One of my journalism professors taught me the most valuable professional lesson I’ve learned. He stood at the head of the computer lab twirling his glasses around and around by the arm as was his habit and said, “Say yes.” We were all stressed graduate students willing to do anything to get out of class on time so we could catch a few minutes sleep on the radio lab couches. Staring at our professor in silence seemed like the best way to keep inching closer to naptime.
In his Texas Hill Country drawl he continued, “When someone asks you to apply for a job, say yes. When someone asks if you want to freelance for them, say yes. You never know where those opportunities will take you, but they’re going to get you moving and that’s a lot better than standing still.”
I didn’t really understand my professor’s message for a long time. Then I decided to approach writing as a career rather than a hobby, and things started to click. I finished polishing my book, queried, signed with my agent, and watched her shop my historical romance around to editors.
The book didn’t sell.
I continued to write, joined RWA, and attended the national conference in July. I met brilliant, passionate women who loved doing this writing thing too. We exchanged tweets, then emails, then ideas. When those ideas snowballed into potential projects I found myself faced with a question: should I focus on churning out my next book or say yes to joining those projects?
There were a lot of things to consider. I could probably dedicate more time to my current work in progress if I focused solely on that, but I’d miss out on the opportunity to get my name out there in the form of some indie projects. Moreover, I wanted to learn from these other women and push myself out of my comfort zone.
I pitched one of the ideas – an indie anthology set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with three other authors – to my agent. She backed up what I was instinctively thinking. I should say yes.
I can’t tell you how glad I am. There’s something reassuring about being an unpublished author trying to play the long, slow waiting game of traditional publishing who knows that she’s going to have work out in the near future. Now I’m looking for opportunities wherever they come up. I’ve said yes to regular, live Google Hangout chats with the other women of First Draught and blog hops about process and flash fiction. I’ve said yes when invited to panels and readings which have led to growing friendships with other authors. The best part is that all of this has reinforced my decision to make writing my profession and not my hobby.
My initial worries about these other projects sucking up time that could be spent on my WIP were valid. I understand how easily that could happen to anyone, but if anything I’ve found that saying yes has forced me to focus and allot my time more efficiently. Now I work on a strict Sunday through Thursday schedule. I have a word count for the WIP I will eventually send to my agent, and I hit it even if it feels like pulling teeth some nights. Any extra time gets tacked on to that main project or can be dedicated to one of my “Say Yes” projects. It’s incredible what you can do when you have limited time to execute things.
So I’m passing along the same advice I got: say yes. Agree to do things that take you outside of your WIP every once in awhile. Build relationships. Collaborate. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Yes can be a magical word if you take a chance on it.