Taking Risks as a Writer

A GIF of a daisy bloomingAre you a raging risk taker? The person who jumps out of planes, eats live crickets, or bets thousands of dollars on a single throw at the craps table? Do you take risks in your writing too? If so, pat on the back for you, carry on.

While I know some fairly bold writers, as a general rule, we tend not to be risky. We like our books and our coffee and our computers and our dogs (or cats).  We hunker down with our words and our small group of humans and pets and live mostly in our minds.

Recently as I sat at my desk, staring at the query letter on my screen and refusing to press send, I thought about the importance of taking risks. I could press send and risk receiving the dreaded rejection letter in return. Or I could stare at the query letter, safe from rejection, with no shot at securing an agent or having my book traditionally published.

The question is, which caused me more pain? The risk of rejection or the risk of not achieving a dream? As I procrastinated, I came across this quote from Robert Schueller: “What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Well, hell, when you put it that way, the list of what I’d do is pretty long. And it starts with sending that query letter.

So in the spirit of taking risks, here are a few more reasons why it’s important to take risks as a writer.

You don’t get anywhere playing safe

If you have dreams of getting your work out into the world, then at some point, you have to let someone else read it. You need to submit it to an anthology, literary magazine, or contest. Maybe start that blog you’ve always thought about. Submit to a magazine.

Start small, with something that only gives you a tiny bit of panic. Maybe it’s a local anthology or contest, or maybe you feel better in the anonymity of a larger competition. Pick one place where you are going to submit your work in the next thirty days, and do it. Once you take that tiny leap, you can grow and become bolder with your work. Challenge yourself. It’s important.

Learning to “embrace the suck” helps you to overcome your fear

I know people who take cold showers solely for the purpose of overcoming discomfort. It’s a way for them to actively condition their mind to stay present and overcome their hesitation to a situation that they know is going to be uncomfortable.  There’s a school of thought that says you should do something that makes you uncomfortable every day.

What makes you uncomfortable in your writing practice? Are you nervous about sharing your work out loud? Get out to an open mic night (like Dime Stories, here in San Diego) and share your newest piece. Always wanted to write poetry but not sure where to start? Take a class. It’s okay, if you’re not good at something to start, you’ll get better. Build your writing muscle, or your reading aloud muscle, or whatever muscle needs work because it causes you fear.

Sometimes you learn more from a belly flop than you do from a swan dive

In the early drafts of my book, I had a prologue that I loved. LOVED. The rhythmic quality of it. The words. The imagery. I protected that preamble like a troll hoards gold. It was my Precious.

A few months later, I brought that prologue and the first few chapters of my book to a writing workshop hosted by one of my writing heroes. And you know what? That prologue got shredded. Not like a delicate tear. Like a hungry bear destroying a campsite. It was a good lesson. My beloved prologue was not the beautiful swan dive I thought it was and as a result of belly flopping in front of fellow writers, it made my work that much stronger.

Expose yourself to new experiences and new people

The workshop you were afraid of? You met some lifelong friends. That poetry reading you didn’t want to attend by yourself? You got at least three ideas that will improve your work. The open mic night that gave you dry mouth and made you shake? You met two new people who introduced you to two other people with whom your formed a read and critique group. New experiences lead to great things.

It’s important for us as writers to take risks so we can grow. As Anaïs Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to bloom.”

It’s time to bloom.

Query Letters Are Impossible (But Here Are Some Websites That Helped Me)

girl climbing cliff while man shoots at zombiesI’ve got this manuscript, and I’ve been querying agents. It’s a little terrifying.

First, the basics: a query letter is about 250 words long, and it pitches your novel to an agent who might be interested in representing it to publishers. Also, it is somehow harder to write than an entire novel.

I’ve sent out one round of queries and gotten no bites, so I’ve been revamping my manuscript and submission materials. As I reach the eve of another round of querying, I thought I’d share the query-writing-related resources I’ve found most helpful so far.

Writer’s Digest Successful Queries

A compendium of blog posts by different agents showing great queries for successfully published books. Some of these queries are spectacular, some are really solid, and some aren’t my thing at all—all of which was super helpful for understanding what querying looks like from the agent’s side.

Query Shark

The Writer’s Digest list was many agents unpacking good queries. This is one agent, Janet Reid, unpacking great queries, mediocre queries, and disastrously bad queries, with discussions of what works and what doesn’t. Query Shark is funny, terrifying, and unbelievably helpful, and I learned a huge amount reading her archives.

Agent Query Connect

Forums for writers in the querying process. Their critique forums in particular are fantastic. You post your query, you critique other people’s posted queries, and they return the favor. There are pros and cons to getting a wide range of opinions (remember: your writing is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship), but I found it amazingly helpful. It’s hard having your 250 words battered into shape by total strangers, and it’s so worth it. This place and Query Shark genuinely made me a better writer. My ear for wordiness is vastly better than it was six months ago.

Absolute Write Water Cooler

If Agent Query is a writers’ forum about querying, Absolute Write is a writers’ forum about everything. Honestly, it’s so big I’m not entirely sure what’s on there. I know they’ve got a critique forum a lot like Agent Query where you can post your query for critique (many more rules, though—read the stickies!), and they have excellent advice for people in all stages of the writing and publishing process.

Absolute Write: Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check

This subforum of Absolute Write is where writers discuss their experiences with agents and publishers. They have posts on what to expect from a legitimate agent or publisher and how to spot a scam, but mainly they discuss individual publishers and agents. It’s not all laments about dodgy dealings—many posts describe writers’ experiences with professionals who are fantastic at their jobs. If you’re wondering who’s legit, who’s a scam, and who’s amazing, I can’t recommend this place highly enough.

There are lots of resources I haven’t covered because I haven’t used them much yet. But I hope some of this was helpful! Whether you’re pursuing traditional publishing or fixing up your manuscript to publish yourself, good luck out there!

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/en/zombies-silhouette-girl-boy-gun-2258609/