(Or, as I think of it: Learning to Love the Things You Can’t Control)
Pop Quiz: This post is late going up because . . .
aa) I’ve spent the weekend out of town for the funeral of a friend and am still emotionally drained.
bb) With the snowstorm on the east coast tomorrow, I had flights cancelled and will be at least one day later getting home than I’d expected so now I have to do laundry and all my plans are out of whack.
cc) I don’t love Things I Can’t Control.
You wouldn’t go far wrong guessing any of the three, but yes indeed, the last is by far the most true. Is it possibly false for anyone? If so, I have yet to meet that person. And the business part of being a writer is overflowing with uncontrollable aspects. (Rather like being a mother; someday I plan to write a post comparing the two.)
Each step along the path to publication brings a new set of out-of-control issues. Querying, finding an agent, finding a publisher, cover art, reviews, sales . . . Do not get me started on that last. My husband has learned to never ask, “How’s the book(s) selling?” The answer is always some variation of, “I don’t know, I don’t want to know, why are you pressuring me?!” (Imagine me talking faster and faster with each word.)
And beyond all that, the fundamental (at least for me) fear of failure doesn’t vanish with the professional validation of agents and contracts and sales. Here’s an entry from my journal while I was at the querying/rejection stage of the business.
Feb. 20, 2005
And what, after all, if I’m not talented enough? I could write forever if I truly believe that I am learning and getting better, that each time I do this, I do it closer to my vision in my head. But if I don’t have what it takes to someday be able to share this widely, then I don’t see the point. I guess, in the end, I don’t want to make a fool of myself and I don’t want to think that people are laughing at me and my foolishness in continuing when I’m really just not very good.
I could write that very entry today, word for word, even with two published books, one releasing this year, and three more under contract. So what keeps me—or any writer, at any point on the path—moving forward? Here’s the final line of the above journal entry: Sigh. I don’t know how I’m supposed to find that out, except to keep going on.
And that is all the wisdom I have to offer you when it comes to the many aspects of this writing business that you cannot control: to keep going on. I can’t control reviews. I can’t control public opinion. I can’t control typesetting and art design. There are ways to participate and help shape the conversation around one’s work once it’s public—and I have some brilliant friends on this site who will share ways to do that—but in the end, there is only one thing that I can absolutely control: the writing.
I end with some thoughts I put down in 2009, coming off a year in which my writing had been shoved to the very bottom of a long list of things I wasn’t doing.
The non-logical, unreasonable side [of my mind] insists that I wasted the last year, that I’ve fallen too far behind on the path, that I should have been writing and querying and pouring out words at a faster rate and, greatest fear of all, that the glittering golden moment known as My Chance came and went while I dithered and debated and didn’t write.
But you know what I’m doing this year?
Writing. Because here’s the thing—I’ll never know what might have been. But what comes next? That’s entirely up to me.
In his book ON BECOMING A NOVELIST, John Gardner wrote: “Nothing is harder than being a true novelist, unless that is all one wants to be, in which case, though becoming a true novelist is hard, everything else is harder.”
Why do I write? Because everything else is harder.