by Jenny Hansen
Most writers I know tell me the absolute hardest part of this crazy life we've chosen is the uncertainty. Publishers come and go. Ditto with agents, editors, and distribution partners. The writing day can be agony or ecstasy, depending on your mood, your muse, your health, or your Wi-Fi. You're in control of your story (mostly), but not always every single aspect of its journey after it leaves your hand. And it drives a lot of writers cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs crazy.
You've heard the story of the frog in the pot, right?
Frogs have medium-ish survival skills. For example, if a frog is dropped in a pot of water and it is boiling, the frog will save itself by jumping right out of the pot. But... if the frog is put into a pot of room-temperature pot of water, the result is very different. If the water is slowly brought to the boiling point, the frog will stay in the water until it dies.
The frog can't tell when it's in an environment that becomes increasingly hostile and dangerous to them.
Cultivate your own discernment so the ever-changing writing world is less likely to sneak up on you like the water sneaks up on the frog. Learn to recognize when the proverbial temperature has shot up beyond what is healthy for you. Climb out of the pot you're in, or find a new one.
First and foremost with acceptance. Know that this writing life you've chosen is an incredibly chaotic and unpredictable one. Know that the rules will constantly change for everything from social media to technology to employees at any company you interact with.
I have a friend whose nemesis is technology. It's hard for her to embrace it in the first place, and she feels like every time she masters something, somebody moves her cheese. When the menus (or the algorithms or the rules) of platforms like Facebook change, she gets frustrated. When places like WordPress change their dashboard, she wants to break things (or cry).
When I told her she had to learn more about Amazon's author dashboard, she threw up her hands and hired some help. Amazon was her breaking point, but she'd been considering help for a long time. She just finally figured out that, for her, she'd rather spend more time writing and pay someone else to keep up with Amazon's rules.
We all have our nemesis, our kryptonite, our wanna-throw-ourselves-in-traffic task on the business side of writing. I'll bet you know exactly what yours is!
There are some habits, people, things you can put in place to help you manage any anxiety around the writing uncertainty in your life.
Perhaps it will be the group you critique with weekly, plot with quarterly, or a place where you ask questions daily on Facebook. Perhaps it is your local writing chapter that meets monthly. Maybe it will be blogs like this one where you can ask questions and play in the comments section with people who are in all different phases of their writing careers.
Wherever it is, be sure you cultivate some writing communities. They'll make you feel better when you cry over things like e-book formatting or your Amazon dashboard.
I recommend you make sure to interact with a mix of writers. Find people who know more than you, and who are willing to share their knowledge. Then turn around and share knowledge with someone else who is newer to the writing life, and needs the answers that you can provide. That's the cycle that keeps most writers sane.
Note: Remember that everyone's journey is different, and respect their boundaries and decisions. Also, remember to thank them for sharing their time with you, even if you don't plan to take their advice.
Sometimes a story runs away from you, but you can get it back. You've learned the writing craft and you are the one putting time in with the page. You know your characters. If you don't, you will soon.
When the business of writing drives you cray-cray, the way to move forward is to focus on the job that only YOU can do. Write the current story, or the next one. If your story is as good as you can make it, then you have done your job. If your story isn't yet as good as you can make it, learn some new writing craft skills and make it better.
Everything in your writing life starts with a story. When the uncertainty creeps up the back of your neck and gives you anxiety, just know that at the bottom of it all, you have one job that rules all the others:
Finish your story. Then start on the next one.
Like many writers, I had a chaotic childhood. I learned pretty early to "suck it up, Buttercup," and that "this too shall pass."
Those childhood skills have served me well recently as I've navigated the experience of triple-negative breast cancer. If you can't keep your sense of humor and develop some mental fortitude during your cancer journey, it will try to take over 100% of your life and make you cry a lot.
Cancer will make you miss important events, entire days, and just about every deadline you try to aim for. It will constantly present you with an array of decisions that suck, and you will have to pick the one that is least sucky for you at that moment. In return for all this discernment and fortitude, you get to stay alive.
It's not such a bad trade-off when you think of it that way.
My cancer journey has definitely increased my calmness and roll-with-it Zen. And let's face it, embracing uncertainty and making those hard decisions gives you a lot of confidence.
Case in point: I'm writing this post two days before having a surgery that can kill me. But if I don't have the procedure, my long-term survival rate is 30%+ lower. Since I have a daughter to raise and books to write, I'm embracing the Big Scary and having the damn surgery. I'm confident that 15 years from now, I'll be really glad I did.
There are advantages to embracing, or at least being able to cope with, psychological uncertainty. There are gifts and opportunities that come from the unexpected. Remember, growth and resiliency usually walk hand-in-hand.
Since the pandemic lockdowns, a ton of attention and research has been focused on this topic. HelpGuide.org offers five not-so-easy-to-follow tips (see below). To their credit, they break each tip down with a full section of actionable advice.
(Cuz it would be unfair to say, "Learn to accept uncertainty," and not provide some sort of roadmap, amiright?)
We can do the hard things, in both our writing and our everyday life. We just have to be willing to try. They say there are two best times to plant a tree -- today and ten years ago. I say, put on those titanium underpants and go for it! 🙂
Be brave. Plant the tree. Write your story, even if it is only for 20 minutes.
I would love to hear about your personal journey. Is uncertainty agony or ecstasy for you? Which part of the writing life causes you the most anxiety? Tell me all about it down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny Hansen provides brand storytelling, LinkedIn coaching, and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
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