Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dropping the Ball and Picking it up again and Running with it!

At times, we’re all guilty of dropping the ball, whereby we let an opportunity pass us by, stop working on an important project, or make an error that needed to be fixed.  The expression, as far as I know, comes from American football, whereby if you drop the football when the ball is in play, the opposing team can pick it up and run with it.  Not good, especially if they score a touchdown.  Either way, you look bad or unreliable, and in business relationships, including writing projects, people may not want to work with you again.  It’s like, I gave you this project and you dropped the ball.  You didn’t follow through or you did such a poor job we can’t use it!

If you do drop the ball for whatever reasons, you can also pick it up and run with it!  When it does happen, sure it can be humbling.  Yet I’ve always been rewarded.  (At the very least, I feel good about myself for not giving up.)  My most recent book, Spirit of Malaysia is a good example.  When I got the assignment, I thought no problem, but while doing it, I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I had stack of books on Malaysia and all this information, and I found myself stalled on the project. I couldn't seem to move forward.  But finally, as I neared the deadline, I picked up that ball with a vengeance, and instead of focusing on the whole book, I systematically worked my through the project chapter by chapter, section by section, and before I knew it, I was done.  Now the book is out and I feel proud.  My name is on that book, not someone else’s.

When Lovers and Strangers (Heinemann 1993) first went out of print after Heinemann got bought out a couple of times and the Writing in Asia series (and all of their fiction) was dropped, I kept thinking, I should get this published by someone else.  But the idea languished until 2005 when a professor at USM approached me about teaching Lovers and Strangers.  I picked up that ball and ran with it.  I not only approached another publisher, I hired my own editor to rip the already published stories apart so I could take them to a higher level and revisited them all.  Soon I had a new book Lovers and Strangers Revisited (first with Silverfish, 2005, and then with MPH, 2008) and now this new French edition is coming out later this year.

Then there is Tropical Affairs.  For years (decade and a half) I had the idea to collect my articles and compile them into a book.  I even had them separated into different sections, but then after I began teaching writing at USM, I focused my limited writing time on writing novels. But I picked up the ball again and pitched the idea to MPH and began rewriting the articles and turned it into a new book.

As you can see, there are usually rewards when you pick up that dropped ball.  At the very least, you feel good about yourself because, although you fumbled, and it does happen, you did pick it up again and even ran with it for extra yardage.

Sometimes it’s not entirely your own fault.  Six years passed by when I last worked on The Boy Who Shot Santa, a novel set in the US.  It all began when we had a baby, then we moved to Sarawak, and then we had another baby. . . . Finally I got back to that old manuscript, and revamped and retitled it, and now it has advanced to Round Two of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Will it go any further? Even if it doesn’t, I’ve been submitting it to some agents.  Sooner or later, one is going to say yes.  

If not, well I got this other novel set in Penang, The Expatriate’s Choice.  For the same reasons as above, the project got put on hold.  But then I picked it up again, and I’m in the process of rewriting it and entering it in the upcoming Faulkner-Wisdom novel contest.  Will there be an award waiting for me at the end of the rainbow?  I won’t know until I arrive there, but so far the view is rather colorful and I’m enjoying the journey, and it is taking me a step closer to one of my goals, to produce more books.

Ideally, we should pick up every single dropped ball.  But sometimes we may have bitten off more than we can chew when a project involves a lot more time and resources than we initially thought.  Be honest with yourself.  If you commit to something, you should complete the task.  If not, pass it back or hand it to someone else who would like to take up the challenge.  Just don’t drop the ball, walk away, and pretend that it wasn’t you who dropped it.  Also, if you do got any balls that you did drop recently, it could still be lying at your feet just waiting for you to pick it up again and run with it.  It’s sort of like falling off a bicycle or a horse.  Yeah, it hurts (pride especially).  But you can still get back on that bicycle/horse and ride off into the sunset.
         -Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

**Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.


sintaicharles said...

What an inspiring post!

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Thanks! If I can inspire myself and others are inspired, too, that's good!