Tuesday, January 01, 2008


By Amy

I have always set goals for myself. When I was a freshman in high school, my guidance counselor suggested I become someone's secretary or a stewardess (back then they weren't called flight attendants). Ironic because I'm an absolute control freak and terrified of flying. She said I wasn't smart enough to realize my dream and become a veterinarian or doctor or something, somebody else. She gave me an aptitude test which revealed I had a facility with conceptualizing space management but was below average in verbal skills. Even then I found it odd because I was always hopelessly lost in even the most familiar surroundings (I still can't find my way around town or the local mall) and I'd always loved to read. I've kept that test, never forgot her expectations of me, and I resolved to prove her wrong by going to college and becoming my own person.

When I was a young woman working on Capitol Hill, I resolved not to date anyone who didn't meet certain criteria. You can probably guess I kissed a lot of toads. I even made a list of certain characteristics a man had to have from the most superficial (he must be taller than I am) to very sensible (he must be employed and making strides toward a career) to the sublime (he must have a good relationshiop with his mother). My co-workers laughed at my list, but within the year I found my husband.

When I was home with three young children, I resolved not to waste the opportunities life had afforded me: I was born to a wonderful family, in good health, and with all the freedoms given to American citizens. I decided writing would allow me to stay home with my children while carving out a life of my own. So I would write. I told my husband of my intention to get a column in the Boston Globe and he scoffed. He's a newspaper man, he knows that's impossible terrain. Luckily, I didn't know and wasn't hemmed in by someone else's rules and dictates. Within a year and a half, I was freelancing regularly for the Globe and even had a monthly column.

When I resolved to write a book, virtually no one believed I could. For years, even I resisted; only smart people write books, I thought. The day I knew I could, the moment I knew I would, was the first time I sat at my computer and tried. Everything about it just felt right. I started going to conferences, lectures, took classes. Time and again, those in the know would say getting a book published was difficult, nearly impossible. I remember one lecture in particular where the author said to the room filled with nearly 200 of us aspiring writers, "If you're lucky, two of you in this room will get your book published -- but probably none of you will." I resolved to be one of the two.

I'm not one to make resolutions on New Year's Day, I don't like artificial prompts. I am one to resolve to live my life to my expectations, to be resolute in achieving my goals. The New York Times had a fascinating story in which it was stated, "the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience." The more we know about what we should and shouldn't do, what is and isn't expected of us, the more likely we are to meet others' expectations of ourselves. But, really, who knows you best?

Now that I've achieved my latest goal, it's time to set new ones. I won't share them all here, they're mine and some of you might scoff. Instead, I challenge you to set some of your own, to do the impossible and believe in them, don't box yourself in by too much knowledge or too many rules. Those limitations are for others. Write a book, get that agent you want, sell it for a magnificent deal, envision it as a bestseller, a backlist title, write a better book. Resolve to be who you want to be, the person you are meant to become.


**UPDATE** Speaking of setting goals and realizing them, send your huge congratulations to our friend Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of Booksense Notable Pick for January 2008, FACE TIME! It couldn't have happened to a more deserving writer.


Gail said...

So that's your magic secret.. inspiring as always!! Happy New Year! gail

Larramie said...

Amy, what you've stated is so true because no one knows you better than yourself.

Happy New/Debut Year!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Gail, not so magical when I'm slugging away I'm afraid. But you know all about that. I wish YOU a happy New Year. Something tells me all of that slugging will become quite magical once Cancer is a Bitch is released in September. Can we preorder yet?

Larramie, first thank you for the card; you're so thoughtful. I wish you a very happy New Year in return. Much deserved.


Gail said...

Thanks for saying that, Amy.. kind as always and oddly, you CAN preorder it on Amazon UK (but not here yet?). Weird, huh? Thanks for asking! gail

moonrat said...

yes, very nice :)

Carleen Brice said...

Well said! Just about everything I've accomplished was something that someone (or several someones) believed I couldn't. Sometimes I was even one of the disbelievers. But your advice is solid: give it a try.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Moonie, welcome home and happy New Year.

Carleen, absolutely, try, fail, then try again. You'll certainly have a wonderful 2008 with Orange Mint & Honey out in mere weeks. Such an accomplishment.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Couple of things: I took the same kind of aptitude test in high school. This was, what? 1966 or so? I scored very high in literature and persuasion.

So, my astute guidance counselor suggested, I should work in a bookstore, selling books.

