Hello to all you writers out there, Adair Heitmann here, chiming in today to talk about the power of no. Or maybe I should call this essay, “The Tao of Writing.”
The Chinese philosophy of Taoism is all about the process of life not the result. It is a series of beliefs that inspire letting go instead of holding on. Check out Wikipedia: Tao is a concept found in Taoism and generally in ancient Chinese philosophy. While the word itself translates as ‘way’, ‘path’, or ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely as ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’, it is often used philosophically to signify the fundamental or true nature of the world. While the Tao cannot be expressed, Taoism holds that it can be known, and its principles can be followed. Much of Taoist writing focuses on the value of following the Tao and of the ultimate uselessness of trying to understand or control Tao outright.
Why do I think of the Tao in relation to the power of no? And what does this have to do with writing? Everything. Five years ago I started a journey of professional writing. I wrote, researched, studied, went to workshops, pulled my hair out, and put myself back in the chair to write the next day. It was like a self-generated graduate school of writing. I completed three full manuscripts, learned how to write query letters to agents and formal book proposals. Contests were entered, poems written, and I started two professional blogs. I loved my life as a writer, but I still had to make a living.
This brings me back to the power of no. During the hunt for an agent phase I met fabulous people — agents, editors, editorial consultants, authors, and librarians. My writing world expanded exponentially through all of these realtionships. Doors opened, new opportunities knocked and I answered. My journey as a writer led me to my current job. What has not yet happened is the publication of a book, and I am okay with that. I still think my books and ideas are valuable. My early readers benefited from them and I evolved along my path by fully immersing myself in the process of writing, 100%.
During a recent Wednesday Writing Critique Group I had an “a-ha” moment. I led my workshop members on a writing prompt about starting at the end of your book and writing down the three bullet points you want your reader to walk away with, after finishing your book. Then comb back through the book to see if you, the author, succeeded in leading the reader there. My lightbulb moment told me why my books haven’t yet been published. The clarity was invigorating!
Just because one agent says no, it doesn’t mean anything except that agent said no. You can submit to other agents, re-work your book, toss it out and start a new one, the options are endless. Give each proposal your best shot then let it go. Your skin starts to thicken with every rejection, each one hurts a little less. As in Taoism when every action creates a counter-action, I plan to throw away many of my old files and folders from the agent hunt and book publication stage. I don’t need them anymore and they are taking up real estate in my office. I will clear the slates, and give myself physical and psychological space to keep on creating new works. The power of no is motivating me forward.