Monday, October 15, 2012

Try! Even if It Might Not Work Out

Amazon Print & eBook

My guest this week is Sheila Webster Boneham, author of several nonfiction books and the first in her mystery series, Drop Dead on Recall.
"I want to write a [novel, memoir, poem, book about...]...." I hear that a lot. I hear it when I teach classes and workshops, and I hear it in coffee shops and at book signings. I think this is partly because the need to create is a fundamental human drive. Have you ever met a healthy child who wasn’t eager to learn and make and do things? I also believe that the creative urge plays out in more ways than we usually think of as "creative" – writing, visual arts, dance, music, and so on. Take dog training.
My new Animals in Focus Mystery series begins with murder at a canine obedience trial in Drop Dead on Recall. For more than a decade I taught obedience classes, mostly to pet owners who wanted to gain some control of their dogs. Many did fine, and emerged at the end of the class with better skills for communicating with their dogs. Some were inspired to continue training, and a few of those eventually went on to compete. At each step up that ladder from "my dog is dragging me down the street" to "my dog just earned an obedience title!" there were dropouts, because I’m here to tell you that as easy as it looks when you see a well-oiled dog-and-owner team perform, it took them a lot of hard work to get there.
So it goes with writing. Many people begin with an urge to write. Some have a specific project in mind, but others just feel they’d like to try writing and find their subject as they go. They take a class or two, or join a writers’ group, or go to a conference. It’s fun at first. Then the fun becomes more complicated. Painful. Not all criticism is "constructive," and even when it is, it’s hard to hear.
When the work is ready to submit to agents or publishers, things get tougher. Rejection is part of the deal, and rejection sucks. So like the doggy-school dropouts who don’t want to spend time teaching the things their dogs don’t learn quickly, a lot of beginning and intermediate writers drop out when the pleasures of writing bump up against disappointments and plain old hard work. And it takes a lot of hard work to be good, much less great (at writing, at anything). Many people quit when this becomes evident.
I’ve heard people say that quitting is sad, but I'm not sure it is. I think we should try something new every so often, even if it doesn’t work out. If you think you want to write, give it a whirl! Even if you’re never published, you will have expanded your view, had some fun, learned something. You might even turn out to be a writer! How will you ever know if you don’t try?
As for the quitting, I think that’s okay too. Because quitting doesn’t mean failure. It means we have successfully identified our lack of interest or skill in a particular activity. It means we can move on to try something else, or we can go back to what we already know and love. It means we tried. And that is success!

Award-winning author Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Although best know for her writing about dogs and cats for the past fifteen years, Sheila also writes fiction, narrative nonfiction, and poetry. Her new Animals in Focus mystery series has just debuted with Drop Dead on Recall, now available from your local bookseller and online. In addition to her next mystery, Sheila is currently working on a series of essays about traveling the U.S. by train, and on a combination memoir and wide-ranging meditation on the human-canine connection. Sheila teaches writing workshops and classes, and is interested in speaking to groups about writing, creativity, and related topics. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and can be found online at or on Facebook at, or find her at Twitter @sheilaboneham.

ABOUT Drop Dead on Recall
When a top-ranked competitor keels over at a dog obedience trial, photographer Janet MacPhail is swept up in a maelstrom of suspicion, jealousy, cut-throat competition, death threats, pet-napping, and murder. She becomes a “person of interest” to the police, and apparently to major hunk Tom Saunders as well. As if murder and the threat of impending romance aren’t enough to drive her bonkers, Janet has to move her mother into a nursing home, and the old lady isn’t going quietly. Janet finds solace in her Australian Shepherd, Jay, her tabby cat, Leo, and her eccentric neighbor, Goldie Sunshine. Then two other “persons of interest” die, Jay’s life is threatened, Leo disappears, and Janet’s search for the truth threatens to leave her own life underdeveloped – for good.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Ellis, great guest blog! Sheila, your advice is great. It does take tremendous discipline to write, rewrite, submit work and keep going in the face of rejection. All of us who write and become professional understand this.

jenny milchman said...

That's a good way to look at the winnowing out that does take place, Sheila. I remember finally figuring out that it wasn't going to happen fast, or easily. Boy, was that an eye-opener.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Jacqueline and Jenny, thanks! "Discipline" is a tricky word - it sounds so harsh. People tell me I'm disciplined, but I think of myself as more "habitual." Jenny, you're right - we have become so used to nearly instant gratification that it really is tough to accept that some things take time, and take "do overs" - and over and over. "Eye-opener" is an excellent term, and what I find with many would-be writers is a refusal to open their eyes. Success, however we define it, is elusive with our eyes closed, though! Thanks for commenting.

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

Great post. You're right, it takes practice to be good at anything. I love to play the piano, will I be a concert pianist, no way, I have a fear of performing. I love to write and I'm published. But I was no overnight success, it took 15+ years.

I do believe people should try new things all the time. And stopping them if they aren't "for them."

Trying new stuff keeps our brains active, keeps us young. I hope I never get to old to try something new.

I used to downhill ski, now I cross country or snowshoe...I like it in different ways...but I was sure I wouldn't, until I tried it.


Sheila Webster Boneham said...

So true, Leslie Ann - so often we're SURE we will or won't like something and then, woops! wrong. Not to mention how our tastes and interests change over time.

Hope Clark said...

Did not realize you lived in Wilmington! I'm in Columbia, SC. We ought to do a joint book signing sometime. I love that you write about animals in your mysteries. That's such a strong following.

Hope Clark

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Hope, yes and yes! I emailed you a while back to say so and never heard back - I'm probably floating in cyberspace. :-) But let's talk!

Ellis Vidler said...

Sheila, I'm a dog lover and looking forward to your book, maybe some training tips as well as a good book. :-) I have to admit, our Irish setters learned a lot faster than the Westies did. I think it had to do with whether they wanted to please or to be pleased.
It's nice of you to be here today.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Ellis, there may be a few tips - most of those are in my nonfiction books! :-) And yes, terriers have different agendas from sporting dogs for sure!
Thanks so much for inviting me to be here.

Jan Christensen said...

What a wonderful post and outlook on trying new things. This quote was worth the price of admission: "quitting doesn’t mean failure. It means we have successfully identified our lack of interest or skill in a particular activity. It means we can move on to try something else, or we can go back to what we already know and love. It means we tried. And that is success!" Thanks, Ellis, for hosting Sheila. I look forward to reading Sheila's books.

Polly Iyer said...

I love your attitude, and I love the same quote Jan did. It's very difficult to stay focused in the midst of rejections. Aside from discipline, I think persistence is another word every writer must learn. Success or failure depends on not giving up if you really love to write. As for dogs, we're taking care of my son the vet's dog, and for an animal professional, this dog is so NOT trained. I shudder to think what will happen if he has kids. Great post, Sheila, and thanks Ellis for having Sheila on your blog.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Thanks, Jan and Polly. Feel free to quote me - ha! And Polly, I know lots of vets who don't do much training :-)