by Colleen M. Story
One of the things we have to learn as writers is how to take control of our writing careers.
Nothing happens unless we power the machine, so to speak. It’s one of the lessons of writing—we have to be self-motivated and self-directed.
So it’s common for writers to celebrate when things go right…and then to seriously beat themselves up when they don’t.
After publishing six books so far (3 traditional, 3 self-published), I’ve learned something important: as hard as we writers work, we can’t control everything.
Sometimes the proverbial sh— happens.
It’s at these times that we have to stop, exhale, and learn how to let go.
And man is that hard, particularly after all that learning to take charge!
But letting go at the right times can help ease your stress and keep you sane.
Trying to maintain control when you’ve already lost control is an experience in crazy-making.
You feel bad enough already when something goes wrong. If you then try to control it when you can’t, you’ll make things worse for yourself.
“One of the reasons we worry too much is because we tend to focus on problems that are beyond our ability to solve, or things we cannot control,” writes holistic coach Dr. Gala Gorman. “Accepting the fact that you cannot control everything will lift a lot of burden from your shoulders … and will eventually end your worry.”
The big problem for writers is that we feel we can control our writing futures—and in many ways, that’s true. Many things are up to us—how much we write, what we write about, how much time we spend marketing, etc.
But then when something goes wrong, we can take it especially hard because everything falls on our doorstep. Whatever it was, it had to be our fault.
If so, we can learn from our mistakes and try again. But sometimes, what happens isn’t our fault and the best thing we can do is remind ourselves that we’re not always in control.
Most of the time when a book doesn’t sell well, there is a reason for it.
Maybe the cover design was wrong for the genre or the audience. Something may have been off about the story itself in terms of pacing, plot, or characterization. The marketing campaign could have used some tweaking, or maybe the writer didn’t do enough to get the word out.
It’s always best to examine all the possible contributing factors. But it also helps to know that sometimes, the market just doesn’t respond for some unknown reason.
There are a lot of examples of classic books that didn’t sell well when they were released. LitHubhas a list of 15 of them, including T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and James Joyce’s The Dubliners.
The good news is that after a time, these books found their audience. Yours might too, but in the meantime, you may have to let go a little.
My latest novel, The Beached Ones, suffered through several of my publisher’s mistakes when it first came out.
This was mainly because the publisher changed distributors just as my book was being released (bad timing). That caused a lot of chaos. Initially, there were a few canceled pre-orders because of it. (I received emails from some readers wondering why their orders were canceled. Argh!) Then some of the books were released with the wrong copy on the back cover.
Worst of all, several books were released with the wrong interior file—one that had not gone through a final proofread/edit. This one drove me nuts! I was running around trying to replace the incorrect books with the correct ones. The publisher paid for these copies, but it was still embarrassing for me.
For a while, all of this was super anxiety-inducing and I struggled a lot. Here was the culmination of all my work on this novel and instead of the launch being an exciting, fun time, it was disappointing and dispiriting.
I finally realized that all of this was out of my control and I had to let go. Otherwise, it was going to keep eating at me incessantly. Eventually, everything got ironed out and now I can proudly share the book knowing that everything is correct.
This one can also be hard to take. You put your heart and soul into a story. You thought you did everything right.
But then one reader got ahold of it and just didn’t like it. Worse, that person decided to share that opinion in a bad review. On multiple platforms.
Writers work ridiculously hard to write, market, and sell their books. One bad review, however, can turn off a lot of potential readers.
You see it sitting there and your heart plummets because you know two things:
It’s frustrating. And discouraging. But you can’t control it. All you can do is let go and move on.
Writers are supposed to develop a thick skin.
“Learn how to take rejections, bad reviews, and poor sales in stride!” they say.
When we feel horrible about these things, we can tend to then feel guilty for feeling horrible. Talk about a double whammy of negative feelings!
This sort of self-recrimination sets up a vicious cycle of feeling bad, feeling bad about feeling bad, then feeling worse.
The thing is, we can't control how we feel. Those emotions live inside us, and trying to squash them isn’t healthy. All we can do is let go and accept that they’re there, then find healthy ways to work through them.
Even the most disciplined writing routine can crumble in the face of difficult life events.
I’m talking about the big ones like death, divorce, the loss of a job, health problems, and the like. When life gets tough, sometimes writing has to take a back seat.
This is hard for many writers to accept. We tend to blame ourselves when we’re not getting the writing done or when other things like book marketing fall through the cracks.
Many of us also feel out of sorts when we’re not regularly writing. It contributes to the stress and anxiety we may already be feeling because of the trauma or upheaval we’re going through.
We can’t control when these things happen, or the toll they can take on us physically and emotionally. The best we can do is take a deep breath, let go, and assure ourselves that we will get back to writing as soon as possible.
As a writer, you can count on things occurring in your writing life that will be out of your control.
The key is to identify when these times are, then learn to let go. “Identifying” is key because sometimes there is something you can do to make things better. But if not, it’s time to try these coping techniques:
There are a lot of quotes about accepting what you can’t control. But in case you haven’t heard it, here’s one I liked:
“Anything you can’t control is for teaching you how to let go…”
(part of a poem by Jackson Kiddard)
Note: Get Colleen’s free report on finding your blogging niche plus free chapters of her award-winning books for writers here!
Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, was released with CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena's Gift, was a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed: Your Writing Matters, Writer Get Noticed, and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. You can find free chapters of these books here. Find more at her author website (colleenmstory.com) or connect with her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story) and YouTube (@ColleenMStoryteller).
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