Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Give Yourself Permission by editor Molly O'Neill

Welcome to WriteOnCon, Molly O'Neill, an associate editor with Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books. She is a force to be reckoned with on twitter, where I stalk, er, follow her delightful insights into the publishing world. She's here today to motivate you to give yourself permission.

Give Yourself Permission

Welcome to WriteOnCon!

If this were an in-person conference, you’d probably be drinking really bad hotel coffee right now, listening to microphone checks, sitting in a less-than-comfortable chair, and wondering why they insist on keeping it so darn cold in the room.

Instead, I hope you’re sipping your favorite kind of caffeine in a comfy chair at home, or, if it comes right down to it, kinda getting paid to be here, since you’re sneaking peeks at this site during your day job (but don’t worry; we’ll never tell). There are definite perks to this whole online conference idea, and we owe enormous thanks to the masterminds behind WriteOnCon for creating the kind of conference that people can attend while in their pajamas!

Speaking of conferences, last month, I was on the faculty of a week-long writers' conference that makes daily, one-on-one dialogues between faculty and writers a prominent part of its schedule. The writers I spoke with each day were united by an interest in writing for children/tweens/teens, but they came from immensely varied backgrounds and levels of experience with the craft and the practice of writing. Over and over in these conversations, I found myself giving the same piece of advice, no matter who I was talking to. At first I was worried that all the writers might compare notes and think I only had one piece of wisdom to offer! But over and over, this idea really seemed to resonate for the writers I talked to, albeit in about 50 different ways, and I hope it will do the same for all of you. I guess some advice truly can and does apply to nearly ever writer—a nifty sort of one-size-fits-all-but-means-something-different-to-everyone-who-tries-it trick. So what was the magic suggestion?

Simply this: Give yourself permission.

Being a writer is a solitary act of will—it can only happen in the first place if you actively choose to do it. Your writing depends entirely on you for existence. And your life as a writer depends on you, too. If you grow as a writer, it is your doing. If you remain static as a writer, it is your doing. You are boss and worker and teacher and student and coach and cheerleader all rolled up in one writerly self, in a sense. And you know yourself as a writer better than any outsider could. So ask yourself—what sort of permission do you need as a writer, in order to make yourself a better writer today than you were yesterday, and in order to help your stories become all you hope they will be? And then—give yourself that permission. Today. Now. Before you write another word, give yourself permission:
  • Permission to call yourself a writer.
  • Permission to collect sparks of inspiration from even the unlikeliest of encounters.
  • Permission to wander your way into telling stories completely unlike those you perhaps once thought you would write.
  • Permission to start writing something new—totally, gloriously new—even if the thought terrifies you. Especially if the thought terrifies you.
  • Permission to admit that a story you’ve been trying to write isn't working, or isn’t actually something that you love writing anymore, and to liberate yourself from it. And then, to start something new. (See above!)
  • Permission to stray from your outline.
  • Permission to keep writing, even if it feels like you may never "get there."
  • Permission to steal the parts of a story that ARE working out of a story that mostly isn't, and to use those parts to make something fresh.
  • Permission to change your manuscript from first-person to third (and possibly back again). Or to change tenses, or settings, or main characters, or any other part of your story, once you see a way to make it better.
  • Permission to let a character become someone totally different than you originally expected him/her to be.
  • Permission to kill a character. (And to cry a little when you do so.)
  • Permission to hire a babysitter, or to blow off some homework, or to order dinner in, or whatever it takes, to give yourself a little more space in your life for writing.
  • Permission to write a scene or story that might make certain people who love you shocked and surprised.
  • Permission to submit something.
  • Permission to fail, maybe more than once. (Because you can't fail unless you've tried.)
  • Permission to feel things deeply as a writer—disappointment, grief, doubt, jealousy. But then to balance those negative emotions with more positive ones: ambition, determination, persistence, hope.
  • Permission to be where you are in your path as a writer. Right now. Even if you think you should be farther along.
  • Permission to write in the oddest of places—on the back of kleenex boxes and receipts; at ballet lessons or soccer practice or with a car full of groceries going warm; on napkins in restaurants; in the bathroom of a friend or relative's house when you've gone to visit—in order to capture an idea, or images, or words that flash into your mind, already strung perfectly together.
  • Permission to ignore all the conflicting pieces of advice, and simply to write the story within you that wants to be told.
  • Permission to step away from measuring yourself against other writers.
  • Permission to be inspired by EVERYTHING.
  • Permission to be uninspired...but to try to write through it anyway.
  • Permission to mess up. Possibly many times. Every day.
  • Permission to do what you need to protect yourself as a writer—to turn off the internet, or to stop reading blogs for awhile, or to avoid Twitter—and enable yourself to do that thing which writers must do—TO WRITE.
  • Permission to think of your characters as real people (and to perhaps actually like them better than some real-life people you know).
  • Permission to delete.
  • Permission to write things that perhaps no one but you will ever see.
  • Permission to write things that perhaps many people will see.
  • Permission to...Write On!
So take a minute, here and now, before visiting the forums, or going on to the next post. Ask yourself what kind of permission you need today—in the story you’re working on, or in the bigger picture, in your life as a writer. And my list of permissions is only a beginning—what other kinds of permissions do writers and stories need? Share your own ideas and words of permission in the comments below. You never know who else you may inspire!

Molly O’Neill is an Associate Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsChildren’s Books, where she edits all kinds of books, from picture books to middle grade novels, to books for young adults. She blogs about publishing, editing, and the convergence of life and art at http://10blockwalk.blogspot.com and you can find her on Twitter as @molly_oneill.


Unknown said...


Thank you for this beautiful post. You say that you only have one piece of advice, but the many examples you use to flesh it out are like a salve on a burn. Reading your list feels wonderful, it's inspiring, and I am so thankful you've shared it with us!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Inspiring! This is exactly what I needed: "permission to wander your way into telling stories completely unlike those you perhaps once thought you would write."

Sometimes I get stuck thinking a book should come out a certain way. That's where I've been for weeks, rewriting the beginning of my WIP over and over again, getting stuck at 8K words. I think I'll just write today. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think it says a lot that this post made me cry. From bullet point #1.
I have been working on overcoming doub and frustration and have already conquered many of these obstacles. But you have given me so many more points to work on, while I write, revise and change my own point of view :) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think it says a lot that this post made me cry. From bullet point #1.
I have been working on overcoming doub and frustration and have already conquered many of these obstacles. But you have given me so many more points to work on, while I write, revise and change my own point of view :) Thank you!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Wow, what a moving post. So much to be said for simply allowing yourself to go there.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Lisa Gail Green said...

Can I just say I LOVE THIS!! Thank you. I'm having trouble logging on to the Writeoncon site, but I'm glad I can peek from other places.

Lisa Gail Green said...

Can I just say I LOVE THIS!! Thank you. I'm having trouble logging on to the Writeoncon site, but I'm glad I can peek from other places.

Dara said...

Thank you. Much of that is what I needed to hear, especially the part about being uninspried...and trying to write through it. :)

Lynn Anne Carol said...

I'm coming in from the Writers Retreat sponsored by ICL. Institute for Children's Literature. One of the gals posted about this piece. I thought about it all day and finally got the chance to come online and read this.
Giving ourselves permission--aren't we the biggest boulders in our own roads. This is brilliant.
I notice that so many of us write for an age group that we ourselves enjoyed in growing up. While others have to unearth our childhood and write for an age group that we struggled with.
I choose to give myself permission to write about both, and freely.
Thank you.

Cynde L. Hammond said...

This was REALLY great, Molly. Thanks a lot.


Cynde's Got The Write Stuff

Ann Marie Wraight said...

As a teacher, in my world the word PERMISSION has a slightly nasty/control connotation...your LOVELY post moved me as it moved the other raeders and gave me a whole new spin on the word. Much softer and - tender even.

THANK YOU for sharing this with us!

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