Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No Experience Necessary


Innocence plays in the backyard of ignorance.
-Proverbs

My daughter is quick to point out “I am a kid. I don’t know stuff yet.” She frequently says this with no hint of pride or making excuses. I went to a writing conference this weekend with Tom Robbins, regarded by Writers Digest as one of the best 100 writers of the 20th Century. In the presence of the man who wrote nine novels, including bestsellers like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Skinny Legs and All, I quickly realized how much I don’t know about writing or the publishing industry.

As I focus this month on childlike innocence, I can’t ignore that knowledge is the original sin known for corrupting innocence. I was raised to see innocence only as the absence of guilt or shame, certainly not the absence of experience. Maybe instead of worrying about my lack of experience, I should regard it as my own innocence, my own clean slate. I have tried to educate myself on publishing, only to be corrupted with all sorts of confining rules to follow and limiting beliefs. You must master social media and build a brand for your self to be noticed by a publisher. You can’t seek a publisher without landing an agent first.  Get used to rejection. The publishing industry is in the toilet.

Tom Robbins hand writes his books one sentence at a time on a legal notepad. He has been known to spend all day writing and rewriting one sentence in search of the perfect word. Is that the right way to write a book? Is it the only way? 

Come to think of it, I remember an innocent high school intern at one of my last TV station jobs. He emailed Ann Curry and Matt Lauer of the Today Show asking for a summer internship in New York City. I cynically thought to myself he might be lucky to get an automated response. I envied his lack of knowledge of rejection. I envied the fact that he didn’t know network internships were reserved for college students with a recommendation from a professor or a family connection. That envy turned into awe when Ann Curry helped him become the youngest intern on the Today Show set. I seem to recall Curry even helped his nervous mom find a suitable apartment for her teenage son.

Can you regard lack of experience as innocence? What would be the pay off if you didn’t know how it was supposed to be?

For today’s “Sky’s the Limit” on what you can learn:  A little more about Tom Robbins. First of all, I couldn’t stop staring at his hands. talking animately with  his hands that are covered in weird snake rings, he spins a yarn with a southern drawl like I dole out directions. One person asked him how he comes up with his story ideas. Without pausing, Robbins dove into this long tale about naked blondes and secret passageways under Graceland and seedy motels and mysterious midnight package deliveries. Robbins may be 80 years old, but he has managed to stay in touch with his youthful heart. Maybe it was working for an underground radio station in the sixties or dropping acid with Timothy Leary. Maybe it was his pilgrimage to Timbuktu or his sabbatical with mythologist Joseph Campbell. Maybe it was his studies in Greece with poet Robert Bly. Maybe it is the articles he writes for Playboy and GQ or serving on the board of The Marijuana Policy Project. Maybe it is his role as judge of  Seattle's annual Spam carving competition. Maybe it his much younger, hot wife. Or maybe, he has mastered the art of “not knowing stuff”.

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