Guest Bloggers

Help might be where you least expect it. Just ask.

Excerpted from “Where Do You Hang Your Hammock?: Finding Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book” by Bella Mahaya Carter.

When you’re out there promoting your book, you’ll have to ask for all sorts of things. This might feel hard. You may make up stories, such as I don’t want to “bother” people or be a nuisance. You may feel as if you have no right to ask for what you want. You may even feel, deep down, as if there’s something wrong with asking.

Of course, nobody likes rejection, either. We don’t want to hear the word “no.” But how people respond has more to do with them than with you. If you can blow by the nos, you’ll pick up enough yeses along the way. So don’t let that stop you.

Those stories running through your head, that make asking for what you want seem unsavory, doesn’t mean your ask will not be welcomed or even appreciated. I have had this experience too many times to count. Sometimes when I’ve struggled to ask a person for something, he or she is in fact happy to help. Here’s an example.

Years ago, I received an email from Jack Grapes, my old writing teacher and mentor, who published my poetry book in 2008. Jack is a well-known and beloved literary figure in Los Angeles and has been teaching for more than four decades. His email promoted an upcoming writing workshop offered by a former student of his. I wonder if he’d do the same for me, I thought, in the midst of putting together my fall writing classes.

The next day, I put “email Jack” on my to-do list. It didn’t get done. The following day, I wrote it again. Usually when I carry over an action item from one day to the next, I cross it off my list on the second day. Not this time. For a week straight, the directive “email Jack” continued to appear on my list. Why is this so hard to do? I wondered. I knew Jack loved me. I knew he respected my work. Still, asking him to do this for me felt monumental.

A week later, feeling uneasy, I forced myself to just do it.

Ten minutes after I hit the send button, I heard back from him. “I’d be happy to do that,” he responded.

A few days later, while exploring in my journal why writing and sending that email had been so hard, I realized the heart of the matter: shame. Deep down, I felt as if I shouldn’t need help, which created embarrassment and shame about asking. I worried that my request might seem needy or inappropriate. And from there, the sorry old I’m not good enough voice, a close sibling of I’m not worthy and therefore don’t deserve this, found its toehold and sprang into action, hoping I’d take the bait and fall. Once I realized that my reluctance to ask had stemmed not from a fear that he’d say no but rather from this feeling of unworthiness, something inside me released and I felt free.

How many times have you been reluctant to make a request of someone you perceived as more established, successful, or powerful than you? How often have you felt like you didn’t have the right to “bother” or “intrude upon” them? How many times have you reproached yourself, saying you shouldn’t need to ask for help? How many times have you berated yourself, thinking, I should have my shit together and not need anyone else—especially when it comes to my career?

Talk about “should-ing” all over yourself. Let’s agree right here and now to quit feeling crappy!

For years, I believed that one of the things writers needed most to succeed was chutzpah. Google defines this Yiddish word as “shameless audacity.” Some of its synonyms are “nerve,” “boldness,” and “temerity.” Hispanics use cojones, or “balls.”

I used to think writers needed balls of steel. Had my dilemma with Jack been a reminder that I needed to grow a pair, or toughen up the metaphorical ones I had?

And then it hit me: Instead of bigger balls, instead of fighting, I needed to drop down into myself, to connect with that place where absolute tenderness for and faith in myself and others reside. The key, I realized, was to be shameless in the sense of understanding that we are all worthy and that there’s nothing wrong with asking for what we want. There’s no shame in it; in fact, it’s a blessing. None of us lives alone on this planet. We are part of a community, a web of loving, supportive relationships. We all give and take all the time; these are reciprocal energies, regardless of our professional accomplishments (or perceived lack thereof). Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Remember that no one is better than you, but that you are better than no one.”

In order to ask for what you want, you have to know what you want. Sometimes this is clear. Other times, you have inklings and intuitions. Trust your worthiness, even when you can use a little help. Especially then.

Posted 6/1/2021  on Jane Friedman’s Blog, “Writers Ask for What You Want.”

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