Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why Saying Yes When I Want to Say No is Sometimes Good.

I recently got a good lesson in walking the talk.

As a huge advocate of stepping outside of one's comfort zone, I encourage other writers to try it – write in a new genre, do something that's a little scary (Read at an open mic? Apply for a grant? Attend a conference?). In addition, I urge writers – and everyone really who is interested in developing their craft and/or career– to say YES. Yes to new and perhaps offbeat opportunities and invitations that come one's way. Not yes to everything, of course, but to those things that may help us stretch, enhance our skills, widen our connections – and who knows, maybe have some fun.

Because I dish out this kind of advice, I try to model it; in fact, it was because I adopted this mindset during my MFA program, that I advocate it at all. Back then, I said yes to a lot of things I might have otherwise dismissed as too time-consuming, too difficult, too outside my comfort zone.  I'm not always successful, but when I get a chance, I try to practice what I preach – and do it like I mean it.  

Early in January, an editor I know asked me to write a short chapter about working with a ghostwriter, for a book she was compiling, in which some 70 professionals would be giving tips and advice to business owners. This was something I felt comfortable doing, and because I want to grow the ghostwriting end of my business, I said yes, that I would be happy to do it.  A few weeks later, she invited me to appear in a video featuring several of the chapter writers, each speaking for 90 seconds about their topic. Whoa. So. Not. Happy. I said no way, thanks anyway, but no.

She asked me not to say no quite so quickly, to think about it.  

The timing coincided with Boot Camp where the focus those two weeks – in materials which I of course had written – was on encouraging the 14 writers in the class to get out of their comfort zones, to say YES.  


So I spent some time, during a longish car drive, trying to figure out why I was so automatically opposed to the video invitation. It didn't take long:  I hate having my picture taken (and a recent spate of video chats only reconfirmed my fear of video). It would take place on a Saturday that was already crammed with other work and family obligations. The only photo of myself that I like is the one here on the blog, taken during a shoot for an Oprah magazine essay, when professional make-up and hair experts were on hand. And, I am profoundly uncomfortable writing for video, especially with a strict 90 second limit.

I had to get tough with myself and ignore the weekend timing; I could work it out, after all. But the rest still stopped me, especially the scriptwriting part. Then I remembered something I tell my kids to ask themselves when they are stumped:  Is there anyone I know well who can help me?

There was. I asked my 17-year-son, who is a host and sports  analyst for his high school radio station, and who has taken a summer sports broadcasting program for four years, to help write the script.  I gave him my chapter to read, and he banged out a good rough draft in five minutes; we edited together, and then he helped me rehearse, and get the timing right.

Finally, I came up with a way to deal with the camera issue, and called the editor to see if she and the videographer would be willing to shoot me in deep shadow, since after all I would be talking about ghostwriters (sample line: "If I do my job right, you won't be able to see me on the page either.") They agreed.

Perhaps these were not the very best creative solutions, and yes, I know the witness-protection angle may be a little bit corny. I may get hives when I see myself in the final video. But I was pleased that I had been able to work around my discomfort and to say YES.  I had a little fun, too. That's allowed, right?

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