I can do that

Snake.

Janet’s speech included an anecdote from her pre-agenting days when she had to hold a live snake.

Midwest Writers Workshop was a little over a week ago now, and I’m still recovering. Staying up half the night with writers, editors, and agents is awesome, but not conducive to my physical health. This past week I kept telling myself I’d go to bed early, but then I’d wind up revising a synopsis or formatting a manuscript and suddenly it was after midnight… Anyway, I think I’m finally (mostly) caught up on sleep now.

The conference had a lot of great panels and sessions, which I’ll talk about in the coming weeks, but for me the best advice came from Janet Reid’s keynote speech at the closing banquet. (Brief aside: getting a query critique from The Shark herself was beyond awesome. And she’s just as cool in person as she is on her blog.) Janet talked about some of the successful writers she’s worked with over the years, and the common thread between them: when faced with a challenge, they all responded with some version of, “I can do that.”

As writers, we don’t always like to make changes. Sometimes a critique partner will suggest something that will require a complete re-write of a third or a half or even all of a manuscript. And sometimes that suggested change isn’t right for your book. But often, we don’t want to change anything because it means more work, more adjustments to characters or plot points, more cutting scenes and crafting new ones. And yes, revising will be hard. It might not all be fun. But your work will be stronger for it, and you’ll emerge a better writer.

Another conference attendee discussed a time when an editor asked her to make a significant change to her book’s narration. Both she and her agent felt this would severely detract from the story, but she went ahead and submitted sample chapters with the proposed change. The original narrator stayed (and I’m sure all her readers are grateful!), but the fact that this writer was willing to consider adjusting speaks volumes. It shows she’s someone who will seriously consider criticism, and who’s able to work on a deadline. And the work she put into those sample chapters wasn’t wasted — it let her see her story in a new light, hone her craft, and learn that she’d chosen the right narration for the story.

Saying, “I can do that,” doesn’t just apply to writing. I think if you want to succeed in any career, you have to be willing to make — or at least consider making — adjustments. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been given last-minute tasks at the library. Write a press release for tomorrow’s paper? Teach an off-site computer class because the regular instructor was sick? Proofread an early literacy publication three, four, five times? With budget cuts and department consolidations, I find myself constantly taking on new roles at the library. I could stumble through them, or I could see them as opportunities to learn new skills. If I have to cut a program, maybe I can reach that program’s audience with a book display or blog post.

Whatever your situation, change can be scary. Huge edits can hurt — and on deadline, they can really stress you out. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to embrace the possibilities. Take a deep breath. You can do this.

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