All throughout my childhood, my parents had a mantra they'd say to me when I'd get worked up and worried about the future. "Nothing happens until it does." It's ironic, because they worried about things all the time and still do. It's sound wisdom, though, and I make a daily effort to embrace it. It's especially salient for fiction writers when it comes to the "life" portion of "the writing life."
As writers, we love to play the "what if?" game. We're relaxing at the coffee shop or waiting in line at the post office or pulling into the parking lot at the day job. Then it strikes. What if that guy who just bought a vanilla latte is secretly in love with the barista? What if the woman in line ahead of me is about to learn she has an incurable disease? What if the people sitting in that parked car are plotting to overthrow the government?
It's how good ideas and compelling fiction are born.
We writers get so practiced at playing this game, that it often invades our writing pursuits in less-fun ways, too. What if I spend years writing this novel and nobody reads it? What if I pour my heart into this book and then somebody else publishes one just like it before mine is complete? What if my writing sucks?
Sure, all those things could happen. Absolutely. Or not. Nothing happens until it does. Don't let the fear of failure paralyze you or even slow you down when it comes to chasing your dreams. Just write. Write the best damn novel or short story or magazine article or poem or (insert your dream here) that you can. Study the craft. Enjoy the process. And see what happens when it does.
Start asking yourself more positive questions. What if I spend years writing this novel and everybody loves it? What if I work hard on this novel and people say it's one of a kind? What if my writing shines?
One of my favorite quotes is from prolific writer and New York Times bestselling author Laurence Shames. He said, "Success and failure. We think of them as opposites, but they're really not. They're companions." He's spot on. Every day, I write something. Every day, I fail at it. And, every day, I improve as a writer. I see my shortcomings. I revise my prose. I succeed.
Here's a "what if" question for you, one you can print off and pin on your wall. "What if I work hard on this novel and I learn something important about writing, about myself and about life?"
What if, indeed.
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