Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guest Blogger: Becky Levine

"Yes" is Not a Four-Letter Word

Even though, to many of us-especially us introverts--it sometimes feels that way.

When Mary and Robin posted that they were looking for guest bloggers, I wanted to jump right in with a post, but it took me a few days to come up with a topic. Then one of my LiveJournal friends, Cathy Ipcizade asked for people to comment about their favorite word. I answered that, these days, my favorite word was “Yes.”

And then I thought about how, twenty, even ten, years ago, that would so NOT have been true. Thanks to Mary and Robin, I now understand that a)I am an introvert because I need solitude and quiet to recharge and b)the shyness I struggled with for decades is a very different part of my personality.

When I was in graduate school, at the University of Virginia, I applied for and got a job as a tour guide at James Monroe's house. When I called my mother to tell her the news, there was silence on the end of the phone, then she pretty much said, “Who is this?” Luckily, she was still young and in excellent health, so she withstood the shock of hearing that her shy daughter was planning to stand up in front of a group of people and talk. This was probably the first major shyness breakthrough of my life, and it was one of the most fun jobs I've ever had.

I got it, because I said, “Yes.”

And the introvert part of me still curled up in a quiet corner of the staff lounge, between tours, with a cup of tea and a book.

It was many years before I started saying “Yes” on a regular, determined basis. And guess what got me to do it? My writing. As I focused more and more on the fact that writing was what I wanted to do, I started taking bigger risks to make it a priority in my life. I tried out critique groups, coming and going until I found the right ones. I went to writing conferences and sat down at lunch tables with nine people I'd never met before. Eventually, I developed a couple of talks I could give at workshops and conferences (Thanks, Mr. Monroe), because I actually wanted to meet more writers and editors and agents. Last year, I breathed really deeply through my first agent pitch.

How does the introvert in me handle all this? By making sure I do the recharge bit. If I have a critique group meeting in the middle of a crazy week, I go early to the bookstore where we meet and browse the shelves or sit at the table alone-reading a book or bringing my to-do list up to date. At a conference, if I'm just attending, I don't make myself to go every event; hotel lobbies have very comfortable chairs and, believe me, nobody stops to chat with you. If I'm giving a workshop, I make sure that I have nothing scheduled for thirty minutes before. What do I do with those thirty minutes? I sure as heck don't go over my notes again. I sit somewhere quietly, eyes closed, and just breathe. And when I get home from wherever I've been, I look for any signs of overload. If I need it, I give myself a full, relaxed, do-nothing day for that recharge. I give myself a reward.

What about the shyness? Well, I'll tell you--the introvert in me, I'll keep. The shy person, not so much. For me, shyness is fear-fear of not being liked, fear of being stared at, fear of looking like a fool.

Fear of the unknown.

And here's the magic of “Yes.” The more you say it, the fewer unknowns you have left to face. Every time you do something, you learn that you can do it again. Each time you talk to someone you don't know, you reduce the number of strangers out there by one. The writing world is big, but when you sit in on a workshop, comment on a blog, or share a page that you've written, you're making that world smaller.

Look at your writing. Is there something ahead of you that you've been wondering about? Trying to decide whether its worth the risk? Find a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted or distracted (Introverts also need solitude to think!) and let yourself sit with the question. Test the “No” and “Yes” waters-listen to your brain and listen to your gut. If the only “No” is fear, and the “Yes” part is begging to be heard, then let it out. Say the word.

Then schedule your post-yes reward on your calendar. In ink.

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Becky Levine is a writer, editor, and speaker, living in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. She is the co-author, with Lee Lofland, of The Everything Kids’ I Want to Be a Police Officer Book, forthcoming from Adams Media. Becky’s current projects are a middle-grade mystery, set in Santa Cruz, California, and a YA historical about a young girl living in turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century Chicago. You can find out more about Becky at her website, and her blog,

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We want to thank Becky for being our first guest blogger. If any of you are sitting on the fence, hovering on the edge of YES, let's hope Becky's essay has you contacting us for a guest blogging date of your own!


Mary Hershey said...

Thanks Becky, for this fabulous essay! We've written about saying "NO" and I love that we now have an entry on saying "YES".

You are an inspiration to us all-- do keep us posted about both your Works in Progress!

Mary Hershey

jama said...

What an uplifting, inspirational post! And I had no idea you attended UVA, Becky!

Anonymous said...

Mary and Robin, thanks for the chance to guest--it was a fun topic! And Jama--yep, I LOVE Charlottesville; if I ever leave California, that might be where I end up. Of course, this time around, I'd want air-conditioning!

Stella said...

What an inspirational blog, Becky! I think I know how you feel. It's still so hard for me to mingle with others, to sit down at a table at a conference with people I don't know and talk.

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, Becky, for doing the first guest post. It's very encouraging. Best,

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

I would never have known. I've known you for years and always thought of you as an outgoing, go-get-em person. Thanks for sharing your secret. I'm going to try that recharge stuff.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post! Thanks

Jeannine Atkins said...

This was inspiring, and I could definitely identify. It was becoming a teacher that knocked me out of shyness -- had to survive, but I retain that reading/writing/tea-drinking/solitude-needing person. And my daughter caught a lot of this, but escaped the shyness earlier in life. I remember she was in eighth grade when she told someone she was quiet, not shy, and explained the difference. Thanks, Becky!

Anonymous said...

What a motivating post! My theme of the year for 2007 was Say Yes First, Ask Questions Later. I think I've been needing to hear that message again lately, and Becky said it so well. Thanks!

Darren Demers said...

What about the shyness? Well, I'll tell you--the introvert in me, I'll keep. The shy person, not so much. For me, shyness is fear-fear of not being liked, fear of being stared at, fear of looking like a fool. traditional afghan hat , antique choker designs , chain stitch patches , Velvet Punjabi Kurti , Beautiful Antique Tribal Ear Rings , gold head pieces , small jewelry box , winter shawl