Index Card of Power

Hi, everyone! It’s Stacey here, with fellow pub-crawler, Stephanie Garber to talk about surviving the grueling journey that is known as publishing.

Getting published is an exercise in patience and perseverance. It is a punishing, bone-wearying journey comparable to climbing up a fog-covered mountain. Each step is an effort and though you know you will eventually reach the top, you don’t know when, or whether you will run out of juice before you get there. (And even when you do reach the top, you might find that the view up there isn’t enough, and that there are even more mountains to climb beyond.)

Stacey: Fifteen years ago, my older sister shared with me the power of the index card. At the time, she was single, thirty-ish, and had been looking for Mr. Right for a long time. At church, her pastor gave a sermon on how God wanted us to have the things we wanted. He suggested listing these wants on an index card, in specific terms, and then letting God take care of the rest.

So my sister wrote down ten things she was looking for in a Mr. Right, qualities as specific as “a healthcare professional,” “Chinese American,” “patient,” and “at least four inches taller than me.” Hey, if you’re going to wish, might as well include everything. After writing them down, she tucked away the card, and stopped worrying.

Within the year, she was engaged to a man with all ten of the attributes she had listed.

Because I am a skeptic and generally a suspicious person, I chalked it up to luck, and thought nothing more of it. I was just happy for her and her new husband (who, it should be noted, is an amazing brother-in-law.)

Fast forward. When Under a Painted Sky went on sub, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. My agent informed me that it would take a year to sell if it sold at all—editors weren’t clamoring to buy historical fiction. As rejections piled up, I happened to have lunch with a friend, who was finally in her third trimester of pregnancy, after a decade of unsuccessful fertility treatments.

When I asked her how she had come by this miracle, she revealed that she had gone to this new-agey seminar about the power of the index card. To my surprise, she told me she had been advised to write down, in very specific terms, her wish. She wrote that she wanted a baby girl, and stopped worrying.

Within two months, she was pregnant. With a girl.

I decided maybe there was something to the power of the index card that seemed to work for both believers and non-believers alike, and even if there wasn’t, what did I have to lose? It was better than fretting over something that was out of my control. I took out an index card.

The best part of the index card is that it gives you the power to let go of something not in your control to influence (and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be on an index card). True, my sister couldn’t just sit at home and wait for Mr. Right to dig her out of the sofa, just as my friend couldn’t give up on doing that deed that leads to babies if she wanted to conceive.

Stephanie: Stacey told me this story last fall, when I was struggling with my writing.

I was on submission with a book I knew wouldn’t sell, and it was killing my creativity. I was putting all kinds of pressure on myself to produce something really good that would totally sell when I went on submission again, which is a terrible way to write.

So, after listening to Stacey’s story about the magic of the index card I decided to give it a shot. Instead of stressing over my hopes and dreams for this book I wrote them out on a piece of binder paper, and just that act alone taught me something interesting.

As I expressed all my hopes and wishes for this book, I didn’t say that I wanted to write a really good book—because really, what does that even mean? Instead I found myself writing things like, I hope to write a story that feels magical and mysterious. I want to keep readers guessing and sweep them into another world. I want this book to feel big and bright like Baz Luhrmann movie.

I’m not even sure I knew that I wanted to write all of those things until I put them on paper, but once I did, it was as if all my creativity flooded back. For some, I think using an index is an exercise in letting go. But for me this activity ended up showing me what I really wanted, and my true desire had nothing to do with pleasing editors and everything to do with writing a story for the sake of creating a certain type of experience for the reader.

Have you ever tried something like this? And if you haven’t, it might be worth giving it a shot.

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