Monday, August 9, 2010

Novelist Barbie

Before I went to NYC to meet my new editor at St. Martins, I bought my first grown-up blazer. It was black, ordered online from the Gap, nothing special, and I paired it up with gray slacks, a white blouse, and a chunky necklace I'd found at my favorite jewelers, Target.

I felt a bit ridiculous wearing the ensemble, like a little kid dressing up for career day. When I grow up, I'm going to be a writer and this is how a writer dresses for a breakfast meeting with her editor. Ironically, my editor showed up at the restaurant in leggings and a cute little summer dress, exactly the kind of thing I had planned on wearing before someone told me I needed that flippin' blazer.

Is this yet another post on one of my favorite writerly habits, trusting your instinct? Should I pontificate on the importance of wearing what you want to wear instead of worrying it over, posting a call for fashion help in a cyber writing-room, taking advice from way too many places and ending up with the dullest, least-individualistic outfit? An outfit so vague, so gray that it only succeeded in making me look ultra-amateurist? An outfit that made me look like what I was: a deeply insecure person trying to pull off confident?

Aah, of course. A lesson in how your true, most central, deepest instinct is the voice to follow. I could open it up a little, extend it to the revision notes my editor sent a few weeks ago, how I now must have the confidence to remember the most important thing: I am the writer. My editor is the editor. While she has the final say and she is arguably the most important person in my professional life at the moment, she is also the woman in the leggings and cute dress. She knows her stuff--she knows my book--but she's not scary.

Her requested edits are--most of them--very, very smart. I'm grateful for them. The trouble is: am I good enough? Can I do everything she's hoping I can do?

Oh, if only we lived in the kind of world where I might have asked her for wardrobe advice. If I could have emailed her to ask when and where she wanted to meet, and please tell me exactly what to wear. Is black really an unspoken requirement? Must I learn how to wear a blazer without feeling ridiculous?

Actually, this post is about not worrying. In a sense, I'm talking myself off the ledge here. I'm forgiving myself. In truth, no matter what I initially thought to wear to that meeting, the fact that I frantically sought help is completely understandable. I had never been to anything like what I was walking into in New York, and it was rather smart of me (if little geeky and spazzy) to seek the advice of others.

Plus, now, I know better. Next time, I'll wear leggings.

Also, as desperately as I want to satisfy every one of my editor's suggestions--and in fact, go beyond them, I want to the book to be so damn good that she reads the new version with tears in her eyes--I am just a person doing the best I can. A terribly lame and cliched statement for me to put in my blog, but my NYC outfit already confirmed my lameness, so there. I can say it. And, cliches become cliches because they're true: I am just a person doing the best I can. That's what we all are.

So, wherever you are today, press on. Don't be afraid to wear a dorky outfit or to write some seriously trite or stupid or out-there stuff. Seek advice. Work like hell. Don't apologize for your stories, for their weaknesses. Just do the work to make them better. Then, it is your job to be your work's biggest advocate.

Remind yourself: This is me, and this is what I can do.


Kathy Waller said...

Doing-the-best-I-can is the most important cliche there is, especially on Monday. I needed to hear it. Thanks.

(Talk about lame--I would have worn a black business suit plus earrings and a tasteful pin.)

jonnia said...

I'm printing out your last few lines to post above my desk. Thank you!

Tracy Crow said...

Hey, Susan!

Loved this! But, I'm with Kathy who posted: "I would have worn a black business suit plus earrings and a tasteful pin.) That's how I would have dressed, too. ;)

The other day, I had dinner with my mother and one of her artist friends, who commented about how disappointed she was in a particular author's bio, which hadn't shared anything personal -- nothing about the writer's dogs, family life, nothing.

As much as I'd like to think it's all about the words, it isn't, I'm afraid. Not entirely. It's about the total package -- the words are the product of the author who must be depicted by a representative author photo and an interesting bio and blah, blah, blah.... ;) many expectations. Why can't it just be about the words....?

Susan Woodring said...

Kathy, your business suit sounds perfect, actually. Especially the tasteful pin part. Not lame at all.

Yes, I hadn't thought about it, but definitely a good post for a Monday.

Press on, press on, press on!!

Susan Woodring said...

Jonnia--is that your real-life first name or your cyber calling card?? I love it, so pretty--I'm so glad you found that last lines print-worthy. Thank you so much for stopping by!

Susan Woodring said...

Tracy, you're absolutely right. I'm not very good at the banter you're supposed to do when you get up to read, but I need to get better. Am thinking of joining Toastmasters, anything to practice getting up there and saying a few words. Usually I start with a joke about how happy I am to be there, away from my beautiful, rambunctious children, but I need some new material.

Obviously, I think clothes/image are a necessary if burdensome part to all this. But, I'm really learning--as a writer, as a woman inching through the latter half of her thirties--that you really do need to dress in a way that feels comfortable to you. You're projecting an image--it just must be an image you're comfortable with, one that really "suits" you. (Okay, that was awful.)

And, I can say this because I know you in real life--I've never seen you look anything less than stunning. And--more important--comfortable in your stunningness. Warm and confident, always, always.:)

Jessie Carty said...

What would poet barbie wear? Hmm. I wish I had read this before the writers conference where I turned down a chance to sit with important people because of what I was wearing. How silly was that?

Tracy Crow said...

Susan -- how sweet, but right back at you, Dear! It's hard growing up and into our true selves, huh? ;) I'm 51, way ahead of you, so I know I'm not giving you much hope.... But you are beautiful, poised, and successful. Tell yourself that every day until you finally believe it.

jessica handler said...

A black suit in lightweight wool, and a black suit in linen or cotton. A pair of shoes that works with each. A top that works with each.

Clothes you don't have to think about.

That is all.

emilberry said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, this post. The candid truths of how we all, no matter how confident or secure, try to fit in, impress and just do are darndest. So heartful, so true, even if cliche. Thanks for the inspiration. BTW I was at the Bookmarks festival today in WS. Saw your book on the Press 53 table. So proud to say, she taught me!

Susan Woodring said...

Emily, thank you so much!!