Turning Whine into Gold
In our ongoing look at what wisdom Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements can offer writers, we come to agreement number three.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
“Communicate with others as clearly as you can”—as writers, you’d think we have this one in the bag. We are all about communication! Yet as fiction writers we do so indirectly, while balancing character development, plot advancement, setting, word craft, metaphor, and more. And that’s just the fiction, let alone the clarity of the emails you’re trying to answer and the tweets you’re trying to push out and blog posts that need tending and the gigs you’re trying to line up.
Is it any wonder we sometimes fail to contextualize our comments, or express our needs, or ask all the right questions?
Yet a career is built of relationships that require clear communication. Let me count the whines that the simple act of asking questions could resolve:
Rather than whine: My critique partner gives me all the wrong feedback.
Ask: Don’t worry about correcting my grammar, could you just give me notes on how the story is adding up in your mind?
Rather than whine: My career has stalled for eight months. I don’t know what’s going on with my submission.
Ask: Hi [agent], sorry to be out of touch so long. Could you give me an update on my submission status?
Rather than whine: I don’t understand my contract but I don’t want to look dumb.
Ask: I don’t understand this rights clause. You’re the expert—could you explain it to me before I sign?
Rather than whine: My book isn’t ready but I’m afraid to tell my editor because I might never get another contract.
Ask: I am so closed to finished and want to give you the very best possible product. Is there any wiggle room in my deadline?
Rather than whine: This is my first speaking engagement and I’m not sure what they want me to talk about.
Ask: Could you tell me more about your group and its recent talks so I can give them something they’ll really like?
Rather than whine: I need more support at home but my husband simply refuses to read my mind.
Ask: I’m writing on deadline and really feeling the pinch. Could you cover dinners this week?
Pretty sure you see where I’m going with this:
An overstressed writer can, amazingly, sometimes be a poor communicator. It happens.
But here is something else a writer always is, no matter how stressed: an inquisitive being who is not only capable of learning, she feeds on it. Honor that instinct, and ask for what you need. You might be surprised at how well it works.
What assumptions have you made in your writing life that did not necessarily serve you well?
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.