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The Power of Asking

Rosie Garland, image credit: Jill Jennings

Rosie Garland, writer-in-residence at the John Rylands Library writes:

I’ve just been appointed the first writer-in-residence at The John Rylands Library. How did I manage this wonderful achievement? I asked.

Sounds easy.

It wasn’t. If you’re anything like me (and the longer I live, the more I realise I’m not alone), asking is far more difficult than it sounds.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. Unless you were born with a set of silver spoons in your mouth (which is everyone reading this, right?), then you’ve worked out that opportunities don’t fall magically into your lap. You’ve had to work hard to get where you are.

I like what Julia Cameron (author of the inspirational ‘The Artists Way’ ) says: “Pray to catch the bus, then run as fast as you can.” It’s a reminder to put myself into the path of opportunities. The bus does not come to the front door. I have to leave the house, and darn well run for it.

I have to take a deep breath, and ask. So, why is it so difficult?

Here’s my take. I grew up with a spectacularly unhelpful dictum: Ask, don’t get. Don’t ask, don’t want. I shared this with friends recently, and was shocked to discover it’s very common. I end up stuck in a bizarre Catch 22 situation, thinking that if I have to ask for something, then I don’t deserve it. Or, that I must to wait for someone else to ask me. The most I’m allowed to do is stand around looking hopeful.

This lose-lose mentality is combined with a vicious internal critic. I call her Mavis (I’ve blogged about her here and run Anti-Mavis workshops). She never, ever says anything nice. If someone says they like my writing, Mavis jumps in and whispers ‘they’re only being nice.’ In fact, she can be neatly summed up by this great Savage Chickens cartoon:

Image by Doug Savage, Savage Chickens, 2012

Naturally, my internal critic undermined any notion that somewhere as amazing as The John Rylands Library would want the likes of me.

So – standing up and asking for what I want can be pretty damn hard. I’m swamped with fears of rejection, coming over as needy, an underachiever, someone who’s failed because they need to ask.

Luckily, this isn’t a poor-me blog.

Years ago I decided that I was not going to let fear of rejection stop me living a life that is too darn short as it is. I take inspiration from Jia Jiang, whose TED talk about dealing with rejection is well worth 15 minutes of anyone’s time.

So, however hard it is to ask, to put myself forward, to send that manuscript to a competition or agent – I take several deep breaths and do it. In the words of Susan Jeffers: ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

And here’s the good news. The John Rylands Library is delighted to have a writer-in-residence. Correction: The John Rylands Library is delighted to have me as a writer-in-residence.

I have told Mavis to put that in her pipe and smoke it.

Coming next – what I asked for, and how to ask for a residency.

2 comments on “The Power of Asking

  1. Fantastic blog, well done Rosie-The-Writer-In-Residence. I’m heading off to read the Mavis blog next, as always your motivational messages appear at just the right time. I’m about to run two workshops in the next fortnight and even though I know that I know my material inside out, my Mavis is screaming, “What do you know? Who do you think you are?” Reading this post helps just knowing it happens to everyone (even Shakespeare).

    Your new title and role is well deserved, you are an inspiration. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Reflecting on a Residency – The John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

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