So, I'm just going to come out and say it: My mom's a friggin' genius. Now this kinda stands to reason – the woman had five kids and I, as the oldest, am hands down the dolt of the family. And no, I'm not being modest, nor am I trolling for compliments. My younger siblings are walking brains and they kindly tolerate my intellectual sluggishness. It would be impossible for my mother to produce people like my sisters and brother without having a few IQ points to spare.
But that's only a smidgen of my mom's genius. I have discovered now at my advanced age of 36 that my mother, with her sagely and pointed advice about boys, the pants of boys, the ill-thought desires of boys, and how to keep myself from getting dragged down into the the gutter by, well, boys – all have proved to be uncannily prescient and timely and inexplicably applicable to my chosen career as writer. Did I think her advice was out of line and idiotic when I was fifteen and hot under the collar? Yup. You betcha. Still, I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I had followed her advice when I was young, and to make up for it, I've begun to apply her advice to my work now and the results have been.....promising. Let me show you what I mean.
MAMA REGAN'S USEFUL TIPS FOR DATING, SEX AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT
Rule #1 Don't date boys until you're sixteen.
Did I follow it? Unfortunately, yes.
Career Applicability While this rule was grossly unfair (though, truth be told, it's not like the phone was ringing off the hook anyway. I was a late bloomer. Still, it was the principle of the thing that chafed.) what my mother was actually telling me was this: Settle down; don't rush; don't enter the fray until you have the confidence to protect yourself. I wrote before about my many, many mistakes I made in my early career, and how important they were at the beginning. Still, after a bunch of false starts, I stopped submitting for a while. I re-assessed my relationship with writing. I learned to trust myself and honor the work I did, and insist that I find markets that would treat my work with dignity and respect. My mother's rule was all about giving me a grace period in which I could learn to assess my own worth – as an individual, as a person worthy of love, as well as a sexual creature too. I needed to know my own value before handing my heart to the first schmo that came along. Which brings me to rule number two:
Rule #2 Don't Go Home With the First One Who Asks You
Did I follow it? Unfortunately, no.
Career Applicability Now, this is just good advice, and is routinely unfollowed by the girls of the world. If you listen carefully, you can hear a girl's heart breaking somewhere on earth every 0.000001 seconds. I could write volumes on how my Misspent Youth would have been drastically different and likely improved if I had only followed my mother's advice. However, years later, when I was first sending query letters for my book (which comes out next year! Squee!) I thought long and hard about my mother's advice. I even wrote those words on a huge sign and hung it over my desk. And you know what? When I got my first offer of representation, I didn't take it. And I didn't take the second one either. I wanted, more than anything else, to find an agent who believed in me one hundred percent. I figured, if I have that in my husband, I should have it with everyone I work with. Other writers I knew thought I was nuts. Still, it paid off. I got an offer of representation with an agent who was madly in love with my work. And love, my dears, makes all the difference.
Rule #3 If You Think Your Panties Might Be On Fire, It's Best To Leave The Room
Did I follow it? What do you think? (sigh)
Career applicability My mom's a big believer in “yoga breathing” she calls it. Or, in other words, when the excitement rises, the best thing a person can do is to breathe through it, find that one calm spot in the maelstrom, and greet passion with a sigh. This business is not for the faint of heart. There are dizzying highs and crushing lows and people breathing down your neck wanting things yesterday and people who get pissed at you for your inappropriate use of the word “scimitar” or an apparent cruelty to bunnies, or your shoddy dialogue or whatever. Whenever I find myself being pressured into a decision – either by myself or by someone else – I think about my mom's advice. And, because I didn't follow it when I was young (with, alas, disastrous consequences) you bet your sweet arse that I follow it now.
Rule #4 Sex is about today. Love is about tomorrow.
Did I follow it? At first, unfortunately, no. And then, yes, yes, and forever yes.
Career applicability After a while, we do almost nothing for immediate gain: We save for our kids' education; we scrape a downpayment on a house; we slice our budget down to the barest of bones to keep from going into debt. We do this because we believe in the power of tomorrow. We try to make each day good and each day beautiful because we trust that tomorrow will be even better. Love is like that, you see – it's work. But it's good work - the kind that you fuss and fashion and sweat over – it's back breaking, muscle straining, dirt-under-the-fingernails satisfying work. Building a career is like that too. You sacrifice, you plan, you work until all hours of the night, and labor over page after page after blessed page. You do it, because you believe in tomorrow. And you trust yourself to do it right.
So now I have a question for you: what's your universally applicable advice? And since we've established that I really am just flying by the seat of my pants, what advice can you offer me – little messages in a bottle for a girl lost at sea......