Benjamin Franklin said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” I’d add one more thing to that list: change.
No matter how hard we try, the world will shift on us. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but always for certain.
I think about this a few times a year: at the start of school, at the beginning of the year, and at tax time.
Every year at tax time, my accountant gives me a two-page, single-spaced, small-font checklist to indicate what aspects of the tax code he’ll need to accommodate as well as any changes from the previous year. Did I get married? (well, no, that would make me a bigamist), divorced? (not this year), further my education? (I think a master’s thesis was enough—at least for now), have a child? (I’m fine with one, thank you), sell property? (sadly, I bought my home at the top of the market, so I’ll die there), and so on.
By the time I’m done answering all of those questions, I find myself reflecting on the year past and planning for the year ahead. What changes were out of my control? What changes are in my control, and how do I want to answer those questions next year?
Writers often face a lot of hard questions and possibilities for change. This week, we have a building full of students who want to develop their use of character, voice and setting in their writing. That’s seeking change in order to enhance a skill. They also have the opportunity to write a story for an upcoming Fiction River anthology. That could change them from unpublished writer to published. Or maybe add a new genre to their list of published stories.
Regardless, change takes guts. It’s hard. And it’s often scary.
Pursuing a writing career can be one of the scariest life choices out there. Sure, most people think they have a book in them. (Don’t believe me, just start telling people you’re a book publisher…) But the idea of actually pursuing that dream? That’s a hurdle most people won’t clear. And even if you do clear it, the hard work has only begun.
It’s one of the reasons the workshops WMG offers are for advanced writers only. But I occasionally find myself in the position of giving advice to new writers. I don’t do this often—as a hard-news journalist, I naturally shy away from giving an opinion. But when someone I have a connection to already asks, I’ll consider it.
Recently, a fellow high school alumnus wanted to bounce a book idea off me. I try very hard not to roll my eyes when people approach this topic—like I said, just about everyone has a book idea—but this person was referred to me by my sister (thus clearing the first test as a reliable source) and had a history of perseverance and an inspiring true-life story. Like I said, I’m a journalist, so he had my attention.
He proceeded to run his story pitch by me. It was a beginner’s pitch, as I suspected, in the utopian/dystopian science fiction genre, with an ecotopian fiction bent. But it had meat, and it showed he’d been mulling it over for a while. It also showed promise in that he was naturally doing some of the things that serious writers do, such as outlining and the like. But he didn’t think he should write it. He was asking for advice on how to get the idea into a screenwriter or ghostwriter’s hands.
And this is where my advice began. I encouraged him to write it himself. He thought he couldn’t possibly have the skill to do it, but I pointed out that the hard part—the conceptualization, the organization, the motivation—he had in spades. The rest is learning to refine that vision. Learn the craft. Apply the craft. See what happens. Repeat as needed.
I hope he does write it himself. Because sometimes finding the courage to follow our dreams is the biggest change we can make.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.