I really hate to be all me-me-me, but I got married last weekend, and let’s be honest: that’s all I can think about right now. It is a big, wonderful change.
It was also a bit of an ordeal. Like most ordeals, it taught me many things. These lessons aren’t necessarily specific to writing, but let’s be honest: if you’re a writer, everything reminds you of writing.
So here are a few important lessons that I learned, and how they can be applied to the work that we do:
1. Understand your vision, and stay true to it.
Years ago, my boyfriend (now husband!) and I decided that we were going to do our wedding differently. A small ceremony, with just parents and siblings, followed by receptions in each of our hometowns for the rest of our family and friends. The idea was to keep the exchange of vows intimate, but also to ensure that we could spend real, quality time with every single person who wanted to celebrate with us. That was our vision. Unfortunately, not everyone understood or appreciated it, and in the months leading up to our wedding, we faced some heartbreaking opposition. Only by reaffirming our vision time and again — both to ourselves and to those who preferred a more traditional wedding — did we manage to stay strong against doubt and frustration, succeed in our goals, and ultimately prove the naysayers wrong.
Similarly, in writing, you will encounter many people who insist, “This is how you should write a book.” “All novels of that genre must include X, Y, and Z.” “If you try something new, readers won’t understand and/or won’t like it.”
It’s okay to listen to those voices and consider what they’re saying — but it’s also okay to respectfully disagree. Writing, like a wedding, is not one-size-fits-all. Follow your heart. Trust your instincts. Be true to yourself.
2. Pick your battles.
After putting our foot down — and ruffling many feathers — in regards to the one thing that mattered most to us, we knew it would be best to compromise on the smaller stuff. (Plus we didn’t have the energy to fight anymore.) We completely redesigned our invitations to make my mother happy. I chose the dress my father liked best. We let our parents pick the venues for the hometown receptions. And we buckled to pressure from pretty much everyone and made a small registry, even though we had originally intended on having a no-gift policy.
Funny enough, the invitations and dress have gotten tons of compliments. The venues set a fun and unique tone for each reception. And if I’m being honest, both my husband and I feel excited (and honored) every time we receive a present.
In writing too, bending is better than breaking. Especially when you can make other people happy without sacrificing what’s truly important to you. This is something I think about a lot when working with editors and now my agent. What’s worth fighting for vs. what’s okay to give into. And you never know: sometimes those compromises turn into your story’s most pleasant surprises.
3. Let people help you.
Originally I was going to design the invitations, and address them by hand, and make the bouquets, and do my own hair and makeup, and assemble all the guest favors, and decorate the venues, and… You get the idea. But guess what? I’m not superwoman. Superwoman doesn’t exist. And the quickest way to ruin your wedding for yourself is to try to DO ALL THE THINGS.
Luckily, I have wonderful friends and family who insisted on lending a hand. (Or insisted on finding professionals, haha.) As soon as I relinquished certain tasks to my mom, my best friends, and my husband, I felt lighter, happier, and more relaxed. More able to enjoy the very thing I was working so hard to make enjoyable. They also came up with great new ideas that I had never even considered, and the collaborative effort made my wedding seem more like the joyous group celebration that I wanted it to be.
Writing often feels like a solitary venture, but there are people who can help you, and letting them do so will increase your pleasure and success tenfold.
Good critique partners are particularly wonderful creatures, who will somehow manage to walk that fine and essential line between cheerleader and reality-checker. They often also provide motivation and inspiration when it’s needed most.
4. Have patience and faith.
Our wedding took over four months of planning — and that’s really quick, as far as weddings go! Still it sometimes felt like the big day would never arrive, and my life would just be this endless series of phone calls, emails, and stress dreams. Then, even when the wedding was upon me, I worried that it wouldn’t live up, that something would go horribly wrong, and I’d regret it all.
But I had patience (mostly), and I had faith (usually), and in the end I was rewarded.
Writing is not a short game. It is not a sprint. We are running hard and playing long. The finish line is rarely in sight. Heck, the finish line isn’t even really the end. There’s always the next race, the next game. The next story. The next goal.
Write for the joy. Write for yourself. Only that can fuel you forever.
5. Be prepared for problems, and be able to laugh at mishaps.
After hearing a million wedding horror stories, I was ready for everything to blow up in my face. So I created backup plans. For example, if it rained on my outdoor wedding, I knew a spot with a roof where we could go instead.
It ended up being a beautiful sunny day, but that doesn’t mean everything went perfectly.
Just before flying in, my mom fell and sprained her wrist. When I went to pick up the flowers on the morning of the wedding, they weren’t ready. And after the ceremony, we had scheduled a lunch cruise with our parents and siblings, but the boat left without us.
Things will go wrong; all you can do is roll with the punches. All the better if you can do it with a sense of humor. You might find a typo in the query you just sent to your dream agent. You might read about a book deal with a premise that sounds just like yours. You might be headlining an event and no one shows. Just remember: None of these things will make or break your career. None of these things will make or break you.
6. Celebrate your victories.
Somehow, the florist got our bouquets and boutonnieres ready in an hour. The boat came back and we enjoyed a lovely meal on the river. The naysayers ended up admitting they were wrong and that they loved the way we did our wedding.
Most importantly, I married my favorite person in the entire universe. It was a happy ending and a happy beginning all in one.
The good news is, things will go right too. The starred review. The email from a fan who totally loved and understood your story. The pride in your father’s voice after reading your manuscript. The bestseller lists and the awards. No victory is too small or too great to be acknowledged in your heart. Be sure to appreciate them all.
Okay, that’s enough of my newlywed wisdom sap. What lessons have you learned from life recently, and how do they apply to your writing?