Guest Post: Deborah Coates

It is what it is

Thanks for inviting me today. Today I want to talk about dogs and writing, but not writing about dogs.

A friend of mine says that he doesn’t like the phrase, “It is what it is.” But I do. It’s useful.

There’s a sport I do with my dogs called tracking (see, I told you there would be dogs). In tracking, someone, a tracklayer, goes out and lays a track, leaving articles along the way. Sometime later (and the specific amount of time depends on the level you’re working at), the dog and handler go out and follow the track, finding all the articles the tracklayer left when they laid the track. The dog/handler teams enter tests and earn titles at three (let’s call them) levels.

There are lots of things about tracking that make it fun and challenging, but the particular thing I want to talk about today is what happens on test day. In a tracking test there will be 5 to 10 tracks depending on the level and the space available. The day of the test, handlers draw for which particular track they’ll get. All the tracks are as equal as they can be. But no matter how well you’ve trained or how equal the judges tried to make the tracks, things happen. Maybe it starts to rain or the temperature rises or loose dogs and stray children approach your dog. Maybe the wind starts to blow or you get the one track that three dozen Canadian geese decide to land on.

Maybe one of those things is the one and only reason your dog failed.

But you know what?

It is what it is.

You can spend your time feeling cranky because some other handler got some other, easier track with no geese and no rain and no cover higher than your head. You can tell everyone it wasn’t fair.

And maybe it wasn’t–exactly–fair.

You know what you can do about it? Train for geese and rain and wind and tall cover. Get better. Try again.

It is what it is.

I’m beginning to understand how useful that phrase is for writing, or more specifically, for publishing.

It is what it is.

Because sometimes, it’s not fair. Or at least it’s not equal. You work hard. You write the best story you can. You revise it and proof it and revise it again. It wins contests. Everyone loves it. You send it out. And you get it back. They just bought three novels just like yours. They’re just not in love with it. The whole industry took a dive and they’re buying very selectively. Someone else just got a major deal. That person over there just wrote a novel in three and a half weeks and went to auction. Your prose is beautiful but sadly they’re going to pass.


It is what it is.

It isn’t fair. But fairness doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care how hard you worked. It doesn’t even care how good you are.

It just is what it is.

The only thing you can do is try again. Get better. Figure out what other writers are doing right (because, remember, what they do wrong doesn’t matter half as much as what they do right).

I’d like to tell you what I did right in Wide Open, but I think, as readers, that’s your job. I hope I did something right. And I hope it’s something that you’ll enjoy.

Here’s a brief except from near the very beginning of Wide Open:

She started forward again and walked into a cold so intense, she thought it would stop her heart. It felt like dying all over again, like breath froze in her lungs. She slapped her hand against the nearest wall and concentrated on breathing, on catching her breath, on taking a breath.

She looked up, expecting Eddie.

But it was her sister. Dell.

. . .

Dell looked exactly as she had the last time Hallie’d seen her, wearing a dark tailored shirt, jeans with a hole in one knee, and cowboy boots. She was a ghost now and pretty much transparent, but Hallie figured the boots were battered and scuffed because she’d always had a favorite pair that she wore everywhere. Even when she’d dressed up sometimes, like no one would notice the boots if she wore a short black dress and dangly silver earrings. And no one did—because it was Dell and she could carry something like that off, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Hallie scrubbed a hand across her face. Goddamnit, Dell. She wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t.

Deborah’s Biography (courtesy of author’s website):

I’m a published writer of science fiction and fantasy short stories. My first novel, Wide Open, will be published by Tor in March, 2012.

I currently live in central Iowa and work at Iowa State University. I grew up on a sometime dairy farm in western New York. I went to a couple of different universities and got a couple of different degrees. I’ve lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Iowa. I’ve been a farmhand, a factory worker, a statistician, a researcher, an educator and an IT professional.

Thank you so much for stopping by and the terrific guest post, Deborah! Everyone make sure to check out my review of Wide Open too.


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