Six impossible things

Being Cinderella is a lot of work

These days, when people talk about a “Cinderella Story,” they mostly mean the rags-to-riches part. Whether it’s a Cinderella sports team that’s just won the championship (and never mind all the sweat and practice and planning that went into it), or J. K. Rowling’s welfare-mom-to-gazillion-copy-bestseller story, what people seem to be interested in is the seemingly miraculous change in circumstances, not all the hard work that made it possible. They only want to look at the unknown girl who shows up at the ball and *poof!* everything goes right – the prince recognizes her sterling qualities and many virtues, and after that minor business with the mislaid footwear, we’re off to the wedding, fame, fortune, and happily-ever-after. They forget about the years of mockery and sneering that came before the fairy godmother showed up; they ignore all the scrubbing and mending that went on; they overlook the tears in the garden. Which is annoying to a lot of the people they talk about, because anyone who has ever actually been a “Cinderella story” knows all about hard work and delayed payoffs and sticking to your dreams in spite of discouraging circumstances.

The annoyance is relatively minor, for the most part – at least, I hope it is – but that natural human fascination with the big change causes real problems when folks get it into their heads that that’s the way things work for the rest of us…or, worse yet, that the miraculous rags-to-riches part will work for them, without all of that bothersome cleaning that went on first.

These are the people who show up at their first-ever writing workshop with forty pages of marketing plan and zero pages of manuscript. They’re the ones who badger already-published writers to read and recommend their stuff…and then demand that they sign legal releases before allowing said writers to read their manuscripts “because I don’t want my ideas stolen.” They’re the ones who want to hire a ghost writer – not to polish up a raw manuscript, but to write the whole thing in the first place. They’re the ones who look astonished at the idea of using a spelling checker on their manuscript, or of reviewing their work for poor grammar or syntax, because “that’s the editor’s job.” They’re the ones who ask for advice and then spend the entire conversation talking nonstop about how brilliant their work is going to be and how they plan to handle their inevitable fame and fortune, without letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. They’re the ones who send in a submission with a cover letter saying their lawyer will call a week from Friday to go over contract details, so the editor shouldn’t try to cheat them – and oh, yes, they’re keeping movie and foreign subrights and the bidding can start at $100,000.

They’re the wicked stepsisters, who think that all it will take to charm the prince is showing up in an expensive gown. They’re not willing to do the hard work that comes before the ball; they’re all about image and flash and gimmickry. And when all the flash and fluff doesn’t get them what they want, they end up resenting the people who did do the work (and who keep on doing the work), because those are the Cinderellas who actually end up with the prince.

Telling them this doesn’t help, in my experience. Nobody wants to believe that they’re a stepsister; everyone thinks they’re Cinderella. But if you want to be Cinderella, you have to remember that the fairy tale doesn’t start with the gown and the ball and the prince. It starts with the rags and the hard work and the ashes.

8 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for this post. It came at just the right time.

  2. One of the best articles I’ve ever read about success, patience and work.

    Well done!

  3. Thanks for this very perceptive post. It applies to so many things, not just writing. I have bookmarked it so I can refer my students at it at regular intervals.

  4. I love the last part you’ve got there about being Cinderella and starting out with rags. Great insight!

  5. This is a fascinating post for me because I have this thing about fairy godmothers versus Santa Claus. I personally like Santa Claus better (despite the fact that, between me being a tooth fairy (for my nieces and nephews) and being a godmother (for the same) I would technically be classed with the former). I think that Santa Claus pays better attention to his clients, is more likely to give them what they actually want, and he is more likely to have an ongoing relationship with said clients.

    Also, about the hard work bit: I have sort of a weird relationship with hard work. I love to work hard, and I love to see results, but the two of them are not always as closely related as I kind of think they should
    be. Maybe that’s because SEEing results is the hard part: incremental changes can be pretty hard to track. But I do definitely believe that the sort of leaps-and-bounds changes, like happen with “Cinderella stories” are definitely more likely to come after plenty of that hard work.

  6. I was watching a speech by Rowling on TED.com and found out more about her background that really explains her success. She went to university for Greek mythology, plus she had been writing non-stop since her early 20s.

    So much for the “luck” of her situation. She spent nearly 20 years in rags working hard to get those riches.

    • Alex – Exactly. But I’ve seen more people get bent out of shape when they aren’t an “overnight” success “just like J.K.Rowling” (or fill in the author)…

  7. That is a great post! I will be coming back to this later whenever I get discouraged!

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