Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Being Thankful for our Political Process (yes, seriously)

It seemed like the negative campaign ads went on forever this election season. First the primary ads, then the general election. I don't watch a lot of TV, and I watch even less in real time. But in October and early November, every time I did turn on the television for a quick news update or to flip to the DVD setting, a barrage of foreboding images, jarring music, and criticism of the opposing candidate (whoever that might be) blared at me. Add some of the things people post slamming others' opinions and positions on Facebook and Twitter and there were days I just wanted to turn everything off (and did).
So it might be strange that one of the things I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving is our political process. But I am. For one thing, every time a new president is elected, the past president leaves the office peacefully and the new one enters peacefully. Likewise when Congress changes over. This seems like a very basic thing that naturally occurs in our culture. That it's not a given, though, struck me when I traveled to Armenia in late 1999 to visit a friend in the Peace Corps who was volunteering there. Just before I went, there was a coup, and numerous members of the government were shot, and other people took over. That's never happened in my lifetime, nor in my parents' lifetimes, in the U.S. (and my dad was born in 1918). Here, we have a change in power through  elections, and when it's time to go, the loser goes, no matter how unhappily.
Also, people in the U.S. can say or write pretty much anything we want short of threatening serious harm to someone else. And there are so many venues for doing so, from shopping malls, to street corners, to blogs, to Twitter, to on-line magazines to pamphlets. I can criticize the president, the legislature, the mayor. I can say that I think George W. is the Anti-Christ or Obama is the Anti-Christ or either one is the worst (or best) president we've ever had and no one will knock on my door in the middle of the night and haul me away to prison.
And if I don't like this country, I'm free to leave. When I was growing up, my mom used to tell me about the Iron Curtain and how most people in the Soviet Union were not allowed to leave even for a visit to another country. If I don't like it here, the government will not stop me from leaving. People can and do threaten to move to Canada or somewhere else if the other party wins the election. While I suspect few of them do so, the wonderful thing is, they can. Or they can run for office themselves. It's a toss up.
Not only can I write what I want, I can read what I want, including news reports from all over the world with a click of a mouse, as well opinions from people all over the world. I don't always want to read all those opinions, but I can. Going back to my visit to Armenia, the country in 1999 was no longer part of the Soviet Union, yet most people I met had radios that got only one station -- the government station. There have been times when our government has engaged in pretty heavy propaganda and when it's been harder than it is now to get news from other sources. But I've always been able to choose from multiple news outlets, and now, perhaps, can choose from so many that it's hard to narrow it down.
Another thing I'm grateful for is that people in this country believe passionately in human  rights and freedom. They may interpret those rights and freedoms differently, and they may argue with one another about them, but they believe in them. Any given section of the Constitution means one thing to me, another to my neighbor, and another to the U.S. Supreme Court, but we all care enough to try to figure out what it means. And to talk about what it means. The justices on our Supreme Court, and the President of our country, and the members of Congress, all take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Rights matter, freedom matters.
These are just a few of things I love about living here and about our political process. My grandparents on my mothers' side died before I turned 7, and I don't remember a lot about them. I will always be grateful to them for coming to this country where they didn't know the language and they struggled through the Depression so that they could give their children and grandchildren more opportunities, and more freedom, than they believed they could find in their own country. I wish I could tell them thank you, but this will have to do.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Built That – Women, Pride, and Success

This Post Also Appears at FEM2.0

I was raised with the idea that pride is a sin – one of the seven deadly sins, in fact. Even children whose families weren’t religious probably heard the adage that pride goeth before a fall. And most of us were taught that bragging is impolite.

