Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
June 14, 2023

5 Things Good Writers Just Can't Control

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.

Why It’s Important to Realize When You’re Not In Control

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.

5 Times When Writers Are Not In Control

1. When the Market Fails to Respond to Your Book

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.

2. When Your Publisher Makes Changes

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.

3. When a Reader Doesn’t Like Your Work

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:

  • the book was good—it just didn’t click for that reader, and
  • you can’t do anything about the fact that the review will influence some readers who otherwise might have bought a copy.

It’s frustrating. And discouraging. But you can’t control it. All you can do is let go and move on.

4. When You Feel Lousy About the Tough Times

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.

5. When Other Things Interfere with Writing

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.

Other Coping Techniques for Accepting the Things You Can’t Control

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:

  • Accept that this is something you can’t change. (Easier said than done!) Focus on “not resisting” and letting it be.
  • Journal about your feelings, or talk them out with a good friend. Don’t bottle them up.
  • Redirect your energy toward something you can control—like your next book or marketing effort.

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!

What is your biggest writing struggle you have gone through? Have you turned a sour situation around in your writing work? Share and commiserate below!

About Colleen

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).

18 comments on “5 Things Good Writers Just Can't Control”

  1. A sensible look at this problem. Letting go is the hardest thing, even when you know that you can't control it. And as you say, it leads to worry.

  2. Hi Colleen!
    Just went through a period like this.
    What got me out? Focusing on what I CAN control. And that's the next book.

    Not easy but the other way, there be dragons...

  3. My ongoing struggle is the lack of energy due to chronic illness and physical disability.

    I have learned to use my brain when it is functioning - for writing if at all possible (some things always go to the top of the list regardless of how you try to prioritize something else, as you said).

    I have ALSO learned not to criticize myself when I simply can't find the energy, to do the little things I can (such as commenting on blogs), because I'm neither being lazy nor making a bad choice. I can't write in a bad state, and I often can't change it.

    But I'm not going to contaminate the bits of good time by whining there isn't more of it - that would be a waste. If there were a way to self-bully my daily abilities, I would have learned how in the 33 years I've been ill. This allows me to enjoy when I can write, justify resting and self-care (as if I needed to), and slowly put out the kind of fiction I want to leave as a legacy. So far, so good.

    1. I imagine you're a master of letting things go when you need to, Alicia. Health issues have a way of demanding our attention whether we want to give it or not. So glad you're finding a way to live your writing dreams!

  4. Recognizing what is outside of our control can really free us from the tyranny of dashed expectations, but it’s no easy task in my experience. My wife and I have been studying Stoicism these past couple of years, and your post lays out a central observation from that philosophy: many things are outside of our own control. You laid this out beautifully.

    I’m having to call on that now after releasing my first cozy mystery in April. I worked to manage my expectations, and knew that going from writing and publishing fantasy to cozy mystery would entail starting over. I also knew that as a self-published author, having multiple books in a series helps attract readers, and book 2 is still a ways off, so patience is called for.

    Redirecting our energies toward something we can call for is crucial, and you’ve provided some excellent tips on this, too.

    Thank you for this post. It’s a true keeper, and one to return to when we encounter a perceived setback.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Dale. There are so many things in a writer's life that involve "starting over," which can be so difficult when we know that building on past successes is the way to gaining readers and hopefully sales. But we have to write what we're called to write or what sparks our creativity. I applaud you for changing direction as you needed to. I imagine your muse will be more cooperative because of it! :O)

  5. I think I needed to read this today as I was thinking perhaps I should quit writing and simply focus on translating. Life got in the way big time, there's no creative energy, not even for blog or instagram posts. Goodness, I'm even struggling with editing the two projects I've currently lined up.
    On top of that, sales of my best selling novel have inexplicably dropped all of a sudden which is really getting to me.
    I'll practice letting go.

    1. I hear you, Annette. I think we all go through low-energy "maybe I should quit" times. I sure have. It's a scary thought but I've found that just allowing it to be and taking the time I need usually leads to recovery. That and reflecting on my priorities in life and making sure I'm investing on those as well as the necessities (so I'm not burning out on the little things that don't matter as much). Take care of yourself!

  6. I suspect this post will resonate with many of us. My personal life crisis sent my writing into a downward spiral for many years. Despite many set backs, I kept returning to writing the next book. When the dust finally cleared, I didn't instantly return to my "good" writing habits. It was frustrating and consuming me with worry, guilt, and regret. Recently I realized that over the years of crisis, I'd developed habits that helped me cope with all that was happening then. But despite the crisis being resolved now, I still wrote within the constraint of those habits. I'm working on letting those things go. Thank you for your normalizing and encouraging post. It's a breath of fresh air and hope.

    1. Thanks, Lynette. So interesting to read how alike we writers are in that when something challenging happens in life, we not only have to deal with that, but with how that affects our writing! It's like a double whammy every time. Shows how very invested we are in our craft. Glad you kept writing close to you throughout.

  7. Hi Colleen!

    I think when many of us began writing we didn't realize all that was involved. You've written a story. Yay! Then what? So much more to do!

    Life happens, and sometimes it punches you in the gut. Illness, death, moving, family drama, editors changing life plans mid-edit ...

    I am eternally grateful for my writer buddies for lending a listening ear, and calming suggestions. There is strength out there ready to lend when you need it.

    Regarding those bad reviews. I don't see them often, but have learned to check what all else they've reviewed. I've found that some folks seem to give many people bad reviews. It takes all kinds to make a world.

    Great post, thank you!

    1. That's the truth, Ellen. If we did we probably would have run the other way! (ha) And true on sharing with writing buddies--no one else gets it. It's so helpful to have a writing friend mirror similar emotions related to similar events. I recently spoke to a writing friend who also went through the "they printed the wrong file" problem, and it was so helpful to share the experience.
      I've seen the same on reviews too. Let it go...let it go...(there's an ear worm for you!) :O)

  8. Sometimes you just have to let go or set aside what didn't work and start on a new project.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved