How many times have people told us we couldn’t? I don’t know about you personally, but for me…countless times.
I’m going to give you three examples. The one that just popped up on my laptop has to do with coloring books. A few years ago at a terrific writing conference, a terrific writer WHO SHALL REMAIN UNNAMED really took me under her wing. Despite the fact she had every reason to forget me, she not only made a connection with me personally, but she remembered me. I can’t tell you why it’s significant that she remembered me, because that would remove her anonymity, but suffice it to say she is unable to remember most people she meets for a valid medical reason.
Now that I have likely already said too much, allow me to go on. This writer was everything I wanted to be when I grew up. Pretty, smart, successful, funny, sexy, FREE, a mentor to the young, and above all else, accomplished! I adored her and adored her work. She gave me many wonderful positive inputs…but you know what I can never forget? The one big, fat NO she gave me.
Why do I remember that no? Because it took away something from me that I loved. Coloring. I was spending the weekend alone at the conference, away from my husband and children, so to keep myself busy in the hotel room, I had purchased a huge Harry Potter coloring book and a new box of crayons. The coloring pages were like movie stills with the color removed (that’s exactly what they were). The book was thick and fat, so I had my pick of hundreds of different movie scenes to color. I was overjoyed. (Hey, these were the days before internet phones and wifi, okay?)
In one of this wonderful teacher’s lectures, she mentioned that all writers should do other creative things. She meant gardening, painting, music, auto mechanics…and when I piped up, buoyed by her previous affection and approval, with, “I have a brand new coloring book!” she did not approve.
She shook her head, a half-smile playing on her face. “Oh, no,” she said. “That’s not really creative, because you’re only coloring in what someone else has drawn.”
I went back to my room and put the coloring book in the suitcase, along with the crayons. I gave them to my children when I got home. I never wanted to color again.
It’s silly, isn’t it? When you lay it out like that online, it seems like, “Well, Leslea, if you wanted to color, you should have just colored, and to hell with what that woman thought!”
The thing is, it’s hard. It’s hard when you want someone to like you, when you want someone’s approval, when you want someone’s validation and love. The more you look up to someone, whether mother, best friend, teacher–whatever–the more power they have to influence your choices. It was my choice not to color after that, but the part of me that idolized this woman didn’t see it as a choice.
So maybe my desire to color wasn’t so silly after all. Otherwise why would millions of buyers be shelling out for these? They’re LOVELY, that’s why, and coloring is lovely.
The second example of NO I’m going to give you isn’t as lengthy. It has to do with family of origin stuff. I come from a weird, blended, messed up family. A lot of other people do, too, so I bear no shame in this. I love all my relatives, but I can’t say that I know for sure they love me back. To be honest, I doubt they think of me at all, but at this stage in my life, I accept that as a superior status quo than a whole lot of other families I’ve known.
Well, this NO came from my mother. I have always loved art. I love to draw, I love to color (even though…?), I love to do it all, basically. I’m not wonderful at it, but I’m good enough for me. I love photography, and above all else, I love to WRITE.
“Your sister is an artist. Do something practical.” That was how my mother said no. She could have said, “Your sister is an artist. Maybe you have similar talents,” but that was not what she had to give. She had a big NO.
Not that I’m trying to elevate my talents with a paintbrush to this level, but can you imagine if someone told the Wyeths that no one else could paint except N.C.? There’d be no Andrew, no Jamie. (And honestly, stone me if you must, but Jamie is the one I like best.) The truth is there are dozens of painters in that family. They are a family that said YES. They didn’t say no for no good reason.
By the time I married an award-winning photographer, I already knew better than to explore photography. That was his thing. I wasn’t allowed to enjoy that, myself.
For years I wrote, but without permission or sanction. I went to school for accounting (“Do something practical!”), but online, I was an advice maven for lonely hearts. I got a lot of YESes for that. For AGES, really, I spent hours every day writing dating advice. Eventually I got away from writing advice columns and threw myself into full-time accounting work, and full-time family-raising. These were the only YESes I had received since high school, so I went for it whole hog.
I’m a fantastic mother, but I was never a talented accountant. I do okay. It just didn’t bring me joy. Matter of fact, it depressed me terribly. Eventually I started writing again. First blogging (blogging was a new thing!), then advice columns for parents of kids with food allergies, then advice columns for all parents, then more generalized freelancing, then a newspaper column just about my life with kids…the YESes really started making themselves present. Eventually I didn’t need permission to write novels. I just worked at that really hard for years until I had something I felt was good enough to release.
I got a lot of NOs from New York. Everyone does. I got YESes from California for some non-fiction books, and from small presses for poetry. But the kind of book launch I wanted, complete with books shipping nationally to big, retail bookstores? To denizens of indie bookstores like Powell’s? Nope. Just big, fat NOs.
So I went indie, myself. Eventually that became a thing and everyone and his brother has done it now. I’m finishing up my ninth novel now, and have published upwards of five dozen short stories solo and in anthologies, magazines, and comic books over the past four years. I am, by all rights, a serious professional writer.
A serious writer, writing^
I am a serious writer despite the NOs. People say “Let your haters be your motivators,” but sometimes people say no not out of hatred, but out of ignorance. They don’t know that a sci-fi/dark fantasy, genre-straddling book about a reality-traveling monster is going to suck them in. They just think it’s going to suck. If it said Stephen King on the cover instead of Red Tash, it would be a slam dunk YES. But who am I? People want to say NO.
Four years later, the book still has a four star average…but I haven’t published the sequel because of the (less frequent) reviews that aren’t nice–the reviews that pull the average down. They’re NOs. Why have I let them stop me? I don’t think I want to let them stop me forever. I think it would be nice to finish that story with the sequel that sits half-written on my hard drive. Maybe I will get to that when I have finished the latest Leslea Tash book. (Red Tash = monsters, fairies, & wizards / Leslea Tash = smart girls gone country.)
(In case you did the math…I learned a few years ago that one way around the NO was having a secret pen name. And NO, I won’t tell you what it is, because I like having that freedom to screw around without consequences. Oooh, that makes me sound wild or something, doesn’t it?)
The third and final NO I will share is about birds. I posted this on Facebook the other day, so I’ll just repost it here:
It seems to be human nature to say NO. We say no to other people’s woodpeckers. We say no to our children’s talents. We say no to our students’ hobbies. Through all that, we learn to say no to ourselves. We learn it through experience because that is what everyone is teaching us to do. We learn to seek approval from outside ourselves, due to the overwhelming number of unsolicited NOs. We learn not to trust our gut, but to trust the gut of someone else who we admire. Someone else who we emulate, who we aspire to be like. We beg for the attention of those someones, seeking validation like so many hungry orphans.
I don’t like that. I reject that.
Today someone asked me to write a series of short, non-fiction books about my lifestyle. My first instinct was to tell myself (and her) NO. “But you can’t DO that!” I thought. “You’re writing books, already! You did stuff like that before, sort of! Everyone is bored of your voice, you’ve said it too many times, already. Enough with the Leslea advice, right?”
Thank heavens, I came to my senses. I replied to my friend’s request with, “I love my life and would love to write about it.” Then I asked her for more input.
I didn’t say no. I explored the idea.
I didn’t make any promises, either…but I’m leaving that door open.
I’m tired of saying NO for no reason. I
like love the life I have, the things I do, the people I spend time with, and the results of the life we’ve put together here at the Treehouse.
Why not say YES?
If there is something you would like to read, my ears are open. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and tell me what kind of book you’d like to read, by me. I’m not promising I’ll write it, but, hey…I’m listening!