Why Saying “Yes” to Unusual Tasks Can Lead to Writing Success

Several weeks ago, my three-year-old niece bounced into the house singing about wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas.

I was confused, to say the least. One day we’re obsessed with kitty cats, and the next we’re on to hippopotamuses?

It was a surprising niche-switch … but there’s a great writing lesson for you hidden behind her catchy hippo song.

What my niece had accidentally discovered was the 1953 smash hit, I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, originally recorded as a novelty number by child star, Gayla Peevey.

It was written by John J. Rox, an NYC-based songwriter who normally focused on Broadway numbers. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he wrote a number of dance and song revue pieces, including the score for the All in Fun show, the hit song, “It’s a Big, Wide, Wonderful World,” and multiple B-sides for artists like Dean Martin.

His niche and his brand were very much tied into the Broadway scene. Big dance numbers, crooner classics … he’d carved out a very specific image for himself – just as we’re all encouraged to do as writers.

So, a novelty number for a kid way out in Oklahoma City? It was a bit out of character …

Definitely not the kind of project you think will turn into anything.

But, then again, why not go for it?

Your chosen niche and specialization as a writer are intended to help you, not lock you into one fixed path forever. They can definitely help you attract more of your ideal clients … but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally give clients outside your main area a chance to work with you when they come to you looking for help.

So, Rox said yes when he was asked to write a song for Peevey. And, when a local promoter in Oklahoma City asked if I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas could be used as a commercial jingle for the city zoo fundraiser, Rox said yes to that, too.

I doubt he suspected it would turn into the biggest Christmas number of the year … or that local citizens would make headlines all over the country by actually giving Peevey a baby hippo that year for the holidays!

She donated it to the zoo, where Matilda the Christmas hippo lived for over 50 years.

And the song that was initially dismissed as just a silly little number has gone on to become the song that both Peevey and Rox are best known for these days.

The takeaway here? Say “yes” to opportunities! Even if a proposed project is outside your niche, if it sounds interesting or fun, go ahead and say yes. You have nothing to lose – and the potential reach of your “out there” creative project is virtually limitless …

After all, this kind of “non-traditional” project proposal could just lead to the biggest hit of your career – or maybe it already has. If you have a story of success from an unexpected corner, share it in the comments.

And then tomorrow, I’ll reveal how an unusual partnership – one never expected to make it off the cutting room floor – became a shocking Christmas hit …

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Published: December 24, 2014

2 Responses to “Why Saying “Yes” to Unusual Tasks Can Lead to Writing Success”

  1. Jen, I really enjoyed this article about Gala Peevey's Christmas Hippo song. In Canada, it has been used in a Telus Christmas commercial since 2005 and I've always wanted to know who was behind this unusual voice. To discover it was written by John J. Rox outside of his "niche" is even more interesting. I'm looking forward to your "shocking Christmas hit" tomorrow.

    Marianne FoscariniDecember 26, 2014 at 10:11 am


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