Writing Lessons from the Playground

Yesterday when I dropped my boys off at school, the temp was a balmy 34 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Frost on the ground.
  • Kids in t-shirts and shorts.
  • Kids in shorts and sweatshirts.
  • Kids in pants and t-shirts.
  • Kids in jeans and jackets.
  • Very few hats and/or mittens.

The jacketed kids played.  The half-dressed kids huddled.  The mittenless pulled their sleeves over their fingers and the hatless/hoodless pressed their hands against their ears.

Today, the temperature gauge on my truck read 43 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Pants and long sleeves.
  • Lots o’ mittens and hats.
  • A fair number of jackets.
  • Everybody playing.

This strikes me as the same sharp reality that we writers get when we begin submitting our first manuscripts.  We are simply unprepared for the journey.  We often go into writing a novel with little or no understanding about the process as a whole.  We write to “the end” and we feel accomplished.

And we are.  What we aren’t is ready to send it out.  We aren’t ready to succeed.  We aren’t ready for the yes and the hard work that will follow.  So, I offer you: 

Writing Lessons from the Playground

  1. Wear long sleeves: Get your manuscript in top form.  Even a cool breeze is tolerable if we protect our core.  A poorly edited manuscript leaves us completely vulnerable to the elements, which ultimately culminates in a form rejection.
  2. Wear long pants: Write a killer query letter.  No, this doesn’t mean only dress pants are acceptable.  Jeans or sweat pants are just fine, as long as your attire query fits your story. 
  3. Wear a hat: Research your agents/editors before ever sending out your submission package.  We lose the bulk of our body heat through our heads.  A simple cap helps regulate our core temp.  Likewise, careful research into an agent’s likes, dislikes, preferences, past sales and business style are a must.  Too often, we get so wrapped up in the idea of any agent/editor attention that we lose our heads and forget that not all acceptances are a good fit for us.
  4. Throw on some mittens: Keep writing.  Write your marketing proposal and write your next book.  Write your blog.  Write in your diary or write a short story or article.  Write.  Keep your fingers limber and warm.  Prepare for the next step in your journey, because sometimes an agent/editor says yes.  And when he does, you’ll want nothing more than to be able to play in comfort. 
  5. And you  know what comes after fall…snowsuits and boots.  Receiving a publishing contract takes us from writer to author.  We literally become wrapped up in the written word.  We edit old pieces, write new ones, brainstorm for even newer ones, network socially and juggle real life.  It’s a veritable snowstorm, and one we won’t survive unless we fully prepare for life as a writer.  Routine, organization, resetting of priorities…the list is endless, but it all starts with a long-sleeved shirt on a frosty morning.

Yeah, one miserable cold snap was enough for parents and kids to drag out the warm clothing.  It was enough for everyone to realize how ill-prepared we were for playground fun.  It was enough to redirect our behaviors and approach something as simple as dressing with a bit more purpose and thought.

I’m not going to lie.  I get that it’s totally embarrassing to be the first wussy kid on the playground to don a stocking hat.  There’s something uncool about being warm until you’re so cold you can’t feel your toes.  When my boys balked about their hats and mittens yesterday morning, I provided them with my mantra: Put them in your backpack.  If you’re not cold, don’t use them.  Your choice.  But at least you’ll have them when you need them.  At least you’ll be prepared.

And so, dear writers, I ask: are you prepared?  What steps have you taken to help smooth your path to success?  Do you stash your mittens in the bottom of your bag, or do you unabashedly wear them for all the world to see?

Curious minds want to know.

10 responses to “Writing Lessons from the Playground

  1. Your first sentence is why I don’t live up there anymore.

  2. Awesome post! I’ve got my long sleeves and mittens on so I don’t get frostbite!

    It’s been in the 40s at night here and in the 60s during the day. Chilly for this time of year! It’s usually pretty warm still in September and even into October. Hope you’re staying warm, Cat! 🙂

    • We had our first marching band competition on Saturday and I thought I was in the arctic! Brrrr…

      Then on Sunday afternoon I sweated, and today is supposed to be 80. Gotta love fall in the midwest!

      Sounds like you need to keep warm, too!

  3. Excellent advice, Cat! I think the best way to prepare for all of it is to actually be the kid without the jacket and freeze the first day. It prepares you for the next day and the next phase. Trial and error, learning from mistakes, and growing – it all takes time. And it’s so necessary if you want to be in it for the long haul.

    By the way, I really envy weather like that. We’re still in the 90’s and I’d love a real winter sometimes.


    • Trust me, you won’t envy us when it’s 40 below!

      As always, you’re very astute. Learning for yourself is half the battle. That’s when we truly value the lesson.

  4. I love the analogy. I am working on breaking out the mittens but I think they are still in storage but I promise not to let the novel out to play until I find them.

  5. On this topic I am pleased to have so many internet buddies who have gone before me into the wilds of querying. I will pack however many hats and mittens and boots and sweaters and snowsuits you tell me to.

    Well . . . within reason.

    • You are so much fun! I would never presume to tell you to pack anything–except a certain special turkey hat!

      You know far more about the writing process than you give yourself credit for. One day you’ll wake up and realize you belong on the other side of the fence. Not that the grass is greener once you jump it, but you still feel a bit better after having escaped the electric fence!


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