By Darlene Cah
We maintain many relationships in our lives as writers. Professionally, we may interact with editors, publishers, book sellers, beta readers, writer colleagues, managers, publicity people, fans (Hey, I’m thinking big, here!).
Personally, we have spouses or significant others, friends, parents, siblings, extended family members, non-writing professional acquaintances, such as doctors, accountants, among others. All these people affect us. Their support or lack of support can shape how we view ourselves as writers. They influence our writing—from providing us with storylines or dialogue to unknowingly offering up character traits or physical attributes. On another level their opinions about our work matter to us, and depending on how close the relationship is, an opinion can determine whether or not we continue with a certain project. So building solid relationships, hopefully based on mutual trust and respect, is essential to our writing lives.
As all these important people fill up our days and nights, and there’s a lot of give and take going on, yet there’s still one more crucial relationship writers must nurture: the relationship with ourselves.
Now, I’m not going to go all psycho-babble on you, telling you to smile at yourself in the bathroom mirror while reciting a list of affirmations, though a positive attitude does a long way when the inevitable rejection email hits your inbox, and you begin to question every comma you ever inserted.
Whenever I need a boost in confidence, I turn to the rules of improv. So let’s start with the very foundation. Say, yes…and…. Yes, you are a writer and your words are worthwhile, whether you’ve been published or you’re still trying to figure out that point-of-view thing. The only validation you need to call yourself a writer is sitting at the keyboard and pounding out a sentence, a paragraph, a story, poem, essay, play, or catalog copy!
Many longtime couples I know plan date nights, a special time just for themselves, outside of their ordinary routine. So take a risk and write something unexpected. Routine is not a bad thing, but if you fall into a rut, it’s easy to become bored. If you’re bored with your writing, you can be sure that your story will be a cure for some editor’s insomnia. Try writing a different genre. You might not become a Tony Award-winning playwright in one day, but the effort might shake the cobwebs loose, not to mention improve your characters’ dialogue. Taking these kinds of risks keeps you on your toes by challenging you to explore and discover new and interesting aspects of your personality and skills as a writer. You may find a hidden poet in there. If what comes out is a total mess, great! Fail big! Own it! Embrace it! Give yourself permission to screw up royally. The lessons you’ll learn probably won’t be easy, but give yourself a break, because eventually, you’ll look back and realize how much you learned. Every good relationship needs room to grow.
Make yourself look good. That’s right, be your own cheerleader, that supportive friend you can always rely on. How do you do that? By saying yes! Yes, I deserve this 15, 30, 60 minutes of writing time. Yes, my story is good enough to submit to that highfalutin, foo-foo lit mag. Yes, that sentence can be tightened, and I know just how to do it.
Yes, I’m starting to sound more and more like a litany of affirmations. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Because sometimes, we have to be our own best friends.