Four Words of Wisdom for the Graduate, or the Writer

My daughter graduated middle school this past week. Just putting my age in perspective, when I was in school, you didn’t graduate middle school, you just moved on to the next grade. Kids today celebrate every milestone. In some ways, I kind of think that’s the problem with the younger generation. They get participation trophies instead of earning their awards, no child is left behind (even if the child should be), and then when they become adults, they wonder why no one is handing them things anymore. They’re completely unprepared for the realities of life.

graduationOn the other hand, I say why not celebrate every accomplishment you can? Before too long, people will be looking for reasons to knock you down and climb over you on their way up the ladder of success. Might as well enjoy the successes while you have them and people are willing to celebrate with you.

As a parent, I know I’ll always be a cheerleader for my kids, no matter how old they are, no matter what they accomplish. My kids are quite successful, but don’t worry—I’m not going to use this as a forum to brag. Instead, I’m going to take some words of wisdom I picked up from the guidance counselor at the awards assembly. He said some things that I think apply to everyday living, and to the writer’s career as well.

1)  Some people get older; some people grow up.

  • In life, that’s easy enough to explain. Some of the kids are getting older, but no more mature. His point is that it’s time to stop acting like a child and start being responsible. We all know that fifty year old who thinks it’s funny to burn rubber in the parking lot and is always causing trouble at work. That person didn’t grow up. Don’t be that person.
  • In a writer’s career, that’s also appropriate. Some writers never mature in their writing because they don’t put the time and effort in. You can say you’re a writer for years, working on that one manuscript that no one ever sees (and that honestly, you only dabble in once a month), but to become an expert, you must write often, and you must study the craft. Read books, attend conferences, work with critique partners, submit your work for publication. Only then can you, as a writer, mature.

2)  The better we handle the word “no,” the more often we hear the word “yes.”

  • That, too, is self-explanatory as a life-lesson. People who have temper tantrums and negative responses to a refused request will not be looked upon favorably, and that will result in another “no” when a second request is made. A responsible reaction to a rejection leaves a positive image, and therefore requests are more likely to be answered with a “yes” in the future.
  • In writing, rejection can come in the form of negative reviews, bad critiques, or actual rejections from agents, editors, or publishers. Written or verbal replies to these rejections that are negative (or even worse, sarcastic or scathing) show the writer to be difficult to work with and unprofessional. Why burn bridges? Sometimes the rejections come with nothing but good intentions, offering ways to make your writing better. Other times, a no is a no. But in any case, you always want to leave people with a positive impression. That “yes” could be one submission away. And don’t forget—people in the industry talk. You don’t want your name being circulated for the wrong reasons.

3)  When we forget life is short, we treat it like it’s not.

  • Don’t leave things for another time, only to find out that time was taken from you. People move on, sometimes permanently, and you may not have a chance to say or do something you mean to.
  • In writing, sometimes we get career-obsessed. I have to make word count today. I need to send more tweets. I’m seventeen likes away from one-thousand followers on Facebook. Yes, writing and platforming are crucial steps in becoming successful. But life is short. Take the time to actually live,too, or all of your hard work will have been for nothing.

4)  There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing, and never a wrong time to do the    right thing.

  • If you live your life by a set of high moral standards, you’ll feel better about yourself. You won’t ever get into trouble. And, in the grand scheme of things, you’ll come out ahead, even if you don’t get every small reward you think you deserve along the way.
  • In writing, the thing that keeps the plot moving is conflict. If a character isn’t faced with a choice or a dilemma, then there isn’t anything happening. The rule is for the heroes to always do right and the villains to always do wrong. Here’s the caveat: there are no rules in fiction that can’t be broken. Have your hero make a bad choice. Have your villain do something nice. It’s the choices that people make—and the reasons they make them—that make them rich, interesting characters to read about. It’s okay, even interesting,  to get your hero in trouble, as long as you make things right in the end.

So, those were just some of the words of wisdom we heard at the awards ceremony. I batted back a few tears, shared some smiles and laughter, and applauded with the rest of the crowd when the kids got their awards. I can’t believe both of my kids are now officially in high school. Where did the time go? I think I need to work on number three. Life is short, and I want to embrace every second of it.

What words of wisdom do you have to share, for both life and writing?

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4 Comments

  1. Congratulations to your daughter and to you! Your words point to life’s most important yet the simplest of truisms.To paraphrase the Indigo Girls: The hardest things to learn are the least complicated.

  2. Very nice speech from the guidance counselor.
    A friend of mine recently joined the same critique group that I belong to. Since we were young, she has always wanted to write a mystery novel. During our sessions everyone is given the opportunity to critique the work of others. When it’s her turn, she politely declines stating she doesn’t know enough to provide valuable feed back. She asked me to give her advise to help her make a viable critique. Although everyone does things differently, I explained to her my process. Today, she asked for my opinion of her first critique. Sometimes we forget that the little things in life are more valuable than the overall big picture. Take the time to listen to your friends, coworkers and collegues. If you are always talking, you miss many of life’s simple pleasures.

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