I can hardly type this now, trying to imagine the oh-so-unworthy possibility that she, somewhere, is reading that Face Time is a notable book for January.

And, of course, how did I hear of that? From our Amy, who, somehow, has some magical connection that allows her to make everyone she touches happy.

Lisa said...

What an inspirational post! Whenever I doubt, I'll remember you and this post. You are amazing Amy :)

D said...


I found your blog in a google search. I'm a college grad currently in the TV industry but my passion is writing. I was wondering if you have any advice on how to get started as a writer. I'm currently working on a novel and plan on sending on short stories and poems to many, many literary magazines. Any suggestions on how to get a job in a publishing house or with a literary agent assistant or anything?
Happy New Year!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hank, I didn't make you happy, your hard work and the wonderful independent booksellers who nominated Face Time made you happy. To all of you reading this, buy the Prime Time series. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2007.

Lisa, keep on keeping on, you're getting there. With your head down, your mind focused, and your heart engaged, you'll make it. You absolutely will.

Diana, welcome to the Writers' Group. As for how to get started writing, well, read and write with intention, and then write some more. Take classes whenever possible, attend author readings, click on the links to the right, read some more (try Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, and write even more. As for getting a job in the industry, apply to agencies and publishing houses. When you make it a goal, you'll make it happen. It's really that simple. Let us know how you make out.


Anonymous said...

My aptitude test said I should be an insurance underwriter, whatever the heck that is.

My guidance counselor had no advice for me whatsoever except to go to Quinnipiac College, his alma mater. I wanted to be a vet, but was, in fact, not smart enough. Plus, there were no vet schools in New England back then. I really only wanted to do that because my friend did and I had no idea what I wanted to be.

I did work in a bookstore for four years and it was the best retail experience, if there is such a thing, you could have.

I have yet to achieve my dream, which was only recently formulated. But I'm working on it.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Kira, don't your partway toward accomplishing your goal once you've set out to accomplish it? Eileen Cook has a great post on her blog, Just My Type, about a man who never attended a football game though he lived nearby and was obsessed with it. After he died, his wife brought his ashes. He never even tried. You're more than halfway there.


Anonymous said...

You're right, Amy. I have realized my dream because I AM writing, something I was not doing for a long time.

It doesn't matter to me if any of it ever sees the light of day (well...), because I know whether it does or not is outside of my control (and I'm a control freak!). That's up to others. Besides, I can always dream of posthumous fame.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Very nice to read this! I'm real similar - I have the resolve and the determination, but with a string of rejections, I now need to figure out if maybe I need to rethink the book again even as I have already moved on to WIP. My resolution this year is not to let the rejections deter me. Hopefully, I'll keep it!

Happy new year!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

That's the spirit, Kira.

Ello, my first manuscript received 73 rejections from agents before I put it under the bed. My point isn't that yours will also end up in a dark corner, but that rejection has never been enough to deter a writer. Not by a long shot.


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, Kira, you are so right. For two summers I worked in a record shop (anyone? remember?) and it was terrific. Talking to customers, figuring out what they might like, sharing the music I liked, trying to make people happy.
It was life-changing and educational. Plus, I sold a lot of Harry Nilsson records. Which he probably never knew.
I also had a summer gig at the Dairy Queen, but that's another story.

Anonymous said...

I always look out for your posts. Not only are they from the heart, but they touch mine as well.{and I am sure many others]
I became a doctor because of my family; I really wanted to do English literature/journalism.
Now that I have embraced writing, I intend to get published. Your posts and stories have always inspired me to keep trudging along. Thanks.
btw: I am not one for Resolutions especially on New Year. I believe resolutions are made when we are ready to accept them.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hank, if I worked in a record store, I'd be able to sell only Al Green and Mozart. You've had such a varied life, lots of fodder there.

Usman, you're a doctor?! My husband and I were talking last night about my going to medical school. I'd love to be either an ER doctor or an M.E. -- while continuing to write. Lucky man...


Patry Francis said...

You've turned "try" into the most inspirational and powerful word there is.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

As you have turned clean into one of the happiest.

Patry, do you remember when you were in my living room for The Liar's Diary party and had just finished reading a section. After several questions, you gestured to me and said something along the lines of, "You could ask Amy, she's written a book too." I was floored. I didn't have a book deal then, it would be months before my manuscript was even submitted, but you believed in me. I tried even harder after that.

Here's to clean, Patry.


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