The other night I decided to make something different for dinner. My family had drifted into a summer rut of eating whatever was quickest and most convenient, not necessarily what was actually tasty or healthy. So, I determined to make something from scratch.
After searching through some recipes (yes, I actually looked through the old recipe box, not online), I found two that I thought would fit the bill. One was for the main meat course and the other for a side dish. Both sounded delicious and, most importantly, included ingredients I knew my family members, for the most part, would enjoy. Oh, one or two would prefer the meat over the side dish and vice versa, but at least everyone would appreciate the extra effort of a quality meal.
Or so I thought.
The meat that I thought everyone would love was not a hit with the kids. My fourteen-year-old suffered through it and ate it because he was really hungry (when isn’t he hungry these days?) but my nine-year old wouldn’t touch it.
As for the side dish, let’s just say it got a little overbaked. Some of the noodles became quite crispy, resulting in the unexpected and disturbing sound of crunch, crunch, crunch at intervals around the table.
And to top it all off, the brownies I made for dessert were flat and oily because I forgot to add an egg to the batter. That remains our little secret. My family never asked why the brownies didn’t look – or taste – like regular brownies (maybe they were afraid to ask), so I never shared my faux pas with them.
Needless to say, it was not a dinner I would have wanted to serve a guest.
Dinner Lesson #1: You Won’t Please Everyone
As everyone picked at their food and reached for their drink more often than usual, I thought, why did I bother?
Seriously. Why do I even bother to try new recipes? Why fix dinner at all when everyone’s so picky? My husband’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of man. Literally, he likes only two vegetables. My kids like what’s frozen and can be microwaved in under three minutes. Why not just let them fix dinner for themselves? Why bother going to all the effort of cooking food that no one’s going to enjoy?
As I was fully immersed in my pity party, I suddenly realized something. There’s nothing wrong with my family members. They’re allowed to have different opinions and are uniquely made to appreciate different flavors. The problem arises when I, as a cook, try to please everyone.
It’s a lot like when writers complete a book or a blog post or an article. When we submit it to an editor or make it available to the public, we’re excited to share our knowledge and information with the world. We’ve worked hard, often slaving for days over an article or months (even years) over a manuscript.
We envision acceptance letters, quality comments and instant sign-ups to our lists. Yet more often than not, we hear crickets or worse yet, we receive negative reviews or rejection notices. It hurts and our self-confidence takes a hit.
When that happens, it’s easy to throw up our hands and ask “Why did I bother?” Indeed, why bother writing at all?
The reality is that there’s a really, really good reason why you should continue to write and submit: You have an important message to share. It won’t resonate with everyone; in fact, it probably won’t resonate with most people. But it will resonate with some. And those are the people you need to focus on.
We need to remember that just as there are picky eaters, there are also picky readers. Some people only like fiction. Some only like nonfiction. Some are extremely picky, preferring only historical fiction set in Europe during WWII. The levels of specificity can be astounding.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has their own reading preferences just as they have their own food preferences. What an editor at one publishing company doesn’t like, another editor at a different company will love. What one fiction reader enjoys, another fiction reader dislikes.
There will always be naysayers; those who do not necessarily like your work or your finished product. And that’s okay. You’re never going to please everyone. The important thing is to keep going and seek out your target audience–those who do appreciate your work.
Dinner Lesson #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
As a cook, it would be easy for me to stick with what I know my family enjoys. I could revert to their food preferences and never go to the effort–and frustration–of trying new recipes. But in so doing, I would submit all of us to potential long-term health problems and we might miss out on new foods that bring us enjoyment as well as nourishment.
As with anything in life, you don’t know what you like–or dislike–until you actually try it.
For example, I never envisioned myself as an author or a speaker. Initially, I wanted to be a senior editor at a major publishing company. But when we moved south and the opportunity arose for me to work as a freelance editor from home, I tried it and fell in love with it.
Then the more books I edited, the more I realized that I could write just as well as many of those authors. So, I started my own business as a ghostwriter. From there I decided to share some of my own knowledge and experience through a monthly newsletter and then a blog. In order to grow my ghostwriting and book coaching business, I began to give public presentations. As an introvert, I didn’t look forward to my first presentation, but I was shocked to discover that I thoroughly enjoy interacting with a live audience and hearing their stories afterward.
Based on requests from those speaking engagements, I wrote my first book, The One-Year Collection of Weekly Writing Prompts: Write Your Life Story, One Question at a Time. Now I’m working on two more books of my own plus a webinar and an online course for aspiring authors. I can assure you that none of this would have happened if I had been afraid to try something new.
Dinner Lesson #3: It Is a Learning Process
For me, the other night’s dinner was a total fiasco, but it was also a process from which I learned two important lessons: 1) I need to add more liquid to the side dish next time, and 2) I need to stir the dish more frequently than just once halfway through the bake time as the recipe instructed because of my temperamental oven.
Similarly, there are things you’re going to learn from each of your writing projects. You will also discover that what works for another writer might not work for you. It’s all about trial and error.
Learning should be a constant endeavor; after all, there is no such thing as perfection this side of Heaven. But you have to start somewhere. You have to get your work out there and continually build up your experience so you can improve and reach your writing goals.
I know I’m still learning. How about you?
Share your writing (or cooking) experiences in the comments!