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You Don't Have to Get an A+ in Writing
Or a gold star either
I’ve been having a lot of revelations lately. (Thanks, therapy!) And I had one in step aerobics last week.
I love step aerobics. It’s basically cheerleading and dance and upbeat music and, to me, it’s really fun. I did it a lot in my 20s, but I’ve only gone to this class a handful of times. The teacher reads a quote from Richard Simmons before each class and I can tell everyone who goes to it is a regular and it’s just a fun, happy, open, accepting place. The average age is definitely a few years older than me, so this is not a Lululemon fashion show instagram competition. (Thank goodness.)
But! Last week, as we were warming up, I could feel the anxiety rising in my chest. This happens at the start of any of my workouts (and probably for many others, too). Ugh, this is going to hurt. I’m going to get so tired. I don’t wanna. starts churning through my head. Even though I do, in fact, wanna! I like this class! That doesn’t mean I won’t get tired or experience normal, reasonable muscle fatigue. I’ve had this experience before, and I’ve even been able to stop myself and think, hey, does it even hurt yet? Or that much? and quiet my brain, at least a little.
Then it came to me. Maybe it wasn’t the pain or fatigue I was dreading. I think I was worried about doing step aerobics perfectly. I realized: I do not have to get an A+ in step aerobics. The teacher is not grading me. She is only even watching me to make sure I’m having fun and being safe. No one else in the class is paying attention to me either! I am not in the running for valedictorian of step aerobics. I can do what I want. I can do what my body needs. That’s it.
It was revelatory! I had so much fun! I took breaks! I didn’t care! When I got on the wrong foot, I waited a beat and got back on the right one! Friends, it was awesome. I highly recommend this mindset.
AND GUESS WHAT!? You also do not have to get an A+ in writing or querying or being a published author, either. You can write because you like it. You can just do it. You can do the things you are able to do. You can focus on what you like about all this stuff, especially while writing, and then think about how the book will interact with publishing professionals.
I know you are thinking that if you do not strive to get an A+ then it will feel like you won’t get published or won’t be successful or whatever it is you are aiming for. But doing things perfectly (which doesn’t exist) will not guarantee your success. And messing up, which we all do, which isn’t actually that well-defined either, is not guaranteed to tank your career. I know that level of uncertainty can cause a lot of anxiety. It sucks. But that is just how it works. If there was a checklist of things to do perfectly that ensured success, then everyone would do it and everyone would be published and all books would be the same.
Keep in mind, though, that not striving for a A+ from an agent or editor is not the same thing as thinking about the reader, the person you hope will buy your book from a store one day. Are publishing professionals readers? Yes, but I think it is useful to separate the two, as much as you can, at least while writing and editing and drafting, so that you can avoid the traps of people-pleasing while you write. Thinking about the reader’s reaction when making stylistic choices (maybe don’t name that character in your horror novel Brad Diesfirst, maybe the second person works in your book—or maybe it doesn’t) or in editing (I’m sorry but fewer readers want 290,000 word long books, especially debuts) instead of asking if you’re allowed by publishing to do any of those things will benefit your work. You might have to consider what publishing wants somewhere along the way (which sucks tbh) but you can do it later in the process. I promise that’s ok. I know it is scary to write a whole book or proposal without worrying is it marketable???? and I know you will read conflicting advice about this elsewhere. I’m not saying never think about the market, but thinking about it first is the wrong way to go, imho. Don’t try to get an A+ in writing for the market. Get an A+ in writing the book you want to write.
I cannot promise writing the book you want to write will lead to publication. I cannot promise that writing a book that gets an A+ in the market will lead to publication either. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If both paths have basically equal chances of success (and there is no data here, sorry), you might as well do what you want, no?
I’m working on this, too. In one of my going projects, I am constantly thinking well if maybe I just change this or I should ask X what they think the perfect solution here is or if I just knew Z, everything would work out. In another, I am toying with adding a whole ‘nother POV character, which will balloon my word count (which will later get edited down), will create a ton more work, and will take a lot longer. Should I do it? Will it make a difference in if it will get published? Is it the right thing for my genre? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I want to, and I think it’ll work, and I need to see. So I just have to go do it. I’m going to get an F in this draft of the book, because it is a shitty first draft, and I shouldn’t get an A in it. There are no A+ first drafts.
You don’t have to get an A+ in publishing. You still have as much a chance in getting published as anyone. That doesn’t mean you don’t work hard and do your best and polish your work. It just means there’s no one out there handing out grades. You can put your hand down. You can just write your stuff.