How deeply I’d internalized the warnings against pride didn’t become clear to me, though, until I started practicing an exercise in Anthony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within.  Robbins suggests asking questions each morning designed to focus on what’s great in life.  The questions include “What am I happy about?” and, the one I find the hardest, “What am I proud of?”  It’s not that I don’t feel I’ve accomplished anything.  My difficulty is that each time I think of something, I feel almost guilty taking credit for it.  I remember that I couldn’t have done it without having certain advantages – like two parents who loved me and always encouraged me to do my best.  Or I think that it’s not “really” a great accomplishment – for instance, publishing one of my thrillers independently doesn’t count as an achievement because I didn’t obtain a traditional publishing contract and I don’t have through-the-roof sales like John Locke or Amanda Hocking.  Or I fear that the moment I say I am proud of something – for instance, that I’ve successfully run my own law firm for four years – things will immediately take a turn for the worse.  (I’m knocking on wood now.)

I am not alone in this.  Studies show that women much more than men find it difficult to take credit for their accomplishments and talk about them with others.  Organizations formed to recruit women to run for office find that women are far more likely than men to believe they lack the qualifications to hold public office – even when they have the same experience that leads men to believe they are eminently qualified.  Similarly, in business, women are less likely than men to take credit for what they’ve achieved, and more likely to attribute success on a project to the contributions of others.

I saw this in the large firm where I practiced law for many years.  If a new male lawyer worked on a trial team and the case was won, the lawyer was likely to tell everyone he met, “I won my trial.”  Even if the closest he got to the courtroom was to e-mail research findings to the partners actually trying the case.  In contrast, women lawyers in junior positions were more apt to say things like, “We won the case – but all I did was some research.”  Neither statement is entirely accurate, but the male lawyer certainly sounds more confident and experienced. 

In any business, working hard, even if it produces good results, isn’t enough.  To succeed, not only must a person do well, but the people around her or him must hear about those accomplishments.  This is more and more the case as businesses and firms grow, and people stay in positions for less time.  Often the decisionmakers don’t know firsthand what their subordinates are doing.  That women generally are less likely than men to toot their own horns is one of the reasons women fail to rise as quickly as men. 

Of course, there is a downside to too much bragging. People grow tired of hearing someone who only talks about herself or himself.  And a lawyer crowing about “my win at trial” (or the equivalent business deal) can alienate others who know who did what on that particular matter.   

How much credit we can or should take for our accomplishments is something I’ve thought about a lot throughout my career.  When I became an attorney at age 34, many of my younger colleagues had parents who’d paid most of their way through college and sometimes law school, had family members who were lawyers or held high positions in corporations who eased their way into professional life, and/or had social backgrounds such that they never feared picking up the wrong fork during the all-important interview lunches or client meetings.  On the flipside, criminal defense attorneys I know sometimes represent two or three generations in one family who never finished high school and spend their lives in and out of jail.  In my family, getting a speeding ticket was a matter of great shame.  I didn’t know any CEOs, but I had role models who held steady jobs, valued education, and engaged in volunteer work.  I’d like to believe I’d still be an author and an attorney if I had a different background, such as one where most of my friends got pregnant by fourteen or fifteen or where no one I knew went to college.  But that’s impossible to say.

In the end, I want to strike a balance between the issue I share with many women of downplaying accomplishments and the more stereotypical male approach of grabbing the spotlight, between mischaracterizations of Mitt Romney’s approach to business and the mischaracterizations of Barack Obama’s.  So each morning, I think of something I’m really proud of, whether it’s a new sale of my novel, winning an appeal, or helping raise money for an important cause.  Doing that has increased my confidence and made me happier.  At the same time, each day I identify something or someone I’m grateful for – the children’s librarian who encouraged me to write poetry and hunted down books she knew I’d love when I was in grade school, mentors and friends who’ve advised me throughout my life, being born in a time when women can practice law, own a business, and make their own choices. 

Who built that?  I did.  And we did.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and the author of THE AWAKENING, a thriller, and of THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR. All royalties from 2012 for THE TOWER are being donated to The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) in honor of her parents, who lost their lives due to an intoxicated driver's choice to drink and drive in January, 2007. THE TOWER is available at:

THE AWAKENING is available at:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Will Be Out of the Office: Post-Surgery Thoughts on Downtime

Tomorrow I return to work after nearly 7 weeks off following surgery.  (See Goodbye Ovaries.)  During that time, I worked very little.  I hadn’t expected that.  Despite my doctor’s warnings before surgery that I must take at least 4 weeks off and preferably 6, and despite that my surgery expanded to 6 hours instead of the expected 2, I thought I would or should bounce right back.  I figured on 3 weeks of downtime, but with e-mail checking and perhaps a little work even then.  Then I imagined I’d take 1 week as a bit of a vacation and work part-time from home for 2 weeks before I returned full-time.  The last extra week I scheduled I expected not to use.  I scheduled it because I knew it would be easier to come back early if I felt well than to extend my time off if there were complications.

