The Magic of Maybe

“‘Maybe,’ Mister Ernest said. ‘The best word in our language, the best of all. That’s what mankind keeps going on: maybe.’”

See? William Faulkner actually could write coherent sentences. This one comes from the end of his short story, “Race at Morning.”

I love Faulkner.

I know, you probably had to read The Sound and The Fury in high school and got frustrated and threw it across your room and decided you HATED Faulkner. But really, that wasn’t his fault. It was the institution’s fault for forcing teachers to cram books at students before they’re ready for them and in a way that kills and autopsies the work so that it’s dead, dead, dead. And that’s why you hated it. Not him. Not his beautiful words. Not his ideas.

Like this idea of Maybe being better than a “yes” or a “no”—you have to love that, right?

We’ve become a culture of yesses and nos. This or that. Here or there. One side or the other. We pride ourselves on knowing our own minds.

But where’s the fun in that?

Is there intelligent alien life in the universe?

Maybe. I don’t know. Let’s go look.

Will I have a brownie today?

Maybe. I don’t know, but it’s a yummy possibility.

Is there something real hiding in the dark in the corner that’s making my skin prick at the back of my neck or is it all my imagination?

Maybe. What might it be?
(It’s the vashta nerada, people! Don’t you watch Doctor Who?)

For writers, Maybe is where the magic lives. No preconceptions. No expectations. No rules. We get to explore and imagine and wonder.

But Maybe isn’t just for writers crafting stories on a page, or readers reading them. It’s in the stories we live out each day. Open doors and hope and possibility.

The joy of the journey isn’t in finding the answers—it’s in admitting we don’t know, actually embracing and reveling in the not knowing, and then exploring all those possibilities.

This week I’m going to bask in “I don’t know.” Maybe you’ll join me.

The Readiness Is All

When I was kid, living in Podunk, Arkansas, my mom ran a for-me-only cotillion (because there wasn’t a “real” one). She wanted to teach me the essential skills of balancing a teacup on my knee, a book on my head, and my chastity somewhere between flirty and virtuous.

Such behavioral training is designed for a singular purpose—catching the “right” man. But despite my Southern cultural conditioning, I decided pretty early on that I did not need a man. Everything I wanted—education, meaningful career, kids—I could get for myself and by myself (minus a donation here or there). And so in college, I decided I was done with men.

Which is when I met my husband.

Years later, we’d been trying unsuccessfully to conceive when we decided to hold off on Baby for another year while we worked frantically to finish our dissertations so we could take the new jobs we had in a city in another state where we were shopping for our first house. Talk about stress! Whew! Any guesses what happened?

Yup. A little girl kid joyfully on the way in the midst of chaos.

So many things seem to work that way, don’t they? When we try REALLY HARD to make things happen NOW in just the RIGHT way, everything seems to slip (or run screaming) away from our determined grasp. When we quit trying SO HARD, things just happen.

Winnie the Pooh had this thing figured out:

“Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” (The House at Pooh Corner)

Pooh is brilliant, especially for a bear of little brain. He doesn’t strategize about catching Poetry and Hums. He doesn’t work hard and harder to get them. He doesn’t blame himself or them, doesn’t give in to self-doubt or give up just because they aren’t there when he wants them.

He interacts with the world knowing that the Poetry and Hums are there. He keeps himself ready for other Poetry and Hums to find him, too. And they do.

Now certainly folks deal with problems, big ones and little ones, that need something more than Pooh’s method of problem solving, but most of us would benefit from adopting his tactics in lieu of our strategizing and micro-managing and worrying.

When we stay relaxed and positive and open to possibilities, things find us. Sometimes they are things we already knew we wanted and had prepared ourselves to accept. But sometimes a thing we hadn’t anticipated will come our way, and we discover that it was something we needed or wanted all along.

This is an especially necessary attitude for anyone writing a novel. We tend to understand this from the creative side—writing is an organic, fluid process. You prime the creative pumps, fill the creative wells, and establish the discipline so that you’re readying yourself for the words and ideas and characters to come. There’s no mastering or conquering. There’s no demanding.

But we need the same approach when it comes to readying ourselves for publication.

For the better part of two years, I determined to make a traditional publishing journey happen just how I was told it should and just when I thought it ought to. Trained by the publishing version of a cotillion, I endeavored to get the agent and go for one of the big five. I got the agent, which has been an incredible blessing of partnership, but after a few months into the submission process to editors, I realized that, for many reasons, I didn’t want to be courting those big guys. I had bought someone else’s idea of what my journey as a writer should look like.

So I asked my agent to start looking at smaller presses, and, in the meantime, I went into overdrive trying to master all things indie-publishing and wrapped myself up so tightly in learning it ALL and RIGHT THEN and JUST SO that everything, and especially writing, seemed impossible. I was ready to give up.

Which is when my husband reminded me that I just needed to “go where they can find you.”

In my case, this meant sending a submission to Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award and then forgetting about it and turning back to the writing and filling the creative well and readying myself.

I did keep learning what I could about indie publishing, but I did it patiently, without expectation, in a mind of readiness.

And then a call came telling me I was a finalist for the Claymore. I went to the conference with no expectations, and I met some wonderful writers and editors and was inspired. I went to the awards dinner with no anticipation and no worry. I was genuinely and thoroughly shocked when they announced that Bohemian Gospel (my book!) had won the Claymore. I was overjoyed when, two weeks later, several editors were vying for the novel, and I was ecstatic when Pegasus Books, one of the publishers I asked my agent to court, made me an offer.

But I was also ready. My Poetry and Hums had found me at last.