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On Never Waiting for Permission

Never Wait for Permission

By Peter Lourie

Before anything must come curiosity about learning something new.  Following a subject. Learning facts and information but also learning why go, why be there. I figure if I can convey that, I’ll inspire readers, too. 

Often I see young writers distracted by thoughts of getting published and becoming recognized. Instead of suffering from a divided mind, focus on the passion and curiosity first. Once something has seized your spirit, find a way to dive into it. Maybe that means looking for funding through a proposal, maybe it means dipping into your own pocket. What matters is that you answer that magnetic pull and explore the idea. 

Sometimes I do have to write a proposal so an editor will commit to a book project. Journeys are often expensive to undertake and sponsorship makes all the difference.  After Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, I had no idea how to move forward, so I wrote magazine articles about South America for Highlights for Children and the editor told me that they were about to start a book publishing arm of the business.  When that happened I got one contract after another, and money to make trips to the Amazon, the Yukon, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Rio Grande, and other rivers.

But some journeys, like paddling the Hudson River, I knew I would undertake without a proposal and financial backing because I wanted the adventure for its own sake. The Hudson ran by my house, and it was an adventure I could take with a one-year-old daughter at home.  But when I mentioned the idea to my publisher, they liked it so much they ended up giving a bit of money anyway. You never know how people can help if you don’t ask.

Of course, in those days, once you had worked well with an editor who you could just call up, suggest an idea, and receive a contract a few weeks later. Today it’s totally different. The publishing business is struggling; getting a commitment from a publisher is competitive and difficult. Once you get the contract and some seed money, you have to deliver the book within a few years and then it has to sell in order for you to get another book contract.  Anemic sales can dash a writer’s hopes for a second or third or fourth contract from the same publisher.  

So, today I write proposals, as I did for Jack London in the Klondike Gold Rush and Locked in Ice.  But oftentimes the next big idea comes from pure discovery. If you wait to get paid, you might never leave the apartment.  If you don’t leave the apartment, it’ll be very hard to write something worth paying for.

My recent  trip to the desert jaguars of Sonora cost me more than a thousand dollars but life is short and I thought something wonderful might come of it. Pure discovery is essential for finding those magical topics. Once you have that spark, write a proposal and try to get a publisher on board. But if you don’t find someone to back you, try to take the journey anyway.  That’s what I’m doing with the jaguars in Mexico—exactly what I did with my first book idea. I’m just going to write the whole thing and see if it’s any good. And then I’ll look for a way to publish it.

Chase your curiosity and the rest will follow.


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