I Don’t Want To!

A couple of years ago, a friend observed me saying sternly to my toddler son, “Close your eyes. It’s time to sleep now.”

“That’s what I need!” my friend exclaimed. “Someone to order me to go to sleep.” She went on to explain she often stayed up way later than she should, checking email, surfing the Internet, updating Facebook. Her life would be much healthier — and more restful — if there was someone to command her to do the right thing.

I thought of her words over the holidays, when I had the great pleasure of spending nearly two weeks in Florida with three young children — my own two kids and my nephew. We had a fantastic time, going to Disney, building sand castles, and playing in the waves. But over the course of the two weeks, I heard a few key phrases over and over again. As I repeated myself for the hundredth time, it occurred to me how much more effective our writing lives would be if we all had an authoritative figure to put an end to our whining.

1. “Are we there yet?” Well, what did we expect? We chose to drive the 18 hours to Florida with a three-year-old and a five-year-old. Of course we’re going to hear these words. But as I told my daughter, asking the question doesn’t make the miles go by any faster. Just as checking your email doesn’t make the responses come any sooner and staring at the phone doesn’t make it any more likely to ring. Sometimes, as we wait impatiently to hear news about our manuscripts, the best thing to do really is to shift our focus. Play “I Spy,” as I suggested to my daughter, or listen to some music. Or perhaps write another novel.

2. “Spicy!” This is my son’s contribution, every time he saw any food with a hint of red in it. “It is not spicy,” I would respond. “You have to try it first, before you know if you like it.” How many times have we, as writers, balked at something before we tried it? I hate first-person, we might say. Or, I can’t write sex scenes. I don’t outline. I won’t write about the sense of smell. When I first had children, I heard over and over again that a toddler must try a food at least seven times before she knows if she likes it. Now, seven times is a lot, but the point is, your preferences may grow and evolve, so don’t be too quick to reject something before you’ve given it a real chance.

3. “I want to go swimming/to the beach/to the playground now!” Sound familiar? Anybody else want to have their books published right now? As I explained to the children, some things aren’t possible right this minute. Certain steps need to be taken first. Lunch needs to be eaten, swimsuits changed into, sunscreen applied. Sometimes, we need to wait for the other people in our party to be ready. It’s hard to wait – for anything. Patience is definitely a skill that has to be learned. But instead of whining or pouting while we wait, we can speed things along by doing our part. We can study our craft, learn, and continue to improve our writing.

4. “It’s my turn!” Sometimes, it seems like everyone else gets to push the elevator button, and we wonder if we’ll ever get a turn. But you know what? The elevator button will still be there tomorrow. Just because someone pushes it today doesn’t mean it will get all used up. There are plenty of turns to go around. It’s the same with publishing. It may make us feel badly about ourselves if someone we know gets the good news we’ve been anxiously awaiting. But you know what? Our turn will come. I promise you it will. We just need to show up at the elevator (or at the page) in order to redeem it! How sad would it be if your turn is just around the corner, in the form of your next book or your next submission, but you give up before it arrives?

5. “I don’t want to!” Ah, the big one. As our kids learn at such a tender age, life is about doing things we may not feel like doing. Eating our vegetables, brushing our teeth, going to bed at a decent hour. We may not want to write a synopsis, make revisions, listen to harsh (but constructive) criticism. We may not even want to get our butts in the chair and write. But you know what? As I tell my kids, too bad. You’re going to do it, anyway. Unfortunately, no one is going to tell us what we “have” to do concerning our dreams. But if we want to achieve our goals, we need to treat our “I don’t want to’s” as “have to’s.” We have to be our own authority figures — or we can ask our APs to help us out.

What about you? Have you ever wished for an authority figure to keep your writing in line? What are your kids’ (or nieces’ or nephews’) favorite whines? Have you ever found yourself giving someone advice that could just as easily be applied to yourself?