When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.




The Pursuit of Yes

Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 116,428. 1401 words added.
Page Count for the Novel: 418 pages. (4 pages added since last post.)

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to the other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’”

— Stephen Covey

If we all possessed knowledge of what our highest priorities should be, I imagine such wisdom would mean the end of Unhappiness. But often we don’t even know what Happiness is. Jefferson’s oft-repeated phrase, “the pursuit of happiness,” might better be stated as, Figuring Out What the Heck Makes Me Happy.

It’s not as if Happiness sits in a clown suit waving from a distant mountain peak and all you have to do is cross some miles. Happiness isn’t easy to ID nor is it the fruit of a simple search.

Another myth is that the pursuit should be fun and something you could do with half an eye open. Not so. Sometimes you have to go after Happiness with both eyes open and pasted to the back of your head and to your back and all over that pursuing body. Alertness and courage are of the essence.

Cut to the artist’s life. The artist’s way is not just about embracing your muse on a mountaintop with a resounding “YES!” If you dare to make art, you know it’s about facing your fears. One fear I have is that doing the safe thing is smarter and better than dealing with the unknowns of a writer’s life. I may love to work here at this keyboard and slip into my writer’s dreamland; I may adore what creativity does to me, body and soul; but if it doesn’t immediately pay the bills or fill up the résumé with accomplishments, well, I’m kind of…unhappy.

“The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good,’” Covey says. Could that enemy be those safe tasks I’m good at, those pursuits that make some money, that call to me with siren songs of status and security? Those pursuits are ultimately good things, not of the devil, but they remain enemies nonetheless. They don’t truly advance me. I have to create and believe in my own standards and stair steps to success. The ladder I climb has to be toward the better angels of my nature, not to what Society says is Success and You’ve Arrived.

(I’m using an awful lot of capitals, but that’s in honor of Jefferson and the mechanics of English at the time of the Declaration.)

The older I get, the more I discover what gives me the greatest joy. When it comes to work and sweat, some of these things are

— Being there at the creation of a story, and then still there at the molding, and the pruning, and the raising up into adulthood;
— Helping a fellow writer or student see the beauty in their creative work, and challenging the artist to persevere toward the truth they seek; and
— Developing lessons another teacher can use tomorrow.

When I look at how I spend my time each day, how much time is spent in the pursuit of these things? And if my time isn’t spent in those pursuits, how do I get there? Those are the questions that get me further on my ladder of happiness.

Answer them with choices, and no apologies, either. Covey uses a bit of a clunker — “nonapologetically” — and it draws attention, perhaps for good reason. Apologize for choosing my right path? I’m tempted because of what others might do when I choose my destiny. Some will test you when you make the right choice, since you’re changing the rules others assumed you’d follow. Others will expect apology. Romeo wonders the same thing as he crashes the Capulet party: “…shall we on without apology?” Benvolio, usually timid, disagrees: “..let them measure us by what they will./We’ll measure them a measure and be gone.”

Measuring them a measure means, treading out some stately dance and then disappearing. Sometimes you have to bow and curtsey and be safely, politely gone.

So in the spirit of embracing the “bigger ‘yes’ burning inside,” “no” must be said to devoting time and worry to work that’s high on stress but low on spiritual reward; to tweaking a novel rather than serious revision; and to being the “good” girl who dutifully pursues dust bunnies with a Swiffer rather than dusting off her keyboard to swiftly write.

And no must even be said to Sonny, squeaking cat by my side. Sure, my blog mascot deserves extra Science diet now that he’s gone global. But even he settles down eventually (after scratching the edges of my desk and getting tangled up in computer cords in hopes I’ll leave my writing). Cats are smart. They know nothing is more important than pursuing your dreams in some soft, warm spot. I know nothing is more important than pursuing my dreams in the quiet of this office that’s taken years to build. Let the dust collect, let the résumé sit, let the fears subside. All things work to the good in the Pursuit of Yes.

Today’s Writing Goal: Backtrack and edit to cut words and get reacquainted before * pick up in the mid-400’s to keep the story under 150,000. Finish draft #1 of new short story, “Man on Man.”

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.


What Makes Me Happy?

Make a list of ten people, ten places, ten activities, and ten things that make you happy. You should have forty items on your list by the end.

Now circle one from each list and write a sentence about each that explains why this person, place, activity, or thing brings you happiness. If you can, use “Words I Can’t Touch” – words such as love, hope, joy, excitement, safety, fun – to explain why.

Write a poem called “How to Make Me Happy.” In this poem, mention your favorite people, places, activities, and things that bring you joy.

Secondary and Adult

The Happiness Ladder

What choices do you make that make you happy? Have you ever helped someone, made a tough choice or sacrifice, or worked really hard, and then found happiness? Have you ever made a friend who brought you great happiness?

People sometimes use a ladder to refer to the path toward success. Describe your ladder and give details about what choices, people, and places are at each rung. Most importantly, what’s at the top of the ladder?

Filed Under: fun, happiness, joy, muse, the writing life