Having held lots of jobs in the past twenty years—from matchmaking-service telemarketer to textile designer to cookie baker to construction worker, I’ve received a lot of professional advice. But there’s one piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years more than any other.
I was in my late 20’s and had a job at a custom furniture shop in the marketing department. My boss was a supremely cool guy: sharp, sophisticated and a great talent for design. A natural manager, he made a point of helping everyone to reach their potential, to challenge them, to keep them involved and energized.
We got along great. So when it came time for my yearly job performance review, I didn’t worry. And sure enough, it was a good meeting, brief even. He was pleased with my work and he looked forward to future collaborations. I sat back, collected my notes, my coffee and prepared to leave.
Oh, but there’s just one more thing, Erika.
His face—always wearing a wry smile—had turned serious.
I really feel I must point out to you that you have a bad habit of letting your sentences drift off in conversations, that you don’t always finish your thoughts. You really should. It suggests you lack conviction.
I was stunned—did I do that? Really?
But I’m not lacking conviction, I thought as I walked numbly down the hall back to my cubicle. I’m not intimidated or uncertain of my opinions. I’m not, dammit!
But over the next few days, to my horror, I realized he was right. Sure enough, my sentences trailed off. One might even say, faded away.
I corrected myself promptly, but I’ve never forgotten that advice–or how much I valued it.
And here’s the thing: it’s a piece of advice that doesn’t just apply to the work place. I can—and have—applied that advice to my writing too.
Let’s be honest–sometimes it’s easy to be noncommittal in our writing. We can dance around the scary stuff—be it subject matter or an emotional arc. We know what we want to say but at times we’re not sure, so halfway through our chapter, our scene, maybe even our whole draft, we let that idea, that subplot, that character trait fade away or maybe we just don’t put it in at all, suddenly no longer so certain we mean what we say–or write. My boss was right: it takes conviction to finish our sentences—those that come out of our mouths and those that came out of our pens (or keyboards, as the case may be).
What about you all? Have you ever had trouble finishing your sentences?