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.