Monday, April 30, 2012

Being Unreasonable

by Priscille Sibley

My husband often tells me that writing is not a business for reasonable people. He tells me this when I'm discouraged. He says that in order to succeed, I must be a little unreasonable. Now, by saying that, he does not mean I should ever be rude. On the contrary, writers should weigh all sides of a situation -- all points of view as it were. We should always try to be kind and respectful and humble in our professional dealings. But he tells me I must be unreasonable because in order to succeed at a daunting task, it takes an unreasonable person. One who can weigh the odds, realize it may not be possible to succeed, and still persevere.

So, let me suggest a different connotation for unreasonable (after all, we're writers and we love words.) I suggest in some regards we must aspire to be unreasonable. Why? Because reasonable people don’t set out to write novels. They don’t offer their work up for critique. Here it is; now tell me what’s wrong with it.  They don’t query agents, receive rejections, and try over and over again. They don’t pray for reviews, knowing those reviews could be scathing. (Of course, we’re actually hoping someone will tell us we’re brilliant.)

Reasonable people find jobs with guaranteed incomes, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Here’s the thing: I never aspired to live a reasonable life. Although for the most part that’s exactly what do. I grew up in a two-parent home, went to college and got an ordinary job. I married and am still married. We have three terrific teenage children.  But as the cliché points out, the devil is in the details.

I met my husband while waiting to go up in a small Cessna. We weren’t in an airport. We were in a potato field. And the pilot had removed all the seats but his to make room for six fools. I was one of those fools. We packed ourselves inside only so we could jump out with parachutes attached to our backs once we’d reached an altitude of 3500 feet.  I jumped nine times over the course of the next few months. On my most memorable jump, I landed in a tree. I was hurt (my leg still bears the scar), and after I healed, I still jumped a few more times.

So I suppose it’s not surprising that I persevered through all the trials along the publishing road. I wrote my first novel when I knew absolutely nothing. (Let’s just say it was a learning experience.) My second attempt went better. For that one, I actually landed an agent, but that manuscript didn’t sell. When my first agent and I parted I still had the dream.

I kept writing. I came up a new story. I researched, I wrote, and then I revised – repeatedly. It was crazy. Why would any sane person continue to spend an endless amount of time doing something which might never pay off? Well, I did jump out of an airplane again after I’d landed in a tree. I’m not a reasonable person.

I found another agent. She pulled my query letter out of her slush pile. She liked the idea. She liked the partial. And then she called.  She told me she loved certain things about it but – she wanted revisions. What she said resonated with me. I loved her suggestions. I loved her approach, so I buckled down yet again. A couple of months later I signed with her.

Last October, my novel, THE PROMISE OF STARDUST, sold to William Morrow in a pre-empt. If I’d been reasonable person I would have given up long ago, and I would never have realized this dream.

I don’t think anyone is ordinary. That’s a misnomer. Our characters may live “ordinary” lives, but we want to see their pluck in a difficult situation. We want them to overcome obstacles and to learn and grow. We want to see them find the extraordinary in themselves and thereby giving us hope that we can too.

So here’s to being unreasonable. Here’s to creating characters who find the will to exceed expectations. 

In that way be unreasonable. Persevere. Aspire. Dream. But don't become a prima donna! Remember, we want our readers to love us. We want our colleagues, our agent, our editors, our writing community to love us. So be respectful and kind and humble. And save that unreasonable side for reaching for the stars (or your rip cord.)


  1. Good one, Prisiclle! I think I shall write this on sticky notes and plaster it all over my writing environment. "Be unreasonable (but don't be a diva)!" :) Thanks for the wise words.

  2. I loved this Priscille! It definitely takes a certain type of person to keep following their dreams, no matter what. Thanks for this!

  3. I love the premise of your blog. I've been floundering and here you are, a lovely bright life preserver. Thank you

  4. One should not give up. I started writing when I was in high school. My English teacher encouraged me to keep writing, never stop writing. My life took me on different twists and turns. I have never given up even though I take short breathers. After 30 years of waiting, I have finally been accepted by a publisher for publication. So hold fast to your dream!

  5. Exactly! You were completely unreasonable to persist in the face of things - (from a persistence queen in most but not the writing area of my life so much) - I definitely share this about you with friends - that you were so committed to having a great book you refused to sell out for the ordinary and became extraordinary IN your unreasonableness.

  6. So true. Here's to being unreasonable!

  7. Great post! It's SO true--writers have to be willing to forego a bunch of otherwise cool stuff--like retirement plans, etc. The way of the spirit! This is Anne B.

  8. Sometimes I wish I was less unreasonable.

  9. Howdy Priscille: Do you know if there is a line between being unreasonable or being "just plain-mean stubborn", a favorite saying of my Granpa? If there is I haven't found it yet. Happy trails Redbear.