Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Taking a Pass

There are many types of "pass," I realized when I wrote the title for today's post. I mean, we all know that; but I had one of them in mind and as I typed and got a handle on what I was going to say, more "pass" definitions came to mind.

Language is good. It keeps us engaged and alert if we let it. It keeps us looking at more than just the words or symbols for the meaning, if we care, if we dare to go below the surface.

And I dare.

So. My original intention was to write about a "pass" as in: "No, thank you. I'll pass on ___________." Fill in the blank for whatever it is you feel obligated to do, unless you're ready to steep yourself in some heavy guilt or excuse making or having to make up for not doing the Big X if you follow through and "pass."

But as I started to make notes, I started thinking about other meanings of "pass," which may have some opposite connotations, much like the word "sanction."  That word can mean to punish or to reward.

To "take a pass" generally means to do something like "skip a turn" or turn down an offer. But a person can also "pass" as being something other than they are. One specific example I'm thinking of is in the LGBT/Queer community, a person can be said to "pass" as a member of a group even though they're not. Such as back in the 80s, when that community was still primarily called the "Gay Community," there was talk of gay men or lesbians "passing" as straight; or the stone butch women before that time who "passed" as men.

Sometimes to "take a pass" may imply avoiding a bad situation. Or avoiding getting in trouble by revealing something which is not supposed to be shared if someone asks you for information.

It may also mean - and here is where the opposition comes in - to take a turn. Such as asking someone to "take a pass" at repairing something. Which means give it a try and see if you can fix the thing.

Now that I've wandered down that side path, I'll come back to my original intent, which was to "take a pass" and let a deadline roll by without a submission.

Yes. I'm saying that sometimes we writers might find it useful to let a deadline slip by.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating for ignoring deadlines. And if you've made a commitment to an editor or a publication and you have a story or a poem or an article due, yes, do it. Your reputation and perhaps your livelihood could be affected if you just blow off a commitment. Although if you have an emergency situation ... well, you know what I mean. I don't want to wander down yet another side path. (Though I could, quite easily, I think.)

My point is that sometimes it is in our best interest to not put the pressure on ourselves and let something slide if there are not significant repurcussions. Especially if there is another opportunity.

One example is from the online writing group I'm in, the Wayward Writers in Ariel Gore's Literary Kitchen. Week before last I let the due date go by without submitting a writing for that week. I'd taken notes and worked on a story. And there were some intense and time-intensive things going on that week. To complete the story and get it in on time would have meant cutting back on sleep and not getting something else done and would have increased my stress level. So I let the story deadline for that week go by. Unattended by me.

Another example is that many publications, especially the well-established ones, have multiple submission deadlines. Often they repeat. If you miss it this time around, it will cycle back. There are exceptions of course, like zines with themes - that theme may not surface for a while, or The Sun's "Readers Write" which also has changing themes. But even those publications often accept general work. So, unless your piece of writing is for a specific theme, if you are feeling pressured and stressed to meet another deadline, maybe you can take a pass, as in letting it go.

I've done that with some general submissions. Places I want to submit but the deadline fell at a particularly hectic time or there were other timely conflicts. When I gave myself permission to let a deadline pass - such as a famous, well-established publications "short story contest" month, and they have that twice a year - it relieved the pressure. Yes, I missed that month's, but it will come back again. And it did.

So this week's advice, if you're struggling with feeling overwhelmed and stressed, is to look where you might be able to let a deadline go. Take that pass *for now* and swap it for the next opportunity.

Of course you are the only one who can make the determination if taking a pass will be less stressful or not. But sometimes it can feel good to know that you are in charge of your own deadlines. I believe in deadlines and they help me; sometimes more than I like to admit. But, like me, you may also find that sometimes not meeting that deadline really is okay and you can submit the story the next go 'round.

Try it. See if there is one thing on your list which can wait until later. Unless you have plenty of time and everything is perfectly balanced and you have no stress. Which could be true. Just one thing. Like the sales on computers (laptops, specifically) I've been tracking recently, the best new hot awesome "inventory sale" gave way to the "spring break specials" which gave way to the "mother's day sale" then the "grad sale" and the "dad's sale" - oh, I forgot the "Memorial Day Sale" - and the "Fourth of July Sale" and then the "New Release Sale" and now the "early back to school sale."

You get my point.

Except in the case of themes or special events, timely events, many things come back around. Sometimes it is in our best interest to "take a pass" on the current deadline and wait for the next. And, just maybe, sometimes it's in our story's best interest to let it age and take another look, as well.


Or you can look at it as "taking a pass" and letting the deadline go by, or "taking a pass at it" and giving it a try.

See which is most true for you and take a pass, your way.