Pessimist or Realist?

Posted Dec 6 2011, 7:00 am in , , , , , , ,

It’s been a long two weeks for me. Right after Thanksgiving, we drove to Florida because my daughter’s cheer squad was participating in the National Competition. On the way, my husband asked my daughter if she thought she’d get first place. Her answer: “I think we’ll probably get fourth or fifth.” 

My husband accused her of being a pessimist, of not thinking positively. I like to think that she’s a realist (like me). You see, her squad made it to Nationals by default. We came in sixth place regionally, and only the top 5 teams go on. When another team opted not to go to Nationals, we took their place.

After listening to my daughter explain her rationale (and after I stopped glowing over how smart she is), I realized that writers could learn a lot from my 9-year-old cheerleader.

Many people write a book and query it with dreams of a huge advance that will allow them to quit their jobs, followed quickly by New York Times best-seller status. I’m not saying we shouldn’t dream; dreams are good. But there’s so much of the process we can’t control.

My daughter knew that she could do her best and practice so that she would give the best performance possible. She couldn’t control how tough the judges would be or how good the other squads were. Likewise, writers can’t control whether an agent will love their books. They can’t control whether they’ll get contracts or whether readers will gush over their words.

All we really have control over is what we produce.

After my daughter competed in the regional competition, the coaches took the feedback from judges and fixed the routine so the squad would have a better chance at Nationals. Writers need to do the same with each and every rejection. Take what’s useful, apply it, and move on.

Write the next word, the next page, the next book. Make it better. Because really, that’s all we can do. Whether you are working toward traditional publishing or self-publishing, there are always variables you can’t control.

My agent is currently shopping my book to editors. I hope someone will love it enough to want to publish it, but who knows? I’m not sitting at my computer refreshing my email every two minutes while clutching my cell phone waiting for The Call.

What am I doing?

I’m writing my next book. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times. I’m sure I’ll be rejected more. I’ve held onto my dream of being published, and I have faith in myself. But I am realistic in my expectations. I know I was lucky to find an agent who believes in me.

Yes, luck. Is my book good? I think so. I’ve been writing toward publication for more than 4 years, so perseverance played a part, but it was luck in querying the right agent at the right time.

Positive thinking works. Fake it until you make it is easily applied. Have faith in yourself and your abilities. If you want to be  professional writer, act like one. Even without the contract in hand.

This is the shirt we all wore to Nationals – Plenty of Positive Thinking

But you need to look at yourself and your dreams with a critical eye.

Are you doing the most you can to improve so that your dreams can be realized? Or are you just living on the hope of coming in first?


I think if my daughter went to Nationals pinning everything on getting first place, she’d be sorely disappointed with anything less, and it probably would’ve taken a whole lot of the fun out of the experience.

If you don’t get your dream agent or editor, do you stop writing? We write because we live it, and if it’s that easy to walk away, it’s probably not the right dream.

And by the way, my daughter who thought she might come in fourth? They took second place!

What’s the one thing you wish you could control when it comes to achieving your dream?



3 responses to “Pessimist or Realist?”

  1. Debra Kristi says:

    I tend to think like your daughter. Then when you do better than expected you’re happily surprised. It’s a good thing. I think of myself as a realist.

    • Shannyn says:

      That is a huge upside. She was floating when they announced her squad got second! It’s always a nice surprise to get more than you expect.

  2. asraidevin says:

    Not everyone can come in first. If being exceptional was the norm, then exceptional would be average.

    Congrats on the second place finish!