Jumping the Line
August 9, 2016 § 9 Comments
Right now, this is my favorite song. It’s also a number-one hit, Sia’s first, on her first number-one album. But it didn’t start out as “her” song. Sure, she wrote it, but she wrote it in her day job–songwriter–and pitched it to Rihanna. If you listen to the island-ish backbeat, you can probably hear what it might have sounded like if Rihanna hadn’t said no. Another track on the same album, Alive, was meant for Adele. Who said no. Shakira turned down Move Your Body. Katy Perry said no to another track. So did Beyoncé.
Yesterday, Sandra A. Miller and Marc Zegans pointed out the futility of waiting, of making ourselves sick with intense focus on a tenuous, desperately wanted goal. That we should “Remember waiting is a choice that flies in the face of what our hearts are telling us: ‘this is too important to do nothing.’”
Waiting is a choice.
As writers, there’s a lot of waiting. It’s one of the reasons why simultaneous submissions are important; why the first thing to do when you get an agent is start writing the next book. Miller and Zegans suggest doing a mini-project, or simply living a fulfilling, connected life. But there’s one more option: jump the line.
Sia didn’t wait for someone else to pick up her songs. She wanted them in the world, so she sang them herself. She made an album. She didn’t wait patiently to be told, “Now you’re good enough, now you have permission to make art, now someone will give your work a home.” She jumped the line.
Sometimes it’s worth it to wait–if I ever have a piece that’s right for The Sun, who discourage simultaneous submissions, I’ll cheerfully print it out, stamp it, send it, and put it out of my mind for six months. It will be worth choosing to wait, for the possible reward of publication in a prominent and respected journal that I enjoy.
Sometimes I’d rather jump the line. I live in Dubai, not exactly a hotbed of grassroots art, and last year I tried to join a writing group for support and dedicated time. The main group in town wasn’t my cup of tea, and my favorite writer friend here is also an expat and we’re rarely here at the same time. So I moped around wishing for something I wanted. Three weeks ago, it finally dawned on me that I knew how to use the internet, and that if I wanted a very specific kind of writing group (we show up, shut up, write, and leave) I needed to make it myself. I’m heading out tonight for my second Shut Up And Write meeting, and last week’s was productive for everyone around the table and exactly the experience I hoped it would be.
Line-jumping is a little scary. We’ve all learned that success comes from doggedly moving up one step at a time, ticking the boxes, supporting our community–not cutting in front of everyone else. Back in elementary school, we’d holler “no cuts no buts no coconuts!” at people who pretended to be talking to their friend at the front of the line. But we’re grown-ups now, and standing in line is a choice. There’s no amusement-park snake line with Success at the end. You don’t have to be any particular height to ride this ride, even when someone else says Oh, I think you have to have a degree, or Some very qualified people are going out for that, or, Maybe you should see what your teacher suggests.
If you’re waiting for something–a submission, an opportunity, a partner, a job–think honestly whether or not it’s worth the wait. If it is, start that mini-project or get into the garden or play games with your kids, enjoying the free time until you know one way or the other.
And if it’s not worth the wait? Get out there and make it happen in your own way.
No-one’s going to call cuts.