by Jenny Hansen
In case no one ever told you this... You are a writer, and you are also a badass. Yes, you. The hard-working, dream-chasing reader of this writing blog.
You have a dream, and you care enough about that dream to chase it down. Enough to get up early or stay up late to write, to put your butt in that chair day after day. Enough to take the time to learn what you need to know to write the best stories you can.
You are the brave soul who is mastering the writing equation:
Dream Chasing + Hard Work = Writer + Badass
The Writing Equation in Action
These last few years, I've entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. Partly for the usual reasons -- it's fun, it makes me stretch as a wrier, etc. -- and partly because it makes me feel like a badass.
Here's how the contest works:
- Each round, you receive a genre, a story element and a character
- The word count and timeframe are set
- The title and 1-2 sentence synopsis aren't included in the wordcount
- Only 5 people from each "heat" move on.
- Round 1: 8 days to write 2,500 words
This round, I was assigned the following story elements:
- Genre - SciFi
- Story element - a career
- Character - a tracker
Every year it is a slap-dash careening ride to The End but the big-picture story requirements are familiar.
- You must follow the genre rules.
- It must be an engaging read.
- The majority of loose ends must be tied up.
- You have to finish.
Every year when I do this competition, I think of what Neil Gaiman says about writing.
(Gaiman urges you to think of your writing like dandelion seeds.)
"Dozens will go out into the world, but for every five failures that float on the wind, perhaps one will find some success. The more you send out, the more success you will have. The more types of things you try, the greater the chance of finding that success."
I think of the NYC contest as a way of floating my dandelion seeds and expanding my craft, all at the same time. Plus, even if I don't win the money, I have the work.
Every year when I see the thousands of writers who show up for this competition, I'm amazed at their fortitude, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. A bunch of badasses hang out in those forums.
How To Get Through the Maze of Your Story
Plotter, pantser, plantser, story quilter, or outliner...none of that really matters as long as you get a story done. I am a firm believer that even though no two writers have the same process, we all have the power to get to The End.
There are four qualities possessed by almost every writer that are, in my humble opinion, more important than good writing craft.
- Blind faith
The Big Four
It's nearly impossible to be a successful writer without the qualities above. Let's break them down...
We hope our story comes out great.
We hope someone will buy it.
We hope readers will like it.
The writing craft and our own discipline to get the story down are the only things we can control in this crazy writing life. Everything except the work is beyond our control.
And yet we sit down to write. We submit our writing to agents and editors who often reject us. We keep going in the face of rejection.
Hope is hard. Hope is brave. Writers who hang onto their hope long enough to achieve their dreams are badasses.
I encourage you to stockpile your stores of hope, so you have plenty available when you need it.
“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.”— Raymond Lindquist
Every writer must have the courage to embrace the unknown. Story after story, we jump in and stumble our way through the maze of a story. We meet new characters, try new genres, embark on a whole new research journey.
That's a lot of unknowns we face. Some of my writer friends see that quality as insanity or stupidity. I see it as flat out guts and courage.
We face the blank page, the unknown, and the fear that we suck. Then we send our work to others for honest feedback.
We are astonishing.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”— Mary Anne Radmacher
Call of the Wild author, Jack London, received 950 rejections before someone bought the book. Our own Laura Drake has 400+ rejections under her belt. Bestselling author Debbie Macomber had an agent stand in front of her, tap the manuscript Debbie had submitted for her to critique and advise that she "throw it away."
These are three writers that we've heard of because they didn't give up in the face of adversity. Plus they did the work, and learned how to write a great story.
I always try to remember: it only takes one 'yes' to open the door to opportunity wide enough for me to squeeze on through.
4. Blind Faith
This last one is the real reason I think writers are the bravest superheroes on the planet. The sheer courage of diving into the unknown with every new story, and persevering until that story is told? Of believing that story will be told? That takes a massive amount of hope, discipline, and blind faith.
Especially for the pantsers. They sit down knowing a character or two, possibly a setting or a few plot points. Then they spin a story, line by line and chapter by chapter. At least the plotters get the chance to mentally immerse themselves in their story before they get started.
If you haven't congratulated yourself for your badassery lately, I hope you take a moment now.
Seriously, y'all. I've said it before, the sheer act of taking that leap of blind faith and showing up for your writing, day after day, year after year, is an incredible act of courage and will.
These four qualities that save us -- hope, courage, perseverance and blind faith -- are also often a heavy burden to bear. To me, this is why writing stories is so damn exciting, and so damn scary. You just never know how long it's going to take or how it's going to turn out...and you do it anyway.
You wonderful badass, you.
Do you agree or disagree? What part of the writing scares you the most, or requires more blind faith. Please share with us down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.