September 6, 2019

permission to suck

Words by Jennifer Probst. Cross-stitch by moi.

I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist. I've embraced the Type A-Minus label and accepted the fact that while my closet may be be organized by sleeve length and color, my kitchen sink will almost always have dirty dishes in it.

I'm not even sure I'd say I expect perfection from my writing. I want to do my best to tell a compelling story in an enjoyable way that connects with readers. I accept that I'll always need help from beta readers and editors to create the best product possible.

(Ooh, I just cringed at that word. Product. It sounds so mechanical. So cold. But it's accurate. Though writing is an art and a craft, it is ultimately packaged, marketed and sold like, well, a product. This notion may keep me awake tonight.)

And I was sounding so chill until I tumbled down the product rabbit hole, wasn't I? I mean, you could almost see me on the beach playing bongos with Matthew McConaughey. I sounded like someone who has relinquished control to the universe and accepted that whatever will be will be.

Only, as I prematurely revealed with my product rant, I'm not terribly que sera sera. Not in life. Not in writing. It's fair to say I aspire to be alright, alright, alright. But I'm still working on getting through a full week without feeling completely anxious about something.

If possible, I've actually become more of a worrier with my writing since I finished the first draft of my first novel back in February 2011. Back then I was proud to have written the damn thing and had no reason to doubt that the hardest part of the process was behind me.

Oh, if I only knew then.

Truth is, most times when I sit down to write, a feel a sense of dread. Don't get me wrong, like Dorothy Parker, I love having written. It's just the process of getting from thinking about writing to done writing that stresses me out.

There's an endless stream of "what ifs" running through my head.
What if the words won't come? 
What if the words come, but they're not the right ones to capture the story in my head?
What if the words come, and they're definitely the right ones, but they still suck?  
What if this whole story sucks?  
What if I suck?
 Wow. I mean, I must be a lot of fun at parties. (Actually, I can be a lot of fun at parties. Just give me a good playlist, a lovely beverage and an audience that's down for anything, and I'll be the life of the party.)

It has taken a lot of years of going over these thoughts in my head -- and even a time or two with a counselor -- to realize just how debilitating my self doubt can be. My kingdom to have even half the confidence I had in my writing when I was fresh out of college.

But I am trying to get better at that. There's a mantra I'm trying to embrace courtesy of Jennifer Probst and her book Write Naked: A Bestseller's Secrets to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success. I absolutely recommend you read it for yourself, but I want to share one of her secrets that completely rocked my world and the way I think about my relationship with words.

Come in. Lean closer. It's a good one.

Here's the deal: We all suck sometimes. And you know what? That's okay.

Writing is a craft. Like any craft or art, it takes time to evolve and develop. It takes experimentation that work and even more that don't. In that process, sometimes you have to suck for a chance to move forward. You have to be willing to suck. And that's a hard concept to accept.

That's the key to Jennifer Probst's advice. You have to give yourself permission to suck. She actually has that written on a Post-It note that hangs over her desk. I loved that idea so much that in one of my cross-stitch frenzies, I made myself a little something with that same phrase.

Nearly two years later, I'm still learning how to give myself permission to suck. As I said, I'm no perfectionist, but I do hate failure. For so long, that fear of failure has kept me from even trying. So that's my challenge to myself and to any of you reading this. Don't let a fear of failure keep you from even trying to succeed. More, take a page from Jennifer Probst and lean into that potential failure. Because you can't get better if you don't accept you might suck along the way.

I had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Probst at the Romance Writers of American 2019 Conference in New York City. I told her how much I appreciated her sharing her mantra and wisdom with all of us. And because I'm a sap, I definitely teared up while I did.

And, because I'm me, I almost didn't do it. After weighing the pros and cons of deciding just how big of a nerd I wanted to be, I went all in. I'm so glad I did. The few minutes we spent together, and the way she grabbed my hand in excitement, are among my favorite memories from the conference and even the whole year.

In a way, it was practice for giving myself permission to suck. It was scary and awkward at first. And I had to accept that I might come off weird. But if I hadn't gotten past that and put myself out there, I wouldn't have made such a great memory. And you know what? It paid off.

Hanging out with Jennifer Probst at the Montlake signing at RWA 2019.
She may not know this, but it's quite possible we're destined to be BFFs.

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