Blogger: Wendy Lawton
I spoke to two different clients last week who apologized for not being in touch and/or not getting me things. I also got some requested proposals from last year’s writing conferences that opened with “I’m sorry to have taken so long. . .”
Well I’m here to say “Shame off you!”
I first heard this surprising phrase from my friend Robin Jones Gunn. I believe I was doing my periodic grousing about not getting enough work finished or some such thing and Robin put up her hands in a sweeping motion and declared, “Shame off you!” What a difference from the nagging finger wave we constantly give ourselves and others that says, “Shame on you.”
I was born with a well-developed sense of self guilt. Even when I was little if someone asked, “Who spilled the . . .,” I was sure it must have me, whether I could remember it or not. Someone who feels guilt tends to over-explain and overachieve just to make up for imagined shortcomings. Yep.
I realized I haven’t come such a long way in that department last week when I sent an email to our esteemed Books & Such founder and president (and my good bud), Janet Grant. I carefully explained I was taking a couple hours off Friday afternoon and taking Monday (President’s Day) off to finish my office reorganization which has slowed to a crawl. After I sent it I had to laugh at myself. In the first place, Janet doesn’t care when we work. All the agents at Books & Such end up working 50 to 60 hours a week. We don’t punch a time clock because there’s no other way to get the work done and try to read manuscripts than to put in the hours.
Not only that, I was talking about taking time off to work in my office. Duh!
I used to feel guilty all the time. What did I feel guilty for? Not getting to manuscripts or proposals from potential clients. Having a backlog of client proposals to get out. Having a massive list of nudges and follow-ups I need to do. Never having all my work done. Ever!
It reminded me to keep working on one of my New Year’s resolutions. I resolved to try to move through this year without wallowing in guilt. There’s no way I will ever finish everything this side of eternity. I’m always going to be disappointing someone. It’s the nature of the beast. Editors and those in publishing face the same situation. We all need Robin Gunn to stand by our sides saying, “Shame off you!”
I hear it from my clients as well. “I’m so sorry I haven’t gotten you anything.” Or, “I feel so awful that I haven’t made any money for you.” Or even, “You work so hard with me and my books just aren’t regularly making the bestseller lists.” Goodness! Shame off you!
And not only clients, I hear it from writers seeking representation. You won’t believe how many times an email opens with “I met you a number of months ago at a writer’s conference and you asked to se my proposal. Since that time [insert all manner of horrifying situations] and I’ve been unable to get it to you. Please forgive me. . .”
Truth? If we asked to see your proposal it’s an open invitation. I certainly don’t mark a calendar and start ticking off days against you. If there was a reason we needed to see your work immediately we would have told you. Otherwise, send it when it is ready. I’m not going to castigate anyone for taking a long time when it’s probably going to take me a very long time to get back to them. We need to just offer each other grace.
So that was my confession. How about yours? Do you put undue pressure on yourself? Do you ever catch yourself saying self-shaming things? Have you put impossible tasks on your plate and then beat yourself up for not getting it all done?
Shame off you!