Don’t Bite That Wormy Apple
Pamela Moore Dionne
I’ve been thinking about Snow White and the Wicked Queen a lot lately. Or maybe it’s the apple that Snow White bites into that really has my attention. Some gifts should not be taken at face value. Often those gifts come disguised as advice.
In 2004, I founded Discovery Bay Games, a company that became quite successful. We started out with a different corporate name and face-to-face games. Since those early days we have grown into a digital-only game company, and our partnerships include Atari and Apple. However, back when I was just starting out I got lots of advice NOT to go forward. I was once told that the world didn’t need another word game. This statement was made in the midst of marketing research for Baffle Gab™, my first game – which, by the way, won 28 awards once it hit stores across the nation.
I’ve had similar experiences as a writer and poet. It took me years to learn not to take these kinds of statements to heart. The thing that saves me from letting go of my dreams is the fact that I’ve discovered something about the people who try to dissuade me from coloring outside the lines. Negative statements are often not about the person on the receiving end. Sometimes these offerings have more to do with the person who makes the statement than with us. People who take a risk and fail, then refuse to take any other risks because of the pain of that failure, get caught up with the worm of a fear that permeates their every creative endeavor. Failure becomes the huntsman bent on taking them into the woods to cut their hearts out. In many ways the person who tells you not to take whatever risk you’re about to take may see themselves as saving you from a horrible fate.
What really matters is that you as a writer don’t allow these questionable gifts to sidetrack you from what fires your imagination. Einstein said, Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. Make this your mantra and don’t let doubt derail your writing. You have to keep working at what you believe in and believe in your work to make it come to life.
Recently, a college student who was working on an assignment for his creative writing class interviewed me. In the course of our meeting I asked Matt about his ambitions for his own writing. He told me that he had a novel in process and that the only thing he’d ever wanted to be was a writer. He’d sent work out to publishers but had yet to get his work into print. I could hear the frustration behind his words. In fact, having received numerous rejections myself, I identified with his frustration.
One of the questions he asked me was what advice did I have for people like him. I thought of so many things that had been important to me. Things like finding a mentor who can help you improve your skills came up immediately. My mentor was Zola Helen Ross, one of the original founders of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She took quite a few of us under her wing back in the 1980s.
My list of advice got longer as I pondered the question Matt had asked – the importance of daily practice, continually submitting work, building a thick skin that helps you survive rejection, finding good workshops and conferences, listening to feedback and using what works for your project while letting go of what doesn’t. When you’re just starting out, it’s very easy to see all input as equally valuable. This can lead you to rewrite endlessly without ever finishing that Great American Novel. By the time you’ve applied all of the advice you get to whatever you’re writing, you may very well find yourself without a recognizable story. The problem is you’ve entirely lost the idea you started out with by not being objective about the input you’re given. Part of the job of writing is learning to trust your own vision. Don’t get me wrong, input is good and you can learn from it. Just be cautious about what you take to heart and what you take with a grain of salt.
Matt and I discussed all of these things, but it wasn’t until I was leaving that I realized I’d left out the most important piece of advice anyone can give a budding novelist. With one hand on the door I turned back and said, “There will be people who want you to just throw in the towel. Don’t listen to them. Don’t give up. Ever.”
What it all boils down to is learning not to bite into a wormy apple.
AUTHOR BIO: Pam Dionne loves mystery • writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry • runs workshops • is a feminist • cooks fabulous food • loves to share recipes • has a great dog and an even greater husband • loves mountains and the beach • thinks there may be an explanation in string theory for the existence of ghosts and just published the first book in a trilogy about that possibility. Blue Truth: Bleed Through is available now in print and ebook.