I’ve never recovered from major surgery before.  I had no idea what it was like.  The day after surgery, rather than checking my i-Phone from my hospital bed, I struggled to keep down small bites of toast and jello in the hope that the food would counteract the dizziness and nausea from the pain meds.  The first day home was not much better – my niece later described me as periodically turning into a glassy-eyed zombie (is there any other kind?).  That night, with a switch of pain meds and the anesthesia almost out of my system, I started feeling human.  For the next couple weeks I alternated between sleeping, occasionally chatting or watching half a TV show, and feeling too exhausted to do anything except wish I could fall asleep when I couldn’t.  The good thing about feeling bad was that it freed me from any nagging feeling that I ought to be working.  For the most part, I couldn’t, so it wasn’t an issue.

Around Week 3, I read one brief filed in one of my cases and reviewed and commented on a response to it written by a colleague.  The time I actually spent, and billed to the client, was about an hour.  It took me nearly five hours to do, though, as I could only work in about 10 minute increments with at least half an hour of rest in between. 

What surprised me was that writing fiction was just as exhausting.  I’d thought I would get all kinds of writing done.  I enjoy law, but I know that it’s work.  I love writing fiction, so I rarely think of it as work.  I forgot that it takes just as much energy and mental effort.  I also didn’t consider the fact that sitting in front of a computer requires using the abdominal muscles, which are right in the area where I needed to heal. 

One of the striking parts of my experience was how many people said they hoped I was “enjoying” my “break.”  Just 3 days after surgery, I was asked wasn’t it sort of relaxing to be home and off work.  I was barely out of the zombie stage and still had significant pain, so the answer was no.  The rest of the time was better, but it was only this last week – my extra week 7 – that felt somewhat relaxing.  While I still have a little pain, and I still tire easily, I’ve been able to read, write, and watch DVDs to my heart’s content, if for short time periods.  I’ve also gone to my office a few times to get things in order for my return and to talk to human beings.  (I’ve been talking quite a bit to my parakeet, Mr. Bird, and my stuffed Tigger, so I figured it might be time.)

Also interesting were the responses to my out-of-office message.  Everyone who e-mailed me at my law firm received an automatic out-of-office e-mail explaining I was out on medical leave until mid-July and directing them to contact my assistant for urgent matters.  (She had a list of who could handle issues in my absence.)  Before I left, I called my clients and the lawyers involved in my cases to let them know I’d be out.  I heard from them on rare occasions, but only when there was a real need to reach me.  Most other people who e-mailed me said they’d get in touch when I got back.  A few, though, rather than check with my assistant, just continued to send requests, noting I hadn’t responded before.  Each time, they must have received the out-of-office message.  For the most part, I assumed that the person who kept e-mailing me simply didn’t read the message.  But occasionally people would write to wish me well with my health, but then write back a day or two later expressing surprise that I hadn’t responded.    

Even before the recession, our culture admired excessive work and excessive stress.  We tend to look up to people who say things like, “I’m so busy,” or “I can handle high levels of stress.”  And with the job losses during the last years and the struggling economy, those fortunate enough to have work particularly feel the need to work constantly for fear of losing their jobs or businesses otherwise.  So much so that taking time to recover from serious bodily injury (which is what surgery is, only in a controlled medical setting) seems almost like laziness or at least like an enviable vacation.  E-mail, texting, Twitter and other social media only exacerbate that view.  I love Facebook and Twitter, which help me keep in touch with people I love, make new friends, and publicize my fiction through a means completely unavailable to authors a decade ago.  These are all good things, as is using computers and e-mail to help manage my law practice if I need to be away from the office.  But with all of that comes the pressure of always being “on” in one way or another, constantly being vigilant, never getting away.

