On Getting What You Want

Recently, I was speaking to a group of college writers when one of them told me she was having trouble completing her draft. “I want to make it perfect,” she said, “And so it never gets done. What can I do to get myself to finish it?”

I asked if I could answer her question with an exercise (you can do this, too, if you have this problem). I asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine that best thing that could possibly happen with their books has happened. We stayed there with our eyes closed for several moments, and I asked them to see what they’d see, feel what they’d feel, really put themselves in this moment. I asked them to inhale whatever scent they’d smell–maybe the champagne bubbles bursting in the glass, because they’re celebrating the best thing that could have possibly happened.

I was looking right at the student who’d asked the question when I told them to open their eyes. When she did, her entire aura had shifted–she seemed brighter, sitting up straighter in her seat, with a calm smile on her face. I asked if that situation would ever happen in reality if she never finished her book.


It took me a long time to develop the discipline to start writing novels. I had this same problem–I’d start one, realize how terrible it was, and never finish because, well, what was the point?

One day, I was walking around Barnes and Noble in Nashville, thinking of another novel idea that I didn’t think would ever make its way into the real world. And then I saw an event poster–Roxane Gay was scheduled to do a reading the next week, and the store was advertising the event in the window. I love her work, and so I’m sure that’s what drew me to the poster. But as I stood there looking at it, I started thinking about books, and how much work they were, and how the people who actually took action to write, edit, submit, edit, get rejected, edit more…those people got their thoughts into the minds of others. Those people got to read what they’d written to strangers. Those people got posters at Barnes and Noble.

Keep in mind that I was a public school teacher at the time, that I had no idea at all about how the publishing industry worked. But in my head, this poster represented the pinnacle of success, and I wanted one for myself badly. I realized it would never happen unless I actually wrote this book.

So I wrote the book! And lots of stuff (rejection, edits, etc) happened. And just a few years later, in the exact same store I stood staring at Roxane Gay and her book cover–

It isn’t quite magic, but if we set a goal, focus on it, work at it, and connect with people who can help along the way, we can make some powerful stuff happen. What are you focused on?

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