Here I blog about writing, editing, reading, books, submissions, freelancing, getting published (and rejected), journalism, revisions, life after the MFA, teaching writing, and living the writer's life. Welcome. BUT -- if you are a writer: Write first, read blogs second.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When "So what?" is a perfectly good response.

Once upon a time, I was assigned to write an essay for O: The Oprah Magazine, on the experience of working with a high profile life coach. Her favorite response -- whenever I whined or complained, crabbed about the probability of rejection, the intractability of my ingrained bad habits, or simply noted that something I wanted to do might not work out – was:  "So what?"

Often, she said it three times: "So what? So what? So what?"

It worked. By confronting this question, I was forced to admit the answer:  So…nothing. I'll try again. I'll try something different. I'll find another way. I'll learn something.

Her retort made a powerful impression on me, and reminded me of the same advice I had first encountered a few years before in Carolyn See's fabulous book, Making a Literary Life, which I read ( about a decade after it was published), during the early months of my MFA program.

In it, See talks about creating a community to support  one's writing life, emotionally and financially. She was writing at a time before social media and other web and tech tools, and suggested that one way to do this is by writing "charming notes" to writers whose work we admire, inviting writers and editors out for a drink or coffee, and otherwise building human connections in the literary world.

See encourages writers to be bold – seek that assignment, submit that manuscript, ask for help, go to that conference, swap those tips and tricks, apply for that grant, enter that contest.

Her writing students and mentees, she writes, often blanched at the thought of contacting a writing world luminary (or any literary folk they didn't already know) and tried to wiggle out of the assignment: What if he/she doesn't respond?  What if I'm rebuffed? What if I say/do something silly?  What if my work is rejected?  What if I don't win contest/ get awarded the grant/land the assignment?

See's response:  So what?  "So what? So what? So what?"

When it comes to my writing life, I'm already something of a why-not-try-it-see-what-happens-you-never-know kind of gal. But not always. Sometimes, surprisingly enough, not with the big projects that matter a lot. There, I've sometimes been like See's students, side-stepping instead of stepping up.

But not lately.

Lately I find myself in a SO WHAT? kind of mood. And, I like it.

I've been busy contacting, asking, entering, seeking, querying, submitting, attending, applying. 

Some of it has worked out. Some won't.

So what?

So what? So what? So what?

13 comments: said...

Great advice! I love it.

kario said...

Thank you! I'm using this with my kids (although I'm certain they won't appreciate it, so I'm blaming you since they don't know you).

Deb Shucka said...

Love this post, and I'm really enjoying the new energy I sense in your writing these days (and maybe vulnerability?). Looking forward to working with you again.

Lauri Meyers said...

I'm glad you posted this as I was about to hide in my turtle shell for fear of the unknown. I'll just poke my head out a little bit further for a little bit longer because "so what."

Sheila Boneham said...

Great post, Lisa. I got Dean Koontz to write the foreword to my book on animal rescue just by asking. You never know who will help in some big or small way.

cynthia newberry martin said...

Usually I do a pretty good job of separating the creative side of writing from the business side of writing but not lately. I'm going to write SO WHAT? on an index card and leave it on my desk : )

Joy said...

Excellent advice!

Joy's Book Blog

Lois Alter Mark said...

Such a good post, Lisa. We went to Africa with that same high profile life coach and I can totally see her asking "So what?" over and over again. It's a really good question! And I'm going to go find that Carolyn See book. Thank you!

Sue said...

Thank you for sharing this. I love the advice and your writing style. Going to say this in my head now.

Kim Jorgensen Gane said...

YES! So. What? Indeed!

Kim Jorgensen Gane said...

YES!! So. What?! Indeed!

Walker said...

The So What is something I use with myself in those whiny moments or when I get ready to tell a story to someone--sort of so what combined with why. What's going on, why do I feel the need to share this story. Etc...
Useful for me and reading your post I see the use of this in other areas. Thank you.

Walker said...

I use the So What to help when I get in storytelling mode in my life. Coupled with Why, it helps me examine motive and shift from telling the story to being in the moment!
Thank you for helping spark that awareness.