February Theme: Do-Overs (Stephanie Burgis)

OK, here's a confession: when I first sat down to try to figure this month's question out - which one moment in publishing I wished I could do-over - I almost couldn't do it. Trust me, this was not because my career progression has been flawless! (Hahahaha. No.) It was because I felt absolutely overwhelmed for choice. There were too many moments I wished I could erase forever!

Thank goodness most people I've met in publishing, whether they're writers, agents, editors or anyone else, tend to be good people who love books and who are willing to forgive new writers for making rookie mistakes. I've had generous, experienced writers answer my questions, give me good advice - and, better yet, forgive me when, early on, I did things that were just downright awkward or unprofessional.

(I still cringe when I remember asking one wonderful, experienced writer, at a particularly low point many years ago, if she could please refer me to a publisher who was a personal friend of hers. For those of you who haven't come across this issue yet - seriously, just DON'T do it! If a writer wants to refer you to an agent or a publisher they know, then they'll offer to do that without any prompting. You won't have to ask! If they don't want to, though...well, then you've just put both of you into an intensely awkward situation by asking them that favor. They'll feel rotten, embarrassed and uncomfortable at having to say no to you; you'll feel, if you're anything like me, about as tall as a slug no matter how kindly and gently they turn you down. Don't make that mistake! Learn from my moment of Cringe!)

I've tried to learn from all of my mistakes, but of course I'll just keep making more (and learning from them, I hope) as I go along. Most of all, though, when I look back at the last several years, I wish I could do-over the months I spent flailing between writing projects, stuck not because I didn't secretly know which one I wanted to write...but because I felt so wracked by insecurity, panicked by sales numbers that were out of my control, and my own fear of how badly I could fail if I trusted my own instincts.

If I could take all the hours, weeks, and months I'd spent angsting over whether I was good enough/ whether I was doing the right, the smartest thing, and re-do that time to spend it writing instead...

Well, honestly, I'd be a lot happier and I wouldn't have missed out at all. (Especially because the inevitable answer to all of my angst has always, always been: Just write what feels right and ignore the rest. Because really, what else can any of us do?)

Maybe the extra books or stories I might have written in that time would have sold; maybe they wouldn't. But it's always better to spend time writing than spend the same time worrying about writing.

And now I'm going to try to remember my own good advice...but if I fall down on it, I won't waste time yelling at myself for it.

I hope.

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  1. Great advice Stephanie! We get so good at worrying and imagining how we might fail that it freezes us. I try to tell myself "just keep writing"- like "just keep swimming" in Finding Nemo- lol. Sometimes it works :-)

    1. Thanks so much, Maurissa! And that really is the best slogan.

  2. Oh, Stephanie, I feel you! Worry is a very bad habit, and one that does produce a lot of waste... I tend to worry about the NEXT thing when I should be celebrating the CURRENT thing! Waste waste waste. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. I tend to worry about the NEXT thing when I should be celebrating the CURRENT thing!

      Yes! Why is it so much easier to focus on our worry over the next thing than on the very cool thing that's just happened? Sigh.

      It really helps to know that I'm not alone in struggling with this, though!

  3. Excellent advice. I would be hard pressed to pick one do-over moment as well... there are so many!

  4. If I could have one major do over moment, it would be to stop worrying about what I was writing and if it was marketable. Not that anything I ever wrote was a waste of time, but I thought about markets way too much.

    Far too often my instincts said go west and my head said No, no go north. I should have listened to my instincts much sooner.

    Good post, Stephanie. Sorry it took me a day to get here. :)

  5. Yes! Jaime, I do exactly the same, even though I've had irrefutable proof a dozen times in the past that honestly, I have NO idea what really is or isn't "marketable". And yet that paranoid part of my brain always tries to get in the way!

    Good luck to both of us in listening to our instincts.

  6. Oh, brave you! And terrific advice, as always.

  7. If you're not making mistakes, you're not growing!

    1. Holly, I really like that theory! (And ack, I'm sorry it took me so long to spot this comment and reply to it - duh!)


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