So, my resolve as I officially return to work tomorrow is to remember that technology ought to make life easier, not more stressful.  And to do my best to take time for myself when I need it.  I enjoy my work, and I always strive to do my best.  I can’t do my best, and can’t keep attracting work, if I am not well physically and mentally.  And I can’t enjoy life if all I do is work.  As my mom used to say, “Do you live to work or work to live?”  I’d like to make it a mix of both.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and the author of THE AWAKENING, a thriller about a young woman whose mysterious pregnancy may bring the world its first female messiah -- or trigger the Apocalypse. Ms. Lilly is also the author of THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR. All this year's royalties from THE TOWER are being donated to The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) in honor of her parents, who lost their lives due to an intoxicated driver's choice to drive in January, 2007. THE TOWER is available at:

THE AWAKENING is available at:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Goodbye Ovaries: Thoughts on Choices Other Than Children

After years of pain, I will say good-by to my ovaries and uterus in a few days.  It’s major surgery, and had a doctor suggested it six months ago, I would have had heart palpitations.  Now I’m ready.  Especially after that Friday where I thought the 4-hour pain pill I’d taken over twelve hours before had worn off (certainly the amount of pain suggested it had) and drank wine with dinner.  Bad, bad idea. 

Recently I told an acquaintance about the surgery and said other options existed, but because the pain had become disabling and I didn’t want children, this made the most sense.  His first response?  “You can always adopt.”  Well, sure, I could, except for the part where I don’t want children.
As a kid, I assumed I’d have children because nearly every adult I knew did.  In my twenties, I still assumed that, though I imagined it would occur at some vague future date that never grew any closer.  At 33, I dated a man I thought I would marry.  Matt and I discussed how much we might enjoy having children and how much we might enjoy not having children.  We decided to reserve a year or two together for just the two of us, then let the chips fall where they may.  Kids – great!  No kids – great! 

Matt and I broke up when I was 35.  I still felt the same.  What I wanted was a happy life, with children or without.  Five years later, my view changed.  I’d created a full, happy life, with two careers (writing and law), significant volunteer commitments, a close network of friends and family, and a home I loved.  I didn’t feel the desire to switch gears and spend the next twenty years focusing on bearing and raising children.
Sometimes I wondered if I lacked something essential because I didn’t feel devastated not being a parent.  Books and TV shows depict “childless” women in their thirties as lonely and depressed.  Also, many people express or imply I can’t be happy with my lifestyle.  Often the same person will ask me again and again if I regret not having kids.  This tempts me to ask if that person regrets having children.  The fact that I don’t do so raises an interesting point in itself.  Why is it considered okay to ask me about my personal reproductive choices, yet taboo to ask a parent the same question? 

From grade school on, my friend Julie knew she didn’t want kids.  In her twenties, she tried to get her tubes tied.  Her OB-GYN refused to do it.  She was too young, she was single, she’d never had a baby.  Julie kept asking.  By the time she reached her thirties, she must have wondered – really?  How old exactly do I need to be to be credited with knowing my own mind about whether I want to reproduce?  Finally, when she was 40 and married, a surgeon agreed to do the procedure. 
In part, I understand a doctor’s hesitancy to perform surgery that results in permanent birth control.  People do change their minds, and it’s difficult if not impossible to reverse.  But so is having a child.    

