Saturday, October 06, 2007

"It's Okay to Take Risks"

As any regular reader of this blog knows, synchronicity happens a lot in my life. Today is no exception. This morning, I was involved in a discussion online about aiming for goals that might seem unrealistic. I'm a fan of the principle, but like so many good ideas in the world, it seems to me to have become a bit blurry. The idea that it was good to reach for unrealistic goals like publishing a novel or starting your own business or becoming a concert violinist seems to have somehow become lumped in one category with unrealistic goals like "I can make six figures with my blog, and I won't have to write any actual content!"

I'm also a much bigger fan of the "I can achieve any goal if I'm willing to sweat blood to do it" school of thought than the, "If I just think positive Oprah Winfrey will knock on my door and ask if she can help me get the book on my hard drive published because she's eagerly waiting to feature it in her book club" approach.

Now, as you may know, I'm a big fan of Jacquelyn Mitchard. I had the opportunity to see Ms. Mitchard speak this afternoon at the Midwest Literary Festival. It was very interesting for a number of reasons (many of which will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts), but the thing that really reverberated with me--perhaps because of that discussion earlier in the day--was her description of her decision to write a book instead of pursuing more conventional employment after she was widowed.

She said, "People had offered me real jobs," and that people kept asking her why she would "want to do something so stupid and so unlikely to succeed". And her response was that she wanted to show her children that it was okay to take risks.

She said a good deal more on the subject of pursuing your dreams and not being beaten down by life; she'd been widowed and her children had lost their father young, and she said that she'd always wanted them to know that no matter what life dealt you, it didn't give you permission to become small. It's a lot to think about, whatever your profession, but that one line is still ringing in my ears: "I wanted to show them that it was okay to take risks."

For anyone who doesn't know, Mitchard's "risk" was to write and send out a book called The Deep End of the Ocean. If you haven't read it, perhaps you've seen the movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer? The book was not only a bestseller, but was named by USA Today as one of the ten most influential books of the past 25 years and was Oprah Winfrey's first book club selection. Since then, she's written seven more novels, and they've all been bestsellers.

If it sounds like I've digressed for a moment into tooting Jackie Mitchard's horn...well, maybe I'm guilty. She's the writer I want to be when I grow up, even though she's not too much older than I. But my real point--the point that's relevant to all of us--is that she could have listened. The naysayers who couldn't see why she didn't just get a "real job" aren't so much different from the people who lie to novice writers that it's "almost impossible to break in" these days or those who claim to have the only formula that could possibly work for a successful writer.

And if she'd listened....well, that's the thing. We never know, do we? The world is full of people who listened, people who look to us just like every other clerk in the grocery store or finance manager or carpenter, and we never know about the song or the books or the invention they might have hiding inside them.


Jacquelyn Mitchard said...

I'm awed by this post, and grateful. However...anyone who tells you it's impossible for a new writer to break into "the bigs" is lying. It's rare and you have to be good, but TWO of my twelve students at the Maui Writers Conference have major contracts.
I had a great time in Aurora -- wish they would have had my books for people to sign! -- but this makes it all worthwhile.

Barb said...

Um, Tiff, you're going to have to quit inspiring me this way and having famous authors drop by and all because, well, okay, it might be too late. I'm writing and I'm not letting anyone stop me.

PS: That book you so cleverly sent me, The Courage to Write, is changing my (writing) life. You are MY J. Mitchard.


mikster said...

Definitely inspiring. I remember the movie and didn't realize who the author was until now. A lot of people let risks stand in the way of their dreams. Kudo's to this author... and to you for posting this.

~willow~ said...

hi! dropping by via your little discussion at BlogCatalog. Great article, and an excellent reminder to writers out there to just know themselves, trust themselves, and not be afraid to explore what works for them. Frankly I've never heard of the author/book that triggered this post, but I'll put it on my to read list :-)

CK Holder said...

Wow. That was just what I needed to hear, right when I needed to hear it. Do you think there is a little synchronicity involved in that?


DUI Blog said...

Great post and great to see the people we write about are actually reading our articles! Congrats.