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?