I’m not a fan of closed doors. Which is kind of odd coming from someone who’s as sincerely private and socially insular as I am. (Would rather cook something amazing and talk the night away than go out to a club or something, but that’s just me)
So let me restate that: I’m not a fan of doors being closed. Especially when they don’t need to be.
Which is where Maybe comes in.
Having neither the explicit promise of a Yes nor the full-stop end of story of a No, Maybe is the sweet spot where conversation is allowed to flow. Where things are still possible. Where minds are still somewhat open and curious. Where everyone is coming to the table with a desire to learn.
Maybe is still hopeful and excited and eager. But it might also be the turning of a corner. The first stage in the potential transition from Hope to Action. It’s a meeting of the minds to see if there’s work that can be done and if it can be done together.
More specifically, it’s that space where a writer has the rare opportunity to help someone see their characters and their stories as they see them. As they created them. It’s taking someone by the hand and, armed with that Maybe, letting them peek into the shadows to see the Why to the What you’ve written. To get a long look at how those people you created came to be. What’s driving them? What are their wounds and how are they struggling? And what makes them happy? What brings them joy? What are their hopes? Why do they do what they do?
It’s showing someone what can still be done and how amazing it can be if you can do it together.
You don’t learn any of this with No.
Maybe is questions asked and answers given. It’s discovery. Epiphany. It’s agreement and disagreement and compromise. It’s finding common ground and the realization that you are, despite the lingering threat of No, at least on the same page. More so than you first thought. Maybe is a continuing conversation where you learn about the story and you learn about each other.
At its core, Maybe is Information.
You see why it’s so powerful?
In some ways, at least at first, Maybe is preferable to Yes. Especially a Yes given quickly and without either thought or the support of shared understanding and common goals. Those are difficult. Because you got the Yes — YAY!!!! FINALLY!!!! — only to learn that where you see a unique, emotionally resonant story revolving around a fascinating immortal man, they see a 3-D roller-skating rock opera about juggling mimes working in a Milwaukie Hooters. And suddenly that initial ecstatic Oh Boy becomes the heartbreaking punch in the gut ohhhhhhh boy.
The back-and-forth of Maybe would have caught that potential pickle and, if compromise couldn’t be reached, it would have become a mutual No. And, let me tell you, that No is easy. Really easy. Because it rests on a foundation of shared conversation and clear information. That No is much, much better than an overeager — though well-intentioned — Yes.
Now, about that closed door. I said I’d circle back and I am.
Listen, No and I are best buds. Hell, we dang near grew up together. And, hand to god, I have nothing against No. Seriously. I know No like no one else. He is an annoyingly faithful and frustratingly constant companion. My disastrous wing man, if you will.
But I can accept No. And I have. Many times. Still do. If X and I aren’t seeing eye-to-eye or Y’s schedule is truly packed for the next five years or the story just isn’t resonating for A, yeah, I get that and I respect that. That No makes sense. It’s a No based on information and questions and answers and thought and discussion. And that’s cool. No harm, no foul, I sincerely wish you the best of luck and, really, let’s find something to do in the future because I still believe you are way too many kinds of awesome to count.
At the end of the day, some things aren’t meant to be.
But I always wonder, when my Hello was met with an abrupt No, what would have happened if they’d paused and listened? Just for a moment. And really listened, not sat there watching my lips move while wondering what to do for lunch (Chinese Chicken Salad? In’n’Out?…Pie?) all while planning on saying No at the end regardless.
What would have happened if they’d allowed themselves the freedom of Maybe? That free-for-all play space where people walk together without the specter of Yes or No hanging over them. Where it’s still Talk to Me. Tell Me Your Story. Where it’s help me see this the way you see this.
What would’ve happened if they’d asked questions? If they’d opened themselves enough to allow that unfamiliar light in? Let their imagination spark with unexpected possibility? Granted their creativity the permission to play What If?
Saying No as a first and only response precludes all of that. It halts conversation. Kills opportunity. It may even accidentally refuse you the thing you say you want and insist you need. No is coming to a dead stop on the on-ramp to the freeway that might — MIGHT — take you where you’ve been trying to go for a bazillion years.
Where Maybe is powerful, No can be downright deadly.
Point is never, ever underestimate Maybe. It’s not a Yes, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s an open door. An invitation to tell your story as you see it. To share the secrets behind what you do. Give them a glimpse of who you are and why what you do is so important to you.
So when someone says Ughhhhh, I just got a maybe and it suuuuux, I’m, like, Listen, accept that Maybe as the gift it is and take appropriate advantage. With gratitude and respect. They’re rare, those Maybes. Brief, brilliant moments of opportunity to shine and connect and share. Those Maybes have the potential to be amazing. They can change your life!
Don’t waste ’em.