And this is testament to the power of my new mantra: What’s the worst that could happen?
This mantra seems to be working for me in more ways than one, but in terms of McSweeney’s, it went like this:
I happened to run across the column contest announcement somewhere on the Internet, about a week before the deadline. I sort of vaguely knew that McSweeney’s ran these column contests, but I’d never entered one and had never planned on entering one, exactly. Meaning, I’d occasionally been on their site, randomly reading columns, and thought, Hmm. I wonder if I could come up with something for them. But I’d never put any real effort into it, so I didn’t have some Big Idea all ready to go.
On the day I saw the announcement, I sat back in my chair and I thought, Hmm. Do I have an idea for them? And then… well, I can’t really retrace the process because I don’t know what happened, exactly. I just thought to myself, You’re always yapping about this ahistorical/solipsism thing, what could you do with that? And I somehow got a kernel of an idea, and I googled this, and I looked at that, and soon I was deciding to give myself an hour or two to play with it. Because, what’s the worst that could happen? An hour of goofing off, is all. And somehow (I seriously don’t remember), an hour or so later, Chekhov’s “Lady with a Dog” was on my screen, and I was putting Gurov on Twitter.
And this was Tuesday, I think, and the deadline was Friday. And I was really surprised that I’d found an idea that seemed to have legs to it, but also kinda irritated, honestly, because I didn’t have TIME for this. I was (and am) crazy busy with editing work. So I decided I’d give myself an hour or two every night — once the editing work for the day was done — to see what I could come up with by Friday. Because what’s the worst that could happen?
And so I kept at it, and soon I had a theme, “Classic Russian Writers: For teh Internets.” I worked back and forth from the sample column itself to the accompanying email that laid out the vision, and the specific pieces I had in mind. (And I’ll be damned if I didn’t just keep having ideas for content, and if the overall theme didn’t just keep holding together. I kept being surprised by that.) So very quickly it got to be Friday night (deadline:10 pm) and I was furiously working, trying to get the rough draft of the email polished up, because really, it was a working document, right up til the last moment. And I looked up at it was 10:12 pm. Rut ro.
Now what? Send it in late? Well, what’s the worst that could happen? They’d say no? And I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud at that, because they weren’t going to need to reject me on a technicality. So I hit the “send” button.
But before I hit “send,” I took a deep breath, and told myself to detach from the outcome. I reminded myself that the outcome didn’t matter, it wasn’t about that. First, as a little self-protection. Because I knew they’d received something like 1200 entries the year before, so I knew the odds were bad, and I knew I was late on top of it. But more than that, I was hitting “send” because I’d actually decided at some point in the week that the worst that could happen was that I didn’t attempt it, that I talked myself out of it. Somewhere along the line, I’d decided the value was in the exercise: in the submission itself, and the working out of an idea, the taking of a chance. And that the primary value was getting back to my own work after a long hiatus (due to a move and a huge developmental project that had kept me away from my novel for months.)
So it came as a huge, genuine shock when the email came, telling me I’d won an honorable mention, and inviting me to write my column for the upcoming year. And how great that this was a huge genuine addition to the true value of the exercise, the icing on the cake of doing a little piece of work, just for myself.
Read my columns here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/columns/classic-russian-writers-for-teh-internets