Another statement I hear is that it’s selfish to choose not to have children.  This puzzles me.  Because I have no kids, I can generally donate more time and money than many parents can to charitable causes.  Also, as a household of one, I put less wear and tear on streets and highways than does a household of 2-6 people.  On the average I pollute less and use fewer public services (such as libraries, police, or ambulance), and I don’t take advantage of public schools.  Yet every year I pay significantly more in taxes than do the households with the same income that use more services, as adults with dependent children lower their tax bills through deductions or credits.  Not only do I publicly help finance other people’s children, I do so privately as well, through decades of gifts at baby showers, baptisms, birthdays, and, eventually, weddings.  I don’t mind any of this.  One thing I agree with Hillary Clinton about is it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe our world is better when children can access education, food, and healthcare.  I also love being part of my nieces and nephews lives in particular, and enjoy celebrating their milestones as much as I can.  What seems strange to me, though, is that some people consider me selfish for doing these things.
The explanation most often given for the selfish label is that non-parents spend more money on leisure.  We often can afford to travel, attend the theater, visit fine dining restaurants, or ski more often than parents with similar incomes.  Again, this puzzles me.  Yes, I may be doing more of some things that I find fun, but I am not experiencing the joys of parenting that parents tell me they experience.  If I am selfish for doing what I enjoy, aren’t they equally selfish for doing what they enjoy?  I actually don’t think either of us is selfish, we just followed different life paths.  I don’t see any reason to denigrate or question parents’ choices, I simply don’t understand why some parents want to denigrate mine.

Why write about this?  It’s a very personal issue, as is my upcoming surgery.  But the personal really is the political.  Our nation struggles daily over abortion, contraception and women’s roles.  That our culture regularly questions an individual woman’s competence to decide whether to become pregnant, or to know whether she’s happy with her life path if that path means not having children, can’t help but inform the larger debate over women’s rights and women’s roles.  To insist that I don’t know my own mind or feelings when I say I am happy focusing on pursuits other than child-rearing implies the only real or valuable role for a woman is that of mother. 
I don’t have a perfect wrap up for this post or an answer to all the questions about women’s roles that are still being examined in our country.  But for now I’ll paraphrase Jane Austen and suggest that when a woman is asked about her reproductive choices, the questioner ought to pay her the compliment of believing her sincere, and see her as a rational woman speaking the truth from her heart.

A 2014 update -- A couple of my friends now have grandchildren & are enjoying that immensely, and I've realized that is one thing I'm sorry I missed by not having kids (though of course that doesn't guarantee grandchildren). My mom and dad had great fun with the grandkids (my brothers' children), as did I. But I'm happy with my overall decision. Interestingly, today I ran across a list I made years ago, probably when I was about 36 or 37, of the pros and cons of not having kids. The pro list was very long and anticipated all the things I enjoy about my life as it is. The con list (favoring having children) had only 3 items. The first was not having grandchildren. I hadn't realized I'd ever considered that. It's nice to know I had a pretty good sense of the pluses and minuses personal to me about children

Lisa M. Lilly is an the author of THE AWAKENING series, which is about a young woman whose mysterious pregnancy may bring the world its first female messiah -- or trigger the Apocalypse.

THE AWAKENING is available at:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why I Love V.I.

A while back I suggested my book group read Tunnel Vision, one of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawki novels. In that novel, V.I., one of the first modern female private eyes, investigates a seemingly shady charitable organization. Along with solving more than one mystery, V.I. attempts to help a homeless woman and her children. As is often the case, V.I.’s methods are unconventional, and she distrusts authority. 

I thought the social issues the book raises would be great to discuss. So I was shocked when instead, group members could not get past that they didn’t like V.I. Not like V.I.? I started reading Sara Paretsky’s novels in the late 80s. Since then, through financial ups and downs and despite the purchase of a Kindle, Sara Paretsky is the one author whose books I always buy in hardback the first day they come out. But my friends found V.I. Warshawski too abrasive, too combative, and too apt to think she knows what’s best. 
So, why do I love V.I.? 

V.I. is V.I., not Victoria Iphigenia: From the first book on, V.I. goes by V.I. in part because so often in the 80s (and beyond) people addressed women by first names in business even when their male counterparts were “Mr.” I identified with this, having worked full time at an office while I pursued fiction writing on the side. I earned a degree in Writing/English, and the company I worked for through college loved me and offered me a full time job – as a file/data entry clerk. A recent male college grad with the same degree and no job experience was hired at the same time – as a media writer. And, oh, yes, first names for the women supervisors, “Mr.” for the men.

