If life—and more specifically, 2020—has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t have control over everything.
When it comes to writing, control is very much a balancing act. You can control which characters are in your story, but you can’t always control what they want to do (even if you think you can with that plot twist in chapter five). You can also decide to get that story published, but you can’t control the outcome and if it’ll be accepted by agents, publishers or audiences.
With so many outside forces and unknowns messing with what we want to plan as writers, it’s easy to forget what we can control, such as the following…
4 Things A Writer Can Control
The Choice To Write
Unless you’re one of the blessed few under a publishing contract, writing is a choice you make. I made the choice a few years ago to take the series I’d been working on since 2001 and have a serious go at getting the manuscripts finished and published. Working on that goal almost daily for the last several years (and still working on books 3 & 4 now) was my choice. Just like it was my choice between the idea and writing the first MS drafts to not work on the series for six years. I chose when I wanted to write and when I didn’t.
If you want to write a book you’ll never show to anyone, do it. If you want to write a book you hope most of the world will read, give it your best shot. The choice really is up to you.
The Kind Of Writer You Want To Be
In high school, I used to write stories for my friends to read. They were inspired by the YA horror books I was reading at the time, which was anything by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. They were terrible first drafts I would never give to anyone to read if I wrote them now, but I loved those type of books and they made me want to write YA.
Being a YA writer is also the way my writer brain works. Those are the ideas that I get. While that might sound like I don’t have control over being a YA writer, I do. I embrace the writing that comes naturally to me.
As someone who isn’t a teen anymore, I read books other than YA. Some of the most enjoyable books I’ve read as an adult have been as far from YA books as you can get. I enjoy reading those books, but I would never write them. It’s not the writer I want to be and it’s not the writer I am.
You have that same control. Embrace the story ideas and writing style that comes naturally to you, and be that writer.
It is so easy to scroll your Twitter feed and see book deal announcements, agent signings, book launches, and literary prize winners. There are even days when seeing that another writer wrote a 100-word paragraph is enough to make you compare yourself with them and feel as if you’re coming up short.
It’s okay to feel this way. Everybody does. Even the person who just had their book optioned for a Netflix series was once someone uploading chapters to Wattpad, thinking every other writer is doing better than them.
Seeing those achievements are out of your control when you’re an active member of the writing community, but how you compare yourself to the things you see is in your control. The only answer to this is: don’t.
Every writer’s journey is unique. There are some writers that fall ass-backwards into writing and hit it big. Some score an agent with their first query email. There are writers who’ve never wanted to be anything other than a writer who never get a book published. Everyone’s journey is different and comparisons aren’t fair.
Just as two writer’s given the same idea will write two different manuscripts, your journey will be different to every other writer you know, even though you’re trying to achieve the same outcome.
On this occasion, you need to fall back on that old cliché and only compare yourself to yourself.
How You Handle The Hard Parts
Right up there with comparisons is handling the hard parts of writing. It could be anything from being stuck on part of the plot, to getting your first rejection.
Rejection is inevitable in writing, and you can wear it like a badge of honor or shrug it off. You can also let it spiral you so out of control that you don’t want to send out another query or ever open your manuscript again.
There have been many times in the last few years I have seriously considered exercising my control and not writing anymore. For three years I chose to query, one time waiting 15 months to hear from a submission and getting a generic response with no name on the sign-off in return. I entertained giving up then.
There’s been times when I’ve gotten feedback from beta readers on an MS I thought was ready, only to have so many changes suggested it would have been easier to give up. I’ve had a small press ask me to sign a new contract just weeks before releasing my book, which at that point was a PDF copy with my name misspelled and no cover because they’d forgotten to ask their in house designer to work on it. All of those hard parts really made me think about walking away from writing.
I wanted to forget that I tried to write books like the ones I’d loved reading as a teen. I wanted to dismiss everything I’d learned, and the writing skills I’d improved. I wanted to sink into the fear that I wasn’t good enough and go back to a life where there were no expectations. No agent was waiting for me to fill their inbox with a submission they loved and wanted to champion, and no reader was waiting for anything I’d written to be released. You may have flirted with this same conclusion yourself, or it may be something that’ll happen down the line of your own writing journey.
It’s at this point you might ask yourself if you’re going to forget the writing dream, or decide if you’re going to use those hard parts as your fuel.
Are you going to objectively look at that beta feedback as something that is helpful and plan how to fix things? Are you going to convince yourself the rejection went to the wrong person and set about finding the right person instead? Are you going to forget the almost-starts and take back control of how your art makes it into the world? Are you going to give up or dig deep?
I’ve made the choice to give up, and it lasted a day of tears and copious amounts of chocolate. I’ve also dug deep, sometimes fueled by nothing more than the need to prove someone else wrong, and I’ve fixed what I needed to fix, learned what I needed to learn, and got on with the job.
You can’t control the hard parts, but you can control what you do when they happen.
You can choose to write or not write. You can choose what you want to write and the kind of writer you want to be. You can compare yourself only to yourself, or to others and let it make you bitter. Those are some things you can control is a writer.
What you can’t control is how others connect to your work. If someone follows you on Twitter. If readers leave book reviews. If an agent signs you. If a publisher gives you a contract. If your book is bought by one person or if it’s bought by millions.
Wishing you could control those things will do nothing more than play with your head. In a year of uncertainty, in an industry that’s built on rejection, control what you can and let it make you a better writer. It’s the only thing you can do.
— K.M. Allan