Thursday, June 27, 2013

Positive Attitudes - Lessons from a 7 Year Old

Greetings from the depths of deadline drudgery ;-) This is a little something from a few years back, but it's something that I love to read over and over again.

It's just amazing what you can learn from your children :)

So much about surviving in this business depends on attitude. Rejections, critiques, reviews...they can all get to you if you don't have the right attitude about them. Keeping a positive attitude can be anything but easy.

But it is possible to have a positive attitude about anything if you choose. Something that was brought home to me as I watched my 7 year old open his presents on Christmas morning. He's a cute kid on any morning, but this Christmas, he was so flippin adorable I almost couldn't stand it. He didn't stop smiling once, not even when things didn't really go the way he wanted. For instance, he and his sister received desks (she for her art, he for his science and art projects). They were both very excited about them, and about the presents stacked on top.

Now, these presents went along with their desks (they were filled with office supplies, crayons, markers, stickers, etc). And since they both always get in my computer paper for their projects, I thought having their very own stash of paper would be fun. My son unwrapped his paper (it was the first present he unwrapped) and when he saw what it was, he said, "Oh you gotta be kidding! Paper?"

Now, he could have said this as "Oh you gotta be kidding, paper?" *insert sarcasm and exasperated eye roll* But it was said with a laugh and a smile. He put the paper to the side (instead of chucking it across the room) and moved on. Some kids would have reacted with a much different attitude. (And he has since had a lot of fun with that paper, so it's all good) :D

My favorite moment of the day came a few minutes later as he was going through his stocking. He found a box of those storybook lifesavers (which Santa forgot he didn't care for). He held them up, smile from ear to ear, laugh in his voice, and said "Awesome I hate these!"

Now, I think he was saying "awesome" and then realized what it was and switched to "I hate these" - but either way, he didn't throw a fit, he didn't even look disappointed, he just put them down and moved on. And gave the rest of us a good belly laugh at the same time :D

It got me thinking. How do we react when something doesn't go our way in the writing world? What do we do when a request that looked so promising comes back with a rejection? What do we do when a manuscript we thought was clean and polished and ready to go comes back from a critiquing with so much red you can't see the white of the pages anymore? Or when a book we've bled and sweated over is published and comes back with horrible reviews or sales numbers?

I realize everyone is going to have a moment where they want to quit, hit delete and never write again, or shoot off a nasty email to the person who sent that rejection or critique or terrible review. It's natural and totally understandable to feel supreme disappointment. We pour our hearts and souls into our work and it hurts when it doesn't make it.

You can't do anything about how other people view your work. You can't make an agent sign you, or make that editor buy your book, or make your crit partners send your manuscript with a big smiley face and a "PERFECT!" rating. But you can politely thank your crit partners and move on, even if you cried yourself to sleep over their comments, even if you'll never use one of their suggestions. They took time away from their own work to read yours. Just say thank you with a smile on your face and move on.

Got a bad reject or review? STAY AWAY FROM THE REPLY BUTTON. Resist the urge to tell that agent/editor/reviewer that they don't know what they are talking about. Maybe they don't. Maybe passing on your book will someday be the biggest regret they ever have. I'm sure the people who passed on Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling and John Grisham give themselves a little kick every now and then. But it doesn't matter.

This business is subjective in the extreme. Everything depends on getting the right book in front of the right person at the EXACT right time - over and over again. You can't control any of that. But you can control your attitude when disappointment comes your way. You can have a minute of mourning for the shiny possibility that didn't pan out....and then put a smile on your face and move on. Bigger and better things will be waiting for you if you have a good attitude and keep on going. A bad attitude will burn a lot of bridges and wear you down.

If my son had thrown a fit over the paper or the unwanted candy, Christmas morning would have been miserable for everyone. There were much better presents under the tree, more delicious candy in the toe of his stocking. But he never would have found that out if he'd stopped unwrapping after the first disappointment (and to be honest, his attitude about that paper was so good I'm still not sure if he was disappointed or not).

Bottom line - you are going to wade through a lot of coal before you get to the good stuff. Having a bad attitude about it will make the journey miserable for you and everyone you are involved with. A good attitude will make even crappy candy and stacks of computer paper a lot more fun, and it will make finally finding that shiny new bike under the tree a much more rewarding moment.


  1. much good stuff in this post. Thank you. :)

  2. Your examples cracked me up! One birthday (I think around 6 yo?), my stepmom asked my advice for a present for my nephew. All he did (still does) was draw, so I suggested some markers or colored pencils. He opened them, threw them away, and landed sobbing on the ground. Turns out they'd just gone to the art closet at the charter school and gotten nearly the exact same thing! NOT handle with grace on his part, hee hee!

    A writer's group I used to belong to had a rule that you couldn't respond either way to feedback during the workshop portion; you just had to sit and listen and take notes. Absolute torture! But I could see the reasoning behind it; the goal was to give you a chance to have your tantrums in private so that when you voiced your thanks later, you could say it sincerely. Or at least convincingly.

  3. Wading through the coal to get through the good stuff is a wonderful way to put it. Thanks so much for this post. It's lovely.


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