I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kinda gal. In my corporate life, I was happy writing and planning and letting someone else be in the spotlight. For those WITS readers who know me on social media, you know I joke about being a troll, happy in my dark cave.
So imagine my reaction when I found myself in a “what do we do now” discussion with a handful of women’s fiction writers over the fact that we were about to become associationless. And then the somewhat unanimous decision was made that I would be the founding president of a new association (they claim I wasn’t fast enough stepping back; I claim they pushed me forward).
It’s been almost three years since a group of five writers moved forward to launch the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. In January, I hand over the presidency to some other poor schmuck lucky volunteer. And that, of course, has me reflecting back. And thinking ahead. So I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned about myself and about stepping out of my comfort zone. And while you may not be looking at starting an association, I’m pretty sure all of us struggle with that comfort zone bubble in one way or another or one point or another.
1) Your reserves go deeper than you think.
I’ve never shied away from hard work. But I also never dreamt how much time and creativity and effort and heart starting an Association would take. Every decision was new and would set a precedent. I was either going on the books as the founding president who launched an Association that filled an important niche in the publishing industry, or I was going down as the founding president who tanked an Association that could have filled an important niche. Every time I thought I was out of new ideas or the ability to step up when needed, another burst would surface.
What did I learn? When pushed to the limit, there’s always more inside if you have the passion for what you’re doing. If you’re struggling to find the give-a-shit to continue, then maybe it’s time to either take a break or change direction. Last year I walked away from a project, not because I didn’t care about it but because I just couldn’t find the reserves to push past the hard times. But, it never entered my mind to stop writing even as the rejections piled up or walk away from WFWA when I felt tapped out.
2) There’s a great big, supportive world outside of the cave.
There’s safety in the cave, for me and my ideas. I can share with a couple of people I trust but the rest of the world, nah, they can stay outside. Then WFWA happened. Suddenly, I had a bunch of people poking into my cave wanting my time and energy. Members of the Association had expectations. But here’s the kicker, those same people wanted to give back.
What did I learn? Writing may be a solitary undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be – nor should it be – lonely. Once you find your writing tribe, they will support and encourage you. They will become the people you can turn to, who will understand why you’re heartbroken over an imaginary person and why you agonize over a comma. Don’t get me wrong, having the support of your family is awesome, but they don’t understand that far away look that takes over when you’re deep in a plot hole. This crazy trip down the publication brick road wouldn’t be nearly as easy or as much fun without my writing buds.
3) The deep end of the pool is kinda fun.
There was no wading in with WFWA. I didn’t get to start in a trial position to test out my abilities or time commitment. The floaties were yanked off my arms and I was pushed into the deep end (I’m telling you, they pushed!). I may have dog paddled around a bit, but I stayed afloat. More than stayed afloat actually. The Association went from 100 members the first day we “opened” to over 700 by our second anniversary.
What did I learn? When you jump in to the deep end, without floaties, there are no guarantees that you won’t get a mouthful of nasty water. But if you keep dog paddling, you’ll soon figure out your rhythm and that’s when the magic happens. If I’d had a chance to think harder about what was coming my way, I probably would have convinced myself that I wasn’t up for it.
4) It’s okay to be proud of your accomplishments.
I’ve always been the one happy to cheer for everyone else but reluctant to be in the spotlight. I hated birthday parties as a kid—still do, and not just because of the frightening number of candles that would be needed. Watching WFWA grow into a thriving community has been incredibly rewarding. When I look at what we started with and where we are today, I’m amazed.
What did I learn? I’m equally amazed when I think that I had a part in making WFWA what it is today. And you know what else? It’s okay to feel that way. I don’t have to apologize for being proud of my accomplishments. I don’t have to justify the time I spend writing or putting in the volunteer hours on WFWA. I chose to pursue a career as an author. And the work I put in to that end is something I should be proud of.
5) “I can’t” is no longer an option.
Remember when I said I probably would have convinced myself that I wasn’t up for the challenge? Yeah. That. Taking on a challenge like founding and overseeing a non-profit was way out of my comfort zone. WAYYYYYYYY out there. I had my doubts early on. Until one day I realized I am doing it; and I’m not failing spectacularly, not even mildly.
What did I learn? If you believe in what you’re setting out to do, you’ll find a way to do it. You’ll find the reserves when you’re too frustrated or disheartened or tired to know what comes next; you’ll turn to the people who support and motivate you; and you’ll push through the doubts because you can do it.
I admit to still having troll-like tendencies. The urge to retreat into my cave is overwhelming at times. But I also know that there’s no going back in there, at least not for more than a quick regroup. I’ve grown from this experience and I’ve earned that I can do what I set my mind to. Next on the agenda … become a debut author. And write the next book!
I want to hear from you … what experience(s) pushed you out of your comfort zone and what did you learn about yourself?
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After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.
Orly's debut novel, The Memory of Hoofbeats, will be released by Forge in 2017.