become less important. We evolve as writers. But the Magic required to pull those words out of thin air… well… It’s still a leap. A matter of reaching deeply into our subconscious. Delving into the shadowy parts of our psyche. We’re Taking A Chance.

So here’s what I think. Every author should take a moment and acknowledge the magnitude of this journey. You Are A Writer. Do you realize how special that is?

Perhaps we're not tying a bungee cord to our ankle and leaping off a bridge. Yet every time an author sends out a query it's the equivalent of jumping out of an airplane without even knowing if you have a working parachute! The risk may not be physical, but the stress, the worry, the fear, the hope, the anticipation and the exhilaration is no less. Hiking to the top of a dangerous mountain peak is daunting. Having dozens to millions of strangers flip through pages penned by you requires similar daring. It's the equivalent of speed-dating, as anyone and everyone can reject you. Except with speed-dating it's one at a time. Authors must brave the possibility of endless rejection simultaneously.


Writers also have the rarest of pleasures. A hiker may scale a mountain top. A sky-diver can leap out of a plane. An author jumps head-first into the wild unknown of the imagination. Each world is unique. Each story is personal and written without guide ropes or parachutes.

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." --Andre Gide

I don’t know about you, but every time, I sit down to write, I let go of all that is safe and familiar. I push myself deep into my creative being in order to compose one more tale. It’s taken more courage than anything I’ve ever done.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." --T.S. Eliot

Along with every other writer, I’ve discovered something incredible. I didn’t know if I could write a chapter, and I did. Didn’t know if I could write a book—I’ve written four. Each risk, leads to Something. How far can we go? As far as our wings will take us.

"You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." --Ray Bradbury

The more we write, the better we get. That, perhaps is the only sure thing about writing. And, in my oh-so-humble opinion, this is fantastic. Everything else is a risk except that one thing. Every Time We Write, We Improve Our Writing.

Excellent! But, what, exactly do we write? Do we write to please others or to please ourselves?

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.” --Katherine Mansfield

The truth.


The truth is we want it all. Don’t we?

I’ve faced my own dilemma, one that many writers share. I’m just not willing to chase the market. Sometimes I dearly wish I could. Yet I worry and stress about it. Just last year, an agent advised me that a particular genre was selling. This year, another agent suggested that genre is dead. Who’s right? And where does that leave an aspiring writer?

I put the question to editor Kate Duffy and here’s what she said:

“Write the best book you can and please yourself first. We, writers and publishers, create markets. Each author, no matter what the genre, is a franchise.

Editors don't buy by genre. They fall in love with a book and figure out a way to publish it that will make money.”
Kate Duffy

So, there you go. Take risks. Face the truth. Build your wings. Write the Best Damn Book you can and Please Yourself first.

"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." -E.B. White

Have a wonderful writing week, everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.


Anonymous said...

Excellent - great kickstart to my Monday.

I was pondering, once again, about my writing not fitting the market and considering, once again, of writing to market. But I can't. I'm not writing straight suspense, thriller, mystery, or romance but my writing usually has a romantic story somewhere in there. This morning I called it "Romance Without Rules" but even then labeling it romance implies certain scenarios. It may sounds like women's fiction but it's not strictly women's fiction either - that label sounds a bit stuffy. I don't know what it is, but it is something I must do.

Thanks, Chiron.

Chiron said...

Hey Kathy!

One editor told me at a conference, 'If the story is good, we'll figure out a way to market it.'

So there's that. *smile*

As Jenny Crusie might say, "Just keep writing your good book."

Have a great writing week! Thanks for stopping by.


Ann Victor said...

I agree! I think writing is a huge risk. Writer's are gambler's at heart! Other people risk their bodies (extreme sports) or their money (gambling on stockmarkets) but writer's risk their innermost being every time we put pen to paper. And we must enjoy the risk taking because otherwise why do we keep writing and writing??? :)

Chiron said...

Hello Ann!

Very nice. Yes, we risk our innermost being, and yet once we Dare To Write, how can we resist? *grin*

Reminds me of an old song by The Band: Stage Fright.

See the man with the stage fright,
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
He got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again.

The exhileration that hits when we witness the magic on the printed page is irresistible. When we get to the end, we want to start all over again. *grin*

Thanks for popping in, my dear!