New Year, New You, No Limits - Janet Raye Stevens

Hello, YA Outside the Liners, and happy 2019! Like a gazillion other people, I celebrated New Year’s Eve by gathering with family and friends. And also like a gazillion other people, I ordered Chinese takeout. The evening ended in the usual way, with cheers, toasts, and drinking a cup of kindness for auld lang syne. The takeout meal ended in the usual way too, with a fortune cookie.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline,” my fortune read. 

Appropriate for a writer, huh? Especially with the new year upon us and many new goals being set. I’m pretty sure I can achieve that ‘dream with a deadline’ if I just get my butt in the chair, put my hands on my keyboard, and get to work. Oh, and not get waylaid by one of the words I dread most… limits.

Haha, bet you thought I was going to say “slacks” or “albeit,” two words that make me gnash my teeth in annoyance (seriously, no one under the age of 85 wears slacks and unless you’re penning your doctoral thesis in microbiology or something, never, ever use the word albeit). 

No, the word that makes me cringe is limit, as in things we writers face that limits us reaching our goals. The word that stops us from taking that risk, or turning that small step of an idea into a giant leap. 

The list of limits stopping us is long—here are only a few:
  • time limits (what do you mean one must stop to eat and/or sleep?)
  • family & domestic needs (those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves)
  • physical limits (banging on the keyboard for 8 hours straight may induce oh-my-aching-back syndrome)
  • hitting a creative wall (when you find yourself writing yet another love triangle for your heroine because you’ve run out of other ideas, just stop)
  • and my old friend, procrastination (hmm, when was the last time I dusted the top of the refrigerator? Oh well, can’t hurt to do it again now).

But I find there is no limit more insidious, more efficient at stopping a writer than the Borg queen of all limiting limits: Self-Doubt. That nattering nabob of negativism inside me that says you can’t write that. You’ll fail. You don’t know anything about XYZ. 

That’s the limit I’m constantly battling, and, I suspect, what a lot of writers are battling. 

For instance, I’d always told myself I couldn’t write short, and thus would never be able to write short stories. Truth is, I’d never tried to do it. My internal editor was setting a limit before I could even undertake the task. It was a long battle to overcome that self-doubting inner voice before I could sit down and write my first short story. The result? Nine mystery and romance stories published over eight years. 

Yet I still had trouble calling myself “published.” They’re only short stories, not novels, that limiting voice inside me said. I’ve had to train myself—and dope slap that inner critic more than once—to see the shorts for what they are: a successful forward movement in my publishing journey.

Another example... I’m a dedicated genre-hopper, writing YA, sci-fi, mystery and paranormal. There’s usually a romantic sub-plot in each of my stories, but I always told myself I couldn’t write a real romance, where the love story is the story. 

Until two years ago. 

I had an idea for a contemporary romance, specifically a Christmas romance. Totally not your schtick, my inner voice said. So what if contemporary romance is the most popular sub-genre of the best-selling fiction genre (romance--nearly $1.5 billion in sales for both traditional & indie romances in 2017)? So what if Christmas romances are the hottest selling sub-sub-genre of the contemporary sub-genre of the romance genre? 

I couldn’t write it. 

Or so I thought. I drafted up a two-page synopsis just to get the idea on paper and went back to my revisions on another story. The idea wouldn’t go away, so I sat down and wrote a solid first three chapters, followed by a loose draft that ended up being around 26,000 words. I then returned to tweaking my YA Sci-Fi so I could enter it into the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest for unpubbed romance. 

As I prepped my YA, I waffled about tossing my silly little Christmas story in there too. The pro side of the waffle: the story was perfect for the short contemporary category—romance-y, Christmas-y, sweet, and set in current day and on this planet. The con side of the waffle? At 26,000 words, the story was too short. Not to mention incomplete and as messy as a first draft has every right to be. 

Here’s where the self-doubt and limits came in again. I had one month until the deadline. Though contest entrants are only judged on the first 50 pages, the manuscript has to be complete, and for the short contemporary category, at least 50,000 words. I told myself I’d never make the deadline. It’d be impossible to polish up the entry pages while banging out another 25,000 words, and write a synopsis to boot. 

Then I told that inner voice to quit it. To stop limiting myself and just do it. So I did. The final product was messy but a complete story and I literally typed THE END and submitted the whole shebang five minutes before the deadline. The rest? Well, the manuscript made the finals then won its category, which helped me land an agent who is very excited to get the story out on submission. 

COLE FOR CHRISTMAS goes out to editors in a few weeks. 

Moral of the story—if I’d given into the doubts and fears trying to limit me, I would never have been able to move forward. So whatever idea you have in mind, whatever it is you want to do, my advice is don’t say I can’t. Tell your inner limiter to button its self-doubting lip and say yes

Here’s to a new year of hopes and resolutions fulfilled, challenges accepted and won, new goals, new dreams—and no limits (er, except maybe lay off using the word 'slacks').

So very groovy!


  1. YAY and good luck with COLE FOR CHRISTMAS!

    But … but … "albeit" is one of my favorite words! No, really! It's a lawyer word, not a microbiologist word. Along with "assuming arguendo," another phrase from law school, I put it in a tiny group of highly desirable words! :-)

    1. Thanks, Mary, and LOL on your defense of albeit! With your fine, lawyerly argument you've almost convinced me to give the word another chance. Almost.

  2. OMG, all the congrats on COLE FOR CHRISTMAS! Great title.

  3. My family also had Chinese takeout, and someone in our family got that same fortune! A good one for New Year's.

    1. LOL, Jennifer--judging by the line at the restaurant waiting to pick up their takeout, *everyone* got Chinese takeout for New Year's Eve! That's also pretty amazing about the duplicate fortune!


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