“Loser gets a turn. No clues,” Henry told his mother and I as we played his before-bed game of guess the three-letter words.

I’ve been mulling over that five-year-old wisdom all night. Loser gets a turn. No clues. Yep, that seems about right.
'Analog rejection letter, Peter Watts, With a Little Help ephemera.jpg' photo (c) 2010, Cory Doctorow - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
It’s easy to see “losing” as an ending, a defeat, a reason to withdraw. But in writing (and in life, I think), our better choice might be to see our loses as new “turns” at things. My manuscript gets rejected by a literary magazine; that’s a chance to send it somewhere else, someplace better perhaps. The agent I’ve been courting decides to pass on my manuscript; here’s an opportunity to send it to someone who might work better with this type of book. Today’s draft is, well, vomit on the page; tomorrow promises a fresh start where things can get better. Loser gets a turn, a new turn.

The tricky part, of course, is the second half of Henry’s spontaneous maxim – no clues. Sure, we all learn from our mistakes; our rough drafts show us errors and flaws, and our rejections force us to go back to the page again. But even with this learning in our pens, we still don’t get any real clues about how to do this writing thing. No one can say, “Okay, if you just sit down and write exactly this many words today, you’ll have a bestseller in 16 weeks.” Or “Try this formula for your blog, and you’ll have ten thousand readers by the end of the week, a book contract by the end of the month.” People do say these things (you’ve seen the self-help section in bookstores, right?), but the truth is that there are no real clues beyond this – sit down and write. Then revise. That’s it. . . that’s all we’ve been given.

So this morning, this writer thanks Henry for his wisdom, and for letting me play his game. By the way, I lost, and I did get another turn. No clues, though, right, Henry?