Monday, 7 January 2013

Sometimes "Yes" Is The Right Answer

I would like to point out that I don’t make a habit of standing on street corners touting for work. Before Christmas, I was stopped by a woman in the street who made a proposition. I was merely going about my usual daily walk when this woman, who I knew by sight, stopped me and said, “You’re that writer aren’t you?” (Which is always a difficult question to answer because you don’t know who that writer is, that they’re thinking about.)

Anyway, she asked me if I would be interested in writing a story for her, which she would give as a present for a relative. She didn’t want me to ghost-write the story - she wanted a writer to write a story that met her requirements.

“What do you want the story to be about?” I asked.

“Oh, anything you like,” she replied. “Except that it must have my relatives’ three cats in it.”

“Okay,” I replied. “ I’m sure I can come up with something.”

“Oh, and he likes the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so a fantasy story is what he’d really enjoy reading.”

“Right …”I replied, now panicking.

I don’t write a lot of fiction, but I do dabble. But I don’t do fantasy. I tried reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but they just don’t do it for me. I can’t be doing with those unusual names. I need to substitute Frodo for Fred, and Gandalf for Garry, but after a few pages I forget who Frodo should be, and who Gandalf was. Is he Garry or Graham? And then I realise that it’s too much hard work, so I stop reading them. But this woman was convinced I could do what she wanted and before I knew it, I’d uttered the word, “Yes.”

It wasn’t until I started walking home that I began to think about what I’d taken on. And this is a birthday present to someone celebrating a significant milestone - so no pressure there, then.

When I came to sit down and write this story, I had no idea what I was going to write about. The blank screen stared back and I racked my brain for an idea. Then I cursed myself, for yet again, I’d said “Yes,” to some work without thinking things through.

But as I’ve said here on this blog many times, it doesn’t matter what you write, just writing something. Only when you’ve written some words, do you have something to edit and work with. I assumed that I’d write a story of about 1,500 words. I felt that would be a suitable story length.

After an hour, I’d written nearly 1,000 words, and some semblance of a storyline was coming together. The following day I wrote another 2,000 words and a structure was beginning to reveal itself in the plot line. I couldn’t believe that I was 3,000 words in and not at the end of the story yet.

Three days later, I finished the first draft of the story, at 6,000 words. I was dead chuffed. There on the screen were 6,000 words I never dreamed I would ever write. It was even a (sort of) fantasy story.

After spending a couple of days editing and polishing, I finally plucked up the courage to deliver a copy to my commissioning woman. She telephone the following day to tell me how much she loved it. Phew! And because it is 6,000 words long, I’m getting it printed into a little book.

Looking back, I surprised myself how much I enjoyed writing the story. It was a style and subject matter that I never thought I would enjoy writing. But I did. And in the next few days there’ll be a little book - something tangible - for me to hand over to my customer. And there’s a clue as to how I eventually tackled this. This was any other writing job. I’m a supplier, and I had a customer who needed a job doing.

Sometimes in this writing world it’s a good idea to say, “Yes,” to something before you’ve really thought things through. It forces us out of our comfort zones. 

A few years ago there was a film produced on this principle, based loosely on a book by Danny Wallace, about a man who decided to say “Yes,” whenever an opportunity came his way. I’m not saying you need to change your life this drastically, but it can be beneficial to tackle a writing project where your gut instinct is to run a mile in the opposite direction. 

Good luck! 


  1. Well done Simon, I too know this senario, when a few years ago I was asked to work on a project I had no knowledge of whatsoever! The Abolition of Slavery, the idea being to make three audio documenteries.

    I did it, enjoyed it mostly, and the end result was good enough to go out into schools for the benefit of generations of school children. Although it wasn't taken up by the BBC, due to a mammouth cost cutting exercise that year.

    I welcome writing outside my comfort zone. It keeps my writing fresh, and you never know where it might lead.

    1. That's it, isn't Maria? You never know where it might lead! And three audio documentaries - that's a different project for your writing CV, too! Well done!

  2. I don't say yes. You clearly get a different type of proposition in the street than the ones I get! ;-)

  3. This reminds me of when I said yes to writing a weekly blog post for a data quality company. I was quaking in my shoes thinking I didn't know a thing about data quality. But I got on with it. And before I knew it people were retweeting links to it. And a year or so on, I'm still getting paid for a blog post a week, and quite enjoying it too.

  4. Well done, Simon. making the most of every opportunity.