by Dame Devon
FIRST AN ANNOUNCEMENT: The winner of T.L. Schaefer’s signed copy of THE SAINTS OF MIDLAND and a $25 gift certificate to Amazon will be chosen Sunday, Auguest 8th by midnight. Still plenty of time to enter to win!
So last night, I was struggling with writing a chapter of the book (as an aside, some chapters write fast, some make snails look like speedboats.) (As another aside, when I go back to revise those chapters, I can’t tell the difference between the fast-written and the slow-slog.) Where was I? Ah, yes, struggling with a chapter of the book that I had been working on for four days.
Tired of banging my head against the monitor, I walked away for a short break, and flipped on the TV to the Food Network and the show, The Next Food Network Star. The basic premise of the show is that the contestants are all chefs from different backgrounds. Some work in restaurants, some are food bloggers, some are caterers, some went to famous cooking schools, some are home cooks.
All of these chefs, from different training and experiences are competing to get their own show on the Food Network. Their weekly challenges are based on a “theme” i.e. cook something that represents an emotion we’ll assign you, cook something that represents you, but do it with your least favorite food in the world, take an old classic and make it new, etc. Oh, and do it on a time limit.
I’d caught a few episodes of this show before, but wasn’t following every week. I don’t know why, but last night it finally dawned on me how much this show parallels a writers’ life.
Writers come from hugely different backgrounds and have different natural abilities, different “spices” and skills in their comfort zones, and very individual ideas about what makes something “good.” Writers are all hoping to have their own “show” (novel, series, book, short story, article, etc.) out there where people can enjoy it. And writers are all hoping the judges (editors, agents, readers) will pick their dish, and that they will have a long and successful career making more stuff that people will enjoy.
And suddenly, the entire show transformed for me. This week they were down to five chefs (writers) out of about a dozen or so. The judges (publishing industry/readers) gave them the challenge of cooking a dish to represent a single word (genre) assigned by the judges. The chefs (writers) had 30 minutes (deadline) and $300.00 to shop for the dishes’ ingredients (outline/plot) Then they had 1 hour (deadline) to start their dish, which would be served in front of the judges and two guest experts (editors/agents/readers). They didn’t get to *finish* their dishes that night. They got one hour, then had to shove it aside to get on with real life. (Um…just like in real life.)
The next day, they had 30 minutes to finish the dish (revisions) and present it to the judges and guest experts.(submission)
Here’s the thing that absolutely struck home with me. The chefs were judged on the success of the dish and also on their introduction of it (cover letter/query/synopsis) and their personal attitude toward it. It was fascinating to see the chefs who lost confidence in their dish halfway through cooking it and who felt worse and worse about it, to the point that when they presented their dish, all they could see were the flaws. (Writers? Are you listening?) They gave poor presentations, and even if the judges liked the dish, the judges didn’t like that the chef wasn’t confident enough to believe in their own creation.
There was one chef who had never won a single challenge in the entire show (months of rejections). He decided he was going to keep a positive attitude and give it all he had to knock it out of the park. He relaxed into what he was doing and believed in his voice, his story, and his own unique point of view. He hoped it would win, but more than that, he knew he was the only person who could tell his story his way. He stopped worrying, and stopped comparing himself to other competitors, and maybe even stopped working for the judges and instead worked to make that plate something he enjoyed and was having fun with.
(You know where I’m going with this, right?)
The guy who had never won before won.
In the discussion with the other contestants, one chef who had won several other challenges, (been published) said she thought she’d gotten rid of the fear of failure weeks ago, but it was back and that fear of failure halfway through cooking her dish had tripped her up so bad, she had failed the challenge.
You know what the judges said? “When you have your own show, you’re not going to have a group of therapists standing around every day to tell you you’re good enough. How bad do you want this?”
And I heard, “You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your story. Don’t let fear kill the joy of what you can bring to the table. Write it. Write it with all your heart, and never look back.”
Then I turned off the TV and finished that damn chapter.
And just for fun, you can click here to see a You Tube interview my publisher did with me a couple months ago. I was actually very nervous about the interview, but I didn’t let my fear of failure get in the way of telling my story, the best I could.