V.I. has friends who disagree with her: One thing that bothered my book group colleagues is that V.I.’s friends are very hard on her in Tunnel Vision. Lottie, a doctor, gives free medical care to the homeless family V.I. attempts to aid, but upbraids V.I. for refusing to call the authorities about the family. V.I.’s other friends are angry when her investigation threatens to tank their business deal. I like that V.I. is sure enough of herself to have friends who think differently than she does and who say so. It’s easy to have friends who always tell us how great we are, and of course that’s part of why we need and want friends. But it takes a strong, confident person to respect and keep friends who disagree. 

V.I. has friends:  I get so tired of reading books where single women characters are portrayed as having lonely, empty lives solely because they are single. In one mystery I read by another author, the main character comments on how she has no pets, has never decorated her apartment, and doesn’t even own a plant because she’s never married. She looks longingly at a nice restaurant and thinks how great it would be to go there but she hasn’t had a date in five years. By this time, I thought, what, the restaurant prohibits two women friends from dining together? Only couples allowed? And, good lord, go buy some plants already. Or does the nursery and craft store make you show a wedding ring before you can get a ficus? I love that V.I. has good friends she’s known for years, is always meeting new people, has a family-like relationship with her neighbor Mr. Contreras, and is as devoted to her cousin Petra – who is often annoying but finally seems to be maturing – as if Petra were her daughter. And V.I. not only has friends, she is fiercely loyal to them. When Mr. Contreras worries about paying his real estate taxes, she vows to help him, despite not knowing how she’ll pay her own bills. Which brings me to my next reason to love V.I:
V.I. has a real life: V.I. not only must solve mysteries, but run her business. When her office floods, she has to figure out how to sort through the paperwork and restore her computers.  When she gets in trouble with the law, she calls her lawyer, then needs to pay his bill. She has clients who pay well but make unreasonable demands. She has clients whose cases she takes to heart who can’t pay her a cent. And she has dogs to run and feed every day. 

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V.I. has a healthy view of romantic relationships: Over the years and the mysteries, V.I. has had a few serious relationships and has been single for long periods. Sara Paretsky describes so well the pluses and drawbacks of being single. The joy of making your own choices and fashioning your life around what works best for you, the beauty of solitude, the practical difficulties of being single in a world of couples (like when V.I. comments on how her refrigerator is empty because no one shopped), and the occasional loneliness and longing for a connection with a romantic partner. Also, V.I. knows how to be in a relationship without losing her sense of who she is, and she has friends who can do the same. 

V.I. cares about social issues: Perhaps this topic should be “Sara Paretsky cares about social issues.” Sara Paretsky’s books always address larger issues, such as women’s roles in society, how we treat the mentally ill, homelessness, abortion. This may lose some readers who don’t agree with her views. But whether or not I agree with Paretsky, she always tells a story that matters.
I know she’s a fictional character, but V.I. Warshawski challenges me to take chances and do my best. Seeing V.I. work for herself all these years helped prompt me to start my own solo law practice after years at a large firm. And her creator, Sara Paretsky, inspired me to write the kind of book I like to read – a thriller with a female protagonist, despite that most thrillers are by and about men. Every time I read a new Sara Paretsky book, it pushes me to try to create characters readers will love the way I love V.I. Author/philosopher Ayn Rand once described the proper purpose of fiction as depicting life as it might be and ought to be.  For me, V.I. is what a good friend – and a good person – might be and ought to be, and I hope always will be.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of occult thrillers THE AWAKENING (Book 1) and THE UNBELIEVERS (Book 2 of The Awakening series), short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles. She is also an attorney.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly

Check out The Awakening series.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Falling is Part of the Practice

Every morning (okay, about 5 mornings out of 7), I practice yoga.  It’s the only exercise I’ve managed to stick with.  I think it’s because I can do it in my pajamas.  I’ve tried joining health clubs, but as soon as I need to take any extra step to work out, like pack a workout bag, go somewhere special, or put on gym shoes, the odds of it actually happening plummet.   Rolling out the yoga mat in my living room, though, I can manage.

I also love that yoga is so laid back.  I’ve taken a few classes, I’ve practiced on my own, and for the last four years I’ve relied on a set of DVDs.  In one of the sequences with a challenging – for me anyway – balancing pose, the narrator says not to worry about falling because “falling is part of the practice.”

What a wonderful philosophy.  Author of the Rich Dad Poor Dad series, Robert Kiyosaki, says that one of the reasons schools are so bad at helping people succeed is that they teach us to be afraid to fail or make mistakes.  We are rewarded for doing well on tests, we learn to despair over wrong answers.  And while this at times might motivate us to learn, it also discourages us from trying new things.  If you’ve never done something before, odds are, you’re going to make mistakes.  You might even fail. 

About five years ago, I decided I wanted to start my own law practice.  I’d been working at a large firm for seven years, and I liked it, but I wanted to be my own boss.  A lot of lawyers I knew wanted to do the same.  The biggest thing stopping them was fear.  And there are a lot of things to fear – not being able to find enough business to pay the rent, not knowing what you’re doing well enough to be out there by yourself, not being able to find another job if your firm goes under.  Which is to say, the big fear is failure, and having to admit it to yourself and others.  If you never take a chance, you can always think that if and when you do, it will be fabulous. 

I see this in my writing life, too.  Some gifted writers never submit their work anywhere, or independently publish it, for fear of rejection.  If they never put their writing in front of anyone, no one can ever tell them it’s no good.

Over the years, I’ve made lots of mistakes.  And I have a file cabinet and several email folders full of rejections.  One of my favorites is for my novel The Awakening, which I eventually independently published through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  An editor at a women’s fiction publishing house told me, “I don’t think anyone wants to read about babies being killed,” though no babies are killed in the book.  Another favorite, for an entirely different reason, is a detailed email from an editor at a publishing house that publishes thrillers.  He read the entire manuscript, and while he didn’t offer to publish it, he did take time to tell me what he liked and what he didn’t like, and he particularly said I needed to pick up the pace.  I thought he was wrong.  I set the book aside for different reasons, mainly that I did open my own law practice.  I made plenty of mistakes, including trying to pitch for business without preparing enough for the meeting, and taking on cases that couldn’t possibly pay for themselves.  Even so, the practice has been running successfully for three and a half years.  I love being my own boss, I enjoy my what I do, and overall I work fewer hours and still earn a good living, which is exactly what I wanted.

When people didn’t hire me in my law practice, which I could have seen as a failure, I always learned something valuable.  Sometimes it was that a certain type of case or company wasn’t a good fit for me, so I shouldn't spend more time pursuing that kind of work.  Other times, I needed to improve how I presented myself.  Sometimes a client hired me, and I later realized we'd both made a mistake.  Not every lawyer, regardless of legal skills, is right for every client.  As to writing, collecting all those rejections meant my work was out there, which meant I did get pieces published, including short stories, poems, and legal articles.  From the women’s fiction editor, I learned that women’s fiction is not my target market.  And when I picked up my manuscript again after my years “off” to get my practice well underway, I realized the editor who published thrillers was right.  I needed to pick up the pace.  I used his comments as a guide and revised and cut, often editing out favorite passages.  (I read once that in suspense or thriller novels, any time the character sits and thinks, it should be cut.  Good advice.)   Imagine how thrilled I was to see Amazon readers calling my book a “page-turner.”   I’m convinced I wouldn’t be getting those reviews now if I hadn’t gotten that rejection.

Before I published through Amazon, I thought about sending the revised manuscript back to the editor who’d commented, if I could track him down.  But I’d read a lot about authors who did well publishing independently, and I decided to take a chance.  I’ve been happy so far going it on my own in my law firm, so why not try with my writing as well?   How will that ultimately work out?  I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and handling my cases and, no doubt, sometimes falling.  It’s all part of the practice.

Lisa M. Lilly

Author of The Awakening ($2.99)

A mysterious pregnancy. A disturbing stranger. The fate of the world.