It's funny how often lessons come from the ones we're trying to shape – our own kids. Even lessons about being a writer.
I received this text from my 15-year-old while she was window shopping at the mall. (In other words, she was broke.)
I have on this gorgeous yellow prom dress, and it's twenty dollars ...
Translation: Mom, I gotta have this dress for prom next year. It fits perfectly, and it's cheap! Think how much money and time we'd save by not having to shop for one next spring when I'll need it for sure!
Unfortunately, my response had to be: Too bad prom isn't for a year, and you don't know what life will look like then. :)
My daughter has a sweet boyfriend. He's respectful and brings her home on time. Recently, he ate dinner with us and rinsed and loaded his own plate into the dishwasher. I wouldn't mind keeping him around for a while -- there sure is less to worry about when your daughter has this kind of boyfriend.
He's a senior this year, she's a sophomore, and there's no telling what can happen in the course of a year when you're an adult, much less a young adult exploring life, love, and who you will become.
My daughter is dreaming of a prom that might never happen, picturing herself in that beautiful yellow dress that could end up gathering dust in the back of her closet. She might do better to contemplate life in the here and now, focusing on the aspects she can actually control and enjoy in the moment.
And this is just a twenty-dollar prom dress. Think of all the money spent on wedding gowns that were never worn. You've read the ads on Craigslist. Wedding gown, never worn. Prom dress, never worn. They're all slightly sad, though we can hope some of these ladies simply found a better dress.
I'm not saying you shouldn't ever plan ahead, and I'm definitely not saying it's silly to try on dresses for the heck of it.
But here's my point. (Yep, this really is about writing.)
Often, in our excitement about becoming novelists, we delve into similar territory. Even while crafting our first stories, we begin researching agents and the market. Research is certainly not a bad thing in itself. An educated writer makes a better client and more marketable author.
But when we lose sight of the real goal – writing the best book we can in the here and now – we can get in trouble.
We begin to pin our hopes on that one agent who meets our dream qualifications. We tailor our story to what that agent's looking for (though it's proven the market can change on a whim, not to mention it's impossible to predict whether what's hot today will be kicked to the curb tomorrow). Perhaps we attempt to become our dream agent's dream client by studying their current authors, reading everything we can find by their clients, and commenting on their blogs.
In other words, we pay a lot of attention to getting an agent when the book's not even finished, and Ms. Dream Agent is just one among many who might be the best representative for our project when the time arrives.
Maybe we're even doing a pretty good job of writing a great book, but we don't begin to think about the next project as we wrap up the earlier one. After all, our first novel's the one agents and editors will flock to publish and promote, the one that'll send us on a twenty-city book tour, right? Can't we worry about that next story later? When we're resting on our laurels and wallowing in all the cash we made off that instant bestseller?
The dress of our dreams could be symbolic for several legs of this exciting, but often puzzling journey. And really, it's just another metaphor we could equate with those age-old proverbs:
Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
A watched pot never boils.
Okay, that last one's a stretch. I asked my youngest daughter if she could think of another example, and she said, "Don't spend your allowance before you earn it?" (Thanks, sweetie, I like that one.)
All I'm trying to say is take your time. If you're new to this journey, put the bulk of your energy into writing the best book you can. Believe me, there will be plenty of time to research and find the agent of your dreams when the time comes.
And don't feel silly if I've described you. After all, how could I write this without learning from experience? I see a finger pointing back at me as I gaze into the mirror, dreaming about my agent crush in my fancy yellow dress.
Photo credit: Gabriela Camerotti/Creative Commons